Iain Duncan Smith wants to talk about child poverty – but how can we take him seriously when he starts the discussion with a lie?
“Recent analysis reveals that children are three times as likely to be in poverty in a workless family and there are now fewer children living in workless households than at any time since records began, having fallen by 274,000 since 2010,” according to the Department for Work and Pensions’ press release on the new consultation.
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), child poverty will rise from 2.5 million to 3.2 million during the 2010-2015 Parliament – around 24 per cent of all the children in the UK. By 2020, if the rise is not stopped, it will increase to four million – around 30 per centof all children in the UK.
Under the Coalition government, the number of people in working families who are living in poverty – at 6.7 million – has exceeded the number in workless and retired families who are in poverty – 6.3 million – for the first time.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has measured poverty, using several indicators, for more than 15 years; its figures are far more likely to be accurate than those of the government, which is still defining poverty as an income of less than 60 per cent of median (average) earnings. Average earnings are falling, so fewer people are defined as being in poverty – but that doesn’t make the money in their pockets go any further.
“The previous government’s target to halve child poverty by 2010 was not achieved,” states the DWP press release. Then it comes out with more nonsense: “The government is committed to ending child poverty in the UK by 2020 and the draft child poverty strategy sets out the government’s commitment to tackle poverty at its source.” From the JRF figures alone, we know that government policy is worsening the situation – or has everyone forgotten that 80,000 children woke up homeless last Christmas morning?
Let’s look at the government’s plans.
The DWP claims “reforming the welfare system through Universal Credit… will lift up to 300,000 children out of poverty, and cover 70 per cent of childcare costs for every hour worked”. But we know that Universal Credit is effectively a benefit cut for everyone put onto it; they won’t get as much as they do on the current benefits, and the one per cent uprating limit means falling further into poverty every year. Also, we found out this week that the housing element will be subject to sanctions if people in part-time jobs cannot persuade their employers to give them more hours of work. The claim is ridiculous.
The DWP claims the government will will increase investment in the Pupil Premium, provide free school meals for all infant school children from September this year, improve teacher quality, fund 15 hours of free early education places per week for all three- and four-year-old children and extend 15 hours of free education and care per week to two-year-olds from low income families. None of these measures will do anything to “tackle poverty at its source”. Tackling poverty at its source means ending the causes of poverty, not putting crude metaphorical sticking-plasters over the effects – which could be removed at any time in the future.
The DWP claims the government will cut tax for 25 million people by increasing the personal tax allowance, and cut income tax for those on the minimum wage by almost two-thirds. This means people will have more money in their pocket – but will it be enough, when benefit cuts and sanctions are taken into account? Will their pay increase with the rate of inflation? There is no guarantee that it will. And this move means the government will collect less tax, limiting its ability to provide services such as poverty-reduction measures.
The DWP claims the government will reduce water and fuel costs, and attack housing costs by building more homes. The first two measures may be seen as responses to aggressive policy-making by the Labour Party, and the last will only improve matters if the new dwellings are provided as social housing. Much of the extra spending commitment is made for 2015 onwards, when the Conservative-led Coalition may not even be in office.
These are plans to prolong poverty, not end it.
It is notable that the DWP press release repeats many of the proposals in an attempt to pretend it is doing more. Take a look at the list and count for yourself the number of times it mentions fuel/energy bills (three times) and free school meals (twice).
In fact, the only measures that are likely to help reduce the causes of poverty are far down the list: Increasing access to affordable credit by expanding credit unions and cracking down on payday lending (at the very bottom – and we’ll have to see whether this really happens because payday lenders are generous donors to the Conservative party); and reviewing – mark that word, ‘reviewing’ – the national minimum wage, meaning that the government might increase the minimum wage in accordance with Low Pay Commission recommendations.
The DWP press release quotes Iain Duncan Smith, who said the consultation re-states the government’s commitment to tackle poverty at its source, “be it worklessness, family breakdown, educational failure, addiction or debt”.
The measures he has proposed will not improve anybody’s chance of finding a job, nor will they prevent family breakdown, or addiction. The plans for education have yet to be tested and may not work. The plan for debt involves annoying Conservative Party donors.
The JRF has responded to the consultation diplomatically, but there can be no mistaking the impatience behind the words of Chris Goulden, head of poverty research. He said: “Given that it has been over a year since the initial consultation on child poverty measures, we are disappointed that the government is now going to take even longer to agree what those indicators will be.
“With one in four families expected to be in poverty by 2020, a renewed strategy to address child poverty is vital. Any effective strategy should be based on evidence and contain measures to reduce the cost of living and improve family incomes. However, until those measures are agreed, it is difficult to see how the government can move forward.”
Don’t be too concerned about moving forward, Chris.
The stupid boy sitting at the back: Michael Gove has just one aim for the education system – to make it profitable. If he succeeds, YOUR children will pay the price.
The revelation that Michael Gove has a plan to sell places in academy schools to students who currently live overseas came less than a week after the BBC reported that a shortage of school places was likely to harm the quality of education here.
England needs to find 250,000 primary places – within two months – and this means that schools that perform poorly may expand to accommodate the need, even though the education they provide is substandard.
It is into this environment that Michael Gove apparently wants to introduce a paying market.
Academies are not allowed to make profits at the moment, but it seems likely that a Conservative government would change this requirement in order to allow paying pupils in – effectively accelerating towards the privatisation of the education system.
In an environment with too few school places for the British, parents need to realise that their children will be passed over in favour of paying foreign students. In essence, this is a plan to exclude poor people from education.
The evidence suggests that this has been the plan all along. AGuardian article yesterday noted that “Other milestones are already in place: performance-related pay for teachers is on its way. Around half the country’s secondaries are now academies, reluctant primaries are being forced down the same route and the 2011 Education Act decreed that if a new school is needed, it can only be a free school or an academy.
“Once schools are out of the maintained sector, only governed by a commercial contract with the secretary of state (the basis on which “independent” state schools are set up), it is only a short step to a new procurement process, which allows multinational for-profit chains to enter this market.
“And the point about schools run for profit is that they do what they say on the tin – seek to make a profit. So the first stop may be wealthy foreign pupils seeking access to selective, oversubscribed academies, but where would that stop? Co-payments? Fees for domestic families?”
The article continues: “Profit-making schools have a very mixed record in nearly every country where they have already been tried, notably Sweden, the US and Chile. Quality is often poor.
“If they fail they are swiftly closed down or reopened under new management – hardly a culture conducive to fostering sustained improvement.”
From here on, the article suggests, we should rename the British education system the “domestic market for education businesses”.
And your child’s education can go to hell. After all, the Tories educate their children privately, don’t they?
It is not only notable but sinister that Downing Street has declined to comment on the leaked letter that revealed the proposal.
Silence is not denial. In fact, with the current government, it might as well be an admission of guilt.
David Cameron has started to privatise the National Health Service; he has started to privatise the police. Now it seems he is ready to privatise education as well.
How long do the so-called ‘Working-Class Tories’ have to be exposed to this before they realise that their government is screwing them over?
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