The Socialist 24 June 2020 |
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Over 30% of children living in poverty
End capitalism and inequality now. Fight for socialism!
End child poverty, photo by Staff Sgt Alex Fox Echols/USAF/CC (Click to enlarge)
Jane Nellist, Coventry Socialist Party
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, austerity policies from successive governments had pushed an increasing number of families into poverty. Over four million children live in poverty in the UK, and that number is rapidly rising.
That is over 30% of all children in a country that is one of the wealthiest in the world!
The Tory cuts to welfare benefits and the underfunded Universal Credit scheme have left families in crisis - while the rich continue to be insulated from austerity.
Children from black and minority ethnic groups are more likely to be poor: 45% are now in poverty, which makes the Black Lives Matter campaigns even more important.
Disgracefully, two-thirds of children living in poverty have at least one parent in work, many working long hours with very low pay. Rising living costs, low wages, and cuts to benefits, have created a perfect storm in which more children are falling into the poverty trap.
This will only get worse with families emerging from the pandemic with crippling levels of debt, and tens of thousands finding themselves without a job as the furlough scheme is ended.
But it's not just the lack of money that impacts on poorer families. Services that families would turn to for support are no longer there. The huge cuts to local authority funding, down 49% in the last decade, with councils unwilling to mount campaigns and use their reserves, hits the poorest families hard.
Children's centres, youth clubs, libraries and other support services are either cut to the bone or have disappeared. The safety net the working class had fought for has huge holes, or has been taken away all together.
Free school meals and breakfast clubs, while not enough, have helped to ensure that children get a balanced meal during the day at school, but 'holiday' hunger takes its toll on families.
The absolute catastrophe of the government's voucher system during Covid-19 has seen more and more families turn to food banks to feed their families. The government's retreat on free school meal vouchers during the summer holidays is to be welcomed, but on its own will not be enough to end child poverty.
Housing and childcare are two of the costs that take the biggest toll on families' budgets. But it's not just finding a roof over your head. It's the quality of housing that has the biggest impact. Energy costs for poorer families are high due the reliance on pre-paid cards. Families should not have to make choices between heating or eating!
Too many disadvantaged families are living in cramped conditions, especially in cities with no outdoor space, sometimes in just one room. It's a nightmare at any time, but during the 'lockdown' it's even worse. The lack of good quality council housing is a scandal - with private landlords making a fortune!
With schools still closed to most pupils, and a reliance on home schooling, much of it online, a national free broadband scheme and free laptops would ensure young people could access the tools to help their learning. Yet again the government's promises have failed and educational inequalities will increase enormously.
Thousands more families are living on the edge of poverty. One unexpected setback, like redundancy or an illness, or even cuts to hours, could push them into the poverty trap.
The furlough scheme has helped in the short term to alleviate some of the risk, but as the government seeks to pull back from this, we will see a huge rise in the number of families facing catastrophe.
The storms that were already gathering because of a worldwide economic crisis, made worse by the pandemic, will mean even more misery for millions, unless a mass movement of the working class rises up.
Capitalism is designed to serve the bosses and keep the rich enveloped in their wealth. We must turn the world upside down and fight for the 99%, and ensure that every family, every child, has all their needs met through a democratically planned socialist system.
The Socialist Party calls for:
- A minimum wage of £12 an hour towards a real living wage of £15 an hour
- Increased benefits in line with the minimum wage
- A mass council house building programme and rent controls to cap rents at a genuinely affordable level
- Quality, publicly funded childcare under the democratic control of education and care workers