Shocking figures published this week show that in parts of this borough, 1-in-3 children are living in poverty. ANDREW FISHER says that policy-makers in Wales, Scotland and London’s City Hall have shown ways to fix this
According to statistics from the End Child Poverty Coalition, nearly 30,000 children in Croydon are today growing up in poverty.
In London, only Newham and Tower Hamlets have more children in poverty.
According to the figures, which were compiled as part of an annual survey in conjunction with Loughborough University, last year 4.2million children were living in poverty.
That’s an increase of 600,000 on 2021, as the cost-of-living crisis hit family finances, and as the extra support for families on Universal Credit was withdrawn. There had been a £20 per week uplift during the pandemic for most of 2020 and 2021.
Croydon has a worse rate of child poverty than the national average, with 30.3per cent in poverty, compared to 29.2per cent across the rest of the country.
Poverty is defined as living on an income of less than 60per cent of the median average, after housing costs.
Overall, London has higher child poverty than the national average. Tower Hamlets is the local authority with the highest level of child poverty in the country. Neighbouring Newham has the fifth highest rate.
There are variations across Croydon too: in the north of the borough, 36.5per cent of children are in poverty, compared to 34.6per cent in Croydon Central constituency area and 23per cent in Croydon South.
Contrasts with neighbouring boroughs are even more stark. A child living on the Croydon side of South Norwood Country Park has a 1-in-3 chance of living in poverty. Take a 20-minute stroll to the Beckenham side of the parkland, and there 1-in-6 children live in poverty.
These figures reflect the situation last year. None of which will have been helped by Croydon’s Conservative Mayor, Jason Perry, hiking Council Tax by 15per cent while making further cuts to services for children and young people.
Coincidentally, the United Nations spoke out this week saying it remained “deeply concerned about persistent discrimination” suffered by young people in Britain, including “the overrepresentation” of black, Asian, Muslim, Roma, Gypsy and Traveller children living in poverty.
Tackling child poverty should be a priority for any government.
One immediate step that could be taken would be to scrap the two-child limit in the benefits system, which means that parents can only claim benefits for their first two children – not for third and subsequent kids. Removing this limit would lift 250,000 children out of poverty straight away.
The policy also has the perverse consequence of bringing in the “rape clause”, where women are able to claim for a third child if they can prove that child is the result of rape. The exemption does not apply to women living with their rapist (many rapes of course occur within a relationship). Since the law came into force in 2017, around 1,500 women have disclosed to the Department for Work and Pensions that they were raped.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow for work and pensions, has this week signalled that he would scrap the two-child limit, describing it as “heinous”.
This would be a continuation of the 2019 Labour manifesto commitment. That same manifesto also promised to introduce free school meals for all primary school children – a policy now endorsed by Gary Lineker and Marcus Rashford, the celebrity footballing bête noires of the Conservatives.
Julie McCulloch, from the Association of School and College Leaders, has said that “the link between poverty and educational attainment is clear and long-standing”.
In Wales, the Labour government has introduced free breakfast clubs, and is in the process of rolling-out universal free school meals for all primary school children.
The Scottish government has introduced the “Scottish Child Payment” – a weekly £25 for every child under 16 years of age, if you are on Universal Credit or similar benefits.
While the devolved governments have limited means, Scotland has a child poverty rate of 24per cent, while in Wales it’s 28per cent. In England, 31per cent of children live in poverty.
From September, London Mayor Sadiq Khan will be funding free school meals for all primary school children across the capital. With the limited powers and resources the Mayor possesses, it’s an important step to tackle child poverty in London.
Earlier this year, the Food Foundation reported that 4million children were classed as living in food poverty – the figure has doubled in just 12 months. That’s why tackling malnutrition in schools is so important.
But fundamentally, reducing child poverty means tackling the forces that put parents into poverty: low wages, high housing costs and expensive childcare.
And that is a job for the UK government. As wages fall, and rents and childcare costs rise, it is evident that this government has failed and is failing, and that children are paying the price.
- From 2015 to 2019, Andrew Fisher, pictured right, worked as the Labour Party’s Director of Policy under Jeremy Corbyn. He is a former chair of the Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party. Fisher is also the author of The Failed Experiment – and how to build an economy that works, and now writes regular columns for InsideCroydon
Andrew Fisher’s recent columns:
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