The UK Government has been accused of failing to act on child poverty, after new research revealed that Britain is spending the lowest proportion of its wealth on supporting children in decades.
Research from the House of Commons library reveals how Britain spent just 0.7% of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) on child benefit in 2013/14, compared to a high of 1.3% in 1983-85.
GDP is a measure of economic activity which captures the value of goods and services that the UK produces during a given period.
In monetary terms, the amount spent on child benefit, and its predecessor ‘family allowance’, has risen rapidly from just £0.1bn in 1955/56 to £11.1bn in 2013/14. Indications suggest this will continue to rise over the coming years, reaching an estimated £12.2bn by 2020.
Despite these increases, Britain is still spending the lowest proportion of its overall wealth in supporting children from the poorest households since 1977 – when child benefit replaced family allowance.
SNP Work and Pensions Spokesperson Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP said:
“The fact that the UK is spending less of its wealth on child benefit than at any time since 1977 is an appalling indictment of the lack of importance the Westminster Government attaches to reducing child poverty.
“It shows that there is a complete lack of will amongst the Westminster establishment to tackle the increasing child poverty being driven by their austerity agenda.”
The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has estimated that a further 600,000 children in the UK could be pushed below the breadline over the next year.
There are 3.5 million children (27%) living in poverty in the UK today, with two-thirds of these growing up in a family where at least one parent works. Without urgent action to reduce child poverty in the UK, this damning figure is set to soar to a shocking 4.7 million by 2020.
100,000 Scottish children alone are at risk of being plunged into poverty by 2020.
Dr Eilidh Whiteford said: “That is why Scotland needs far greater welfare responsibilities than have thus far been proposed – again”.
Food bank charity Trussell Trust helped to feed more than 913,000 people in 2013/14, including 330,250 children. 8,318 tonnes of food was donated by concerned members of the public during this time.
Contrary to some reports in the press, people cannot simply turn up and expect to be given food aid. Food bank vouchers are issued to people identified as being in need by care professionals such as doctors, health visitors, social workers, CAB and the police.
The Conservatives are considering including a pledge to limit child benefit to no more than three children in the general election manifesto. A move which has been heavily criticised by CPAG.
Commenting on the announcement, CPAG chief executive Alison Garnham said:
“It’s astonishing that just as IFS reports show families have been hammered hardest by austerity cuts over this Parliament that plans that will inevitably impoverish even more children in the next Parliament are being discussed.
“The Government itself is absolutely clear that 99% of money given to parents in child benefit is money that does end up being spent on meeting the needs of children.
“Taking away child benefit from families in this way would pick on children and punish siblings for circumstances beyond their control.
“Child Benefit has already lost 14% of its value over this Parliament, exposing working and non-working families to even greater hardship.
“Our Cost of a Child report last year showed child benefit covered 19% of the extra costs of meeting the basic needs of a child – it’s an amount that working and non-working families would struggle to do without.”