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Paul Sweeney: Child poverty rates should shame us all

Child poverty; the starkest indicator of a failed public policy landscape and political indifference.

It should be a scandal of the past that is consigned to the books of Dickens, Joyce and Tressell, to Victorian inner-city slums and to emerging economies far from our shores but sadly that is far from the case.

Here in Tory Britain, we live in the fifth-largest economy in the world. A select few in our society possess wealth beyond any of our comprehension, yet figures released this week show that one in four children live in poverty.

In Glasgow, Britain’s third-largest city, the picture is even worse. One in three children in our city are living in poverty, by far the highest rate in Scotland and the equivalent to more than 35,000 children.

The communities of the Glasgow Central constituency are worst affected with 42% of children living in poverty while the North East and South West constituencies of the city experience rates of 36% and 35%, respectively.

Those horrifying figures are a damning indictment of what happens when society forgets about the most vulnerable, or worse, when they become an easy target to blame for our collective woes.

You will frequently hear patronising and ignorant cries about how work is the best route out of poverty, but that rhetoric is easily disproven by the fact that 71% of children living in poverty across the UK are living in a family where at least one adult is working. What do those who advocate work as the sole vehicle out of poverty say to that?

And while the language of shirkers and scroungers may not be as prevalent as it has been in the past, the figures tell their own story and that is the situation facing those on the breadline isn’t any better.

The saddest thing of all is that it is a deliberate political choice.

Policies like the two-child social security cap are engineered to push those with more than two children towards poverty by decreeing that families will not qualify for welfare support for their third child unless very specific exemptions are met.

That callous social engineering has resulted in a poverty rate of 42% for children living in families where there are three or more children compared to 23% and 22% among children in families with one or two children, respectively.

At a time where we have a declining working-age population, with a looming demographic time-bomb currently being experienced by economies like Japan, it is not only a heinous policy that lacks any social conscience, but one that is economically illiterate.

That is why a future Labour government is committed to reforming the Universal Credit and wider social security system, and at the very heart of that reform will be a drive to eradicate the scourge of child poverty from our society.

The Scottish Government is far from blameless in the face of this crisis, with powers to create new or enhance any existing social security benefit, but the reality is while they could and should mitigate the worst vestiges of Tory austerity, we must get rid of the root cause itself: the Tories.

Because until we do, working people will continue to pay the price of Tory economics and children will continue to be plunged into poverty by an elite cabal who will never understand the struggle faced by families who are confronted with the devastating daily choice between heating their house or feeding their children.

And the reality of the situation is only the Labour Party can get rid of the Tories and govern in the interests of the many, not the few. The last Labour government lifted a million children out of poverty – a reduction of more than a quarter – an achievement without historic precedent in the UK, and that scale of ambition and achievement is required all over again.

Our country is at a crossroads and our society is teetering on the brink of economic and social collapse. The social contract that binds us all should see systemic problems like child poverty as a national mission that requires collective action.

If that is not the case, we all pay the price.

And that price extends way beyond the headline percentage figures – it impacts on the educational attainment of our young people, on the life chances of generations to come and on the future economic prosperity of our country.

The defining mission of any government, regardless of political affiliation, should be to improve the life chances, opportunities and prosperity of its poorest and most disadvantaged people. Anything other than that is a dereliction of duty and a record that should see a governing party ejected from office.

By any metric, both of Scotland’s governments have failed to demonstrably improve the life chances of those facing economic and social hardship, and the price for that failure will be felt at the ballot box.

The time for change is long overdue, and only Labour can deliver that transformational agenda that will replicate the Labour governments of the past by lifting children out of poverty and making our country a more prosperous, equal society where everyone has the opportunity to live fulfilling lives.

You can read my column on the Glasgow Times website here: Paul Sweeney: Child poverty rates should shame us all | Glasgow Times


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