"The true measure of a nation's standing is how well it attends to its children" (UNICEF, 2007)
Soon after being elected in 1997, Tony Blair pledged to halve child poverty by 2010 and to abolish it by 2020. However, even ‘experts' are predicting the Government is not going to meet these targets. The Government states that since coming to power they have taken three-quarters of a million children out of poverty. The Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton boasted, ‘We have made considerable progress against our historic goal to end child poverty' (BBC News 27.3.07). However, the Government's own target of taking 1 million children out of poverty has been missed.
Child Poverty in the UK
Since 1979 UK child poverty has doubled. In 2006, 3.8 million children were living in poverty in homes on less than 60% of average income. Although this is a fall of about 600,000 since 1998, this still leaves 500,000 children above the Government's own target. This is not the whole picture either - poverty in the whole population is increasing. Between 2005 and 2006, the number of people living in poverty in the UK increased by about 750,000 and the fact is that in one of the richest countries in the world, almost 13 million people (22%) remain in poverty.
Only a tenth of children living in poverty have mothers under 25 and one in fifteen children are born to people under 20. Regardless, New Labour would have us believe that the best way to lift children out of poverty is to get parents, especially lone parents, off benefit and into work. Yet the value of social security benefits for working age adults continues to fall even further behind wages. Therefore the present welfare ‘reforms' will make things worse, not better, for children living in poverty.
The impact of low pay
16% of children live in homes that earn half the average national wage. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation highlighted that half of all children living in poverty live in working families and that one and a half million children live in households that pay full council tax. Gordon Brown's announcement when Chancellor to give an extra £3 a week per child to families on low incomes through the Child Tax Credit is a drop in the ocean. The Institute for Public Policy Research estimates that to lift children out of poverty would cost a further £3.8bn. This is reflected in the reality that that inequalities in earnings are widening and the gap between benefits and wages is also widening.
Children in low income households
|Working Families with 2 parents
|Working families with 1 parent
|Non working families with 2 parents
|Non working families with 1 parent
Source: Households Below Average Income 2005/06, DWP; UK
Bottom of the league
Last year UNICEF - the United Nations children's organisation - concluded that children growing up in the UK suffered greater deprivation than those in any other wealthy country in the world. The UK came bottom of the league of 21 top capitalist countries, trailing the USA which came second last. Looking at material well being on its own, UNICEF showed that only Ireland, Hungary and Poland came below the UK. Overall, the Netherlands came top. While nine countries in Northern Europe brought child poverty down to below 10%, in the UK, Ireland and the USA it remains at 15%. The UNICEF report was scathing and clearly highlighted the long term effects of children living in poverty,
"The evidence from many countries persistently shows that children who grow up in poverty are more vulnerable: specifically, they are more likely to be in poor health, to have learning and behavioural difficulties, to underachieve at school, to become pregnant at too early an age, to have lower skills and aspirations, to be low paid, unemployed and welfare-dependent".
One of the report's authors from York University put the UK's poor ratings down to long term under investment and a ‘dog-eat-dog' society (BBC News, 14.2.07) What an indictment for ten years of a Labour government!
Marx highlighted the accumulation of colossal wealth at the top, while at the same time an accumulation of "misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation" at the lower end of society. Banks are reporting record profits at a time when millions of working people (whose labour produces the real wealth of society) are forced to live in constant debt and get by on minimum wages. We must be clear that capitalism will always put material success above all else. It is the price paid by a sharply divided class society.
Worldwide, 1.1 billion people continue to live on less than $1 a day with 30% of these being children. Child poverty, therefore, will always be an inevitable consequence of capitalism and we must fight to end capitalism and rid the world of child poverty once and for all.