Lisa Nandy MP: The rise in child poverty is staggering

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Lisa Nandy is the Labour MP for Wigan.

A new report published last week by the End Child Poverty Coalition has shone a light on the shocking rise in child poverty in Britain in the last five years, with over 400,000 more children living in poverty than in 2015.

Even before the pandemic hit, more than 4.3 million children across the UK were living in poverty and we know that the virus has impacted the most on people who were already struggling on low incomes.

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Without a change of direction, it is predicted that the number of children living in poverty in the UK will rise to at least five million by 2023-24.

Lisa Nandy MPLisa Nandy MP
Lisa Nandy MP

The report shows that child poverty rates have increased in most local authorities in the North West compared to 2015. In Wigan alone, once housing costs are taken into account, the number of children currently living in poverty has risen to more than 18,000.

That is approaching a staggering 30% of all children in our borough. In other parts of the country the percentage of children living in poverty is as high as 69%.

All areas of a child’s life are adversely affected by poverty: home, educational achievement, friendships, their health and wellbeing and more. The most visible aspect is that they do not have what their friends have.

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Child poverty impacts on children’s ability to enjoy their childhoods and achieve their aspirations.

Young people with experience of living in poverty know the real impact behind the statistics: the embarrassment of not being able to socialise with your friends, the assumption that you won’t achieve anything because of where you’re from and the anxiety and uncertainty that impacts your mental health.

Experts have warned that child poverty will rise even further after the pandemic, with working families facing a double threat to their living standards this coming winter as unemployment peaks and the Government moves ahead with its cruel plans to cut Universal Credit in the autumn.

The number of people claiming Universal Credit in Wigan has doubled during the pandemic and if it is cut then over 11,000 people in Wigan alone will take a £1,040 a year hit to their finances just at the time when they need that support the most.

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The knock-on effect will be to push more families and more children into poverty.

The End Child Poverty Coalition’s report shows once and for all how this Government has presided over a devastating increase in child poverty in recent years, and ministers should hang their heads in shame.

Boris Johnson talks a great deal about “levelling up” the country, but this Government’s real record is one of rising poverty, soaring food bank use and a widening of the gap between the prospects of poorer children and their peers.

The last Labour Government lifted more than one million children out of poverty, and President Biden’s Covid recovery plan in the US has a pledge to halve child poverty at its heart. It is time for the Government to recognise the true scale of the problem and its impact on children’s lives and to create a credible strategy to end child poverty which must include a commitment to increase child benefits.

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Given the extent to which families are already struggling, the planned £20 per week cut to Universal Credit should also be revoked, with the support extended to those on ‘legacy’ benefits which are being replaced by Universal Credit including Job Seekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance and Child Tax Credit.

The Government must also commit to ending the five-week wait for Universal Credit which plunges families into debt, to abolish the two-child limit on Universal Credit and Tax Credits, scrap the unfair benefit cap and remove the savings limit.

In the longer term, I am also supporting calls to replace Universal Credit with a new social security system which provides a proper safety net and has dignity and respect at its heart.

If we want to build back a better future for our country, if we want to truly “level up” in every part of the country and if we want to ensure that Britain is the best possible place for every child to grow up then tackling child poverty must be made a top priority.

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