The number of children in poverty is rocketing. Who is protecting them?

It’s telling that those zealots who want to defend the ‘unborn child’ are complicit in policies that impoverish women and children

Child on council estate
 ‘Avoiding this hypocritical ‘concern for children’ does not require a complex position: a civilised society would give women the choice not to continue with a pregnancy and in turn support a child’s wellbeing if they are born.’ 

One of the most remarkable things that came out of the Irish referendum was the personal testimony of women who had been forced to journey to England for medical care. But some – poor or migrant or disabled women – recounted how even this option wasn’t available to them; unable to travel, they had no choice but to take the gamble of a pill bought from the internet. It’s a striking insight into the black-and-white thinking imposed on pregnancy: women who could not even afford a flight on Ryanair for a safe abortion were somehow expected to be able to afford to feed, house and clothe a child.

Beyond Ireland, this denial of the material reality of raising a child is an ongoing issue – in abortion debates and beyond. Indeed, the same voices so ardently protecting the “unborn child” are often strangely quiet when it comes to support for children once they are outside the womb. This convenient cognitive dissonance has long been a feature of rightwing attitudes: arguing to restrict a woman’s reproductive rights while supporting measures that push children into poverty. (Some British rightwing – often male – journalists couldn’t resist stepping in over the Irish debate too.)

Avoiding this hypocritical “concern for children” does not require a particularly complex position: a civilised society would give women the choice not to continue with a pregnancy and in turn support a child’s wellbeing if they are born. And yet it is a concept with which many still seem to struggle, including our own government. The Conservatives have long positioned themselves as the party of family – from cruel so-called protection of the “traditional family” such as the anti-LGBT Section 28, 30 years old this month, to David Cameron’s pledge to use the family to solve social problems, and 2017’s backbench Manifesto to Strengthen the Family, pitched as Theresa May’s key social narrative.

At the same time, their small-state ideology can make it devastatingly difficult for a low-income parent to look after a child. Look at the controversial “two-child” limit to child tax credits under universal credit (UC). From its inception, it was predicted the policy would lead to hundreds of thousands of additional children living in poverty, but it’s now emerging that some women are even feeling forced to have abortions because they can’t afford to go ahead with the pregnancy. “It wasn’t planned but it was very much wanted. I was crying as they wheeled me in,” one woman told the Mirror this month about her abortion; without the safety net of tax credits, she had no way to afford another baby. Women in Northern Ireland in similar positions have an even more restricted choice: the rape-exemption clause that gives some women on UC a financial reprieve endangers women who haven’t reported their attack to the police (in Northern Ireland, failure to report a crime is an offence) and, as the renewed calls for reproductive rightsin light of the Irish vote has highlighted, Northern Irish women have no legal access to abortion in their own country if they feel they can’t raise a child.

Recent years have in fact seen a determined removal of support from low-income mothers – everything from forcing single parents (90% of whom are women) to look for work once their child turns three or have their benefits sanctioned, to the benefit cap, a policy so regressive it was actually ruled to be unlawful when forced on single parents with toddlers.

Just this week, it came out that a third of low-income families are missing out on state-funded free food vouchers – a scheme designed to help pregnant women and those with young children afford fruit, vegetables and milk.

Much like Sure Start and child tax credits, these vouchers were brought in by a Labour government to reduce inequalities between wealthy and poor children, based on the understanding that if it takes a village to raise a child, it often requires a government to ensure they don’t live in poverty. It’s no coincidence that, as the welfare state has been pulled back, the number of children in poverty is rocketing to record levels.

In the post-crash austerity era, this sense of social solidarity towards children has noticeably lessened. Under each policy to remove state support from parents there’s a lurking narrative that working-class women are “breeding too much” or that low-income children are drains on the “hardworking taxpayer”. (“Why should I pay for someone else to have more kids?” is the rejoinder on most articles advocating child benefits). In the real world, pregnancy is rarely predictable – contraception fails, relationships end, and jobs are lost – and besides, even the most ardent individualist would admit low-income children have done nothing to “deserve” their own poverty.

We are at the point in which it is not rare to hear of infants living in B&Bssleeping on cardboard, or even scrambling for food in school bins. If the ongoing debate over abortion rights teaches us anything, it’s that there are no shortage of voices content to defend the “unborn”. It’s a shame few are willing to give the same care to those children who are already here. HEAR HEAR!!!

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Child homelessness surges by 80% under Tory government

Figures show child homelessness has surged by 80% under the Conservative-led government.  Data shows a new household is found to be homeless every five minutes.

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Child homelessness has surged by 80 per cent since the Conservatives came into government in 2010, with a new household now found to be homeless every five minutes, official figures show.

Newly published data reveals 124,490 minors were housed in temporary accommodation in England at the end of 2018, marking an increase of 55,440 since the same period in 2010 and a rise of 33 per cent in the last four years.

Campaigners warned that families were being “pushed to the hard edge of the housing crisis” by “crippling private rents, frozen benefits and endless waiting lists” for social homes that “don’t exist”.

It comes amid mounting concern that cuts to housing benefit and reduced funding for homelessness services, as well as a lack of affordable homes and regulation in the private rented sector, are pushing more children into destitution.

The figures show that the number of households in temporary accommodation stood at 83,700 in December 2018, marking a 74 per cent rise since 2010. Around three-quarters of these families include children.

More than one in five (21 per cent) households found to be homeless or threatened with homelessness lost their last settled home due to the ending of a private rented tenancy.

The government figures also show that within this group, there has been a considerable surge in families with children living in B&Bs, with the number increasing from 660 to 2,420 – a 267 per cent rise – between 2010 and 2018.

The number of young people who have been in B&Bs for more than six weeks is up by 440 per cent in the same period, from 150 to 810.

Shadow housing minister Alex Cunningham said the “shameful” rise in homeless children stuck in temporary accommodation would be the “legacy of this failed Conservative government”.

“Rising homelessness is a crisis of the Tories’ own making as we’ve seen investment in the number of low-cost homes to buy and rent tumble,” he added. “Add to that cuts in housing benefit, reduced funding for homelessness services and a private rental sector lacking any real protections and we know why so many are being let down.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “It’s impossible to ignore the frightening levels of homelessness in England right now. Hundreds of thousands of people are desperate for help, from those sleeping on the street to families trapped in emergency B&Bs.

“More people are being pushed to the hard edge of the housing crisis by crippling private rents, frozen benefits, and endless waiting lists for social homes that don’t exist. It’s clear this is a national emergency that won’t go away on its own – real change must happen now.

“The bottom line is that you can’t solve homelessness without building homes people can actually afford to live in. So, if housing really is the government’s top domestic issue, it needs to get serious about a new generation of social homes – 3.1 million to be exact. And, in the meantime, increase housing benefit so that it at least covers the basic cost of private rent.”

The Local Government Association said the increasing use of temporary accommodation was ”not only financially unsustainable” for councils but “hugely disruptive” for families placed in such accommodation.

“Many councils are struggling to cope with rising homelessness and to find suitable accommodation for those in need,” said a spokesperson. “With homelessness services facing a funding gap of more than £100m in 2019/20 and £421m by 2024/25, the government needs to use its upcoming spending review to sustainably fund homelessness prevention.”

James Brokenshire, the communities secretary, said: “Everyone deserves a safe and secure place to live, and we are committed to reducing all forms of homelessness. “Today’s figures show encouraging signs that the Homelessness Reduction Act is making a real difference in providing vulnerable people with the support they need, and at an earlier stage.

“But we know there is more to do, which is why we’re investing £1.2bn to tackle homelessness, including £100m for rough sleeping, as well as empowering councils to build more council homes to ensure everyone has a safe and secure home to call their own.”

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Mitigating austerity ‘not sustainable’ for devolved governments, says UN

UN poverty expert hits back over UK ministers’ ‘denial of facts’
Exclusive: Philip Alston says he thought government response to his report might be a spoof

Govt Newspeak

Steps taken by devolved administrations to mitigate the worst impacts of UK austerity “come at a price” and are “not sustainable”, according to a report commissioned by the UN.

Philip Alston Philip Alston met children in Scotland during his visit to the UK

On Wednesday, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, published his findings following an investigation into poverty across the UK. He visited the UK in November and toured towns and cities across the country before outlining his preliminary findings.

He described it at the time as an “outrage” that devolved administrations were having to spend resources to shield people…

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Tories spark fierce backlash with ‘myth-busting’ Universal Credit advert

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FRESH concerns about the impact of Universal Credit changes have been raised by MSPs – on the same day the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) launched a “myth-busting” ad campaign in defence of the system.

It is not known how much the UK Government department paid for the “Universal Credit Uncovered” campaign, which is styled in a form common to newspaper investigations and ran yesterday on six pages of the daily Metro, as well as on the title’s website.

However, a four-page “wraparound” in the popular freesheet, which is aimed at city-dwellers and those on higher incomes, costs around £250,000.

The nine-week campaign, which includes interviews with claimants and Universal Credit work coaches, came as the UK Government’s work and welfare policies were strongly criticised in a UN report.

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Labour MP Marsha de Cordova, the party’s shadow minister for disabled people, branded the adverts – which slam supposedly incorrect reports about Universal Credit – “truly Orwellian”.

She said: “On the same day that the UN envoy on extreme poverty slams Tory policies that have led to the ‘systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population’, the DWP has taken out covert ads in a national newspaper promoting Universal Credit. Truly Orwellian.”

On news coverage of Universal Credit – which includes detailed reporting on analysis by charities, MPs and now the UN which outlines the role this social security change has had in driving up foodbank use and poverty – the DWP ad says that “sadly” not all accounts have been “correct”.

Pledging to cover “the real stories from the front line of Universal Credit”, it continues: “Universal Credit is designed to reflect the time we live in now – increasing numbers of people want to work flexible hours in order to fit around family life and commitments.

“Universal Credit works for those people in a way the old system couldn’t. We now have a system that really works to support you back into work, every step of the way.”

Matthew Greer of charity Turn2Us labelled the move “embarrassing”, and critics posting on social media branded the material “propaganda”.

It emerged as Bob Doris, chair of Holyrood’s Social Security Committee, wrote to Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd over the removal of the “protected date of claim guarantee”, which previously allowed councils and Citizens Advice Scotland to backdate new claims for Universal Credit to the start of the applications process.

The change in the Help To Claim contract will mean the end of the process is what will be used as a basis for payments, and only those who attend a jobcentre will retain the protection – even though many local jobcentres have been closed in a recent cash-saving programme.

Doris, who represents Maryhill and Springburn, says this is a “retrograde step” and that it is estimated 200 people will “suffer financially” each month in Glasgow alone. Representing the committee, Doris has now called for a review, telling Rudd: “This is deeply alarming.”

Doris wrote: “There can be many reasons why someone may not be in a position to submit a completed claim on the first day of entitlement. It may not be possible to get to a jobcentre, particularly given recent closures.”

He continued: “The committee finds it unacceptable that claimants are now being disadvantaged in this way and calls on you to undertake an urgent review.”

The DWP said online and freephone help is available, stating: “With Universal Credit, people receive support to make their claim on day one, meaning they are entitled to cash on their first day. “This can all be done without needing to go into a jobcentre.”

On the DWP’s controversial ad campaign, the government said informing the public about benefits is “important”, adding: “We regularly advertise Universal Credit and we work closely with stakeholders to help them best advise claimants.

“All our advertising abides by the strict guidelines set by the Advertising Standards Authority.”

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Mitigating austerity ‘not sustainable’ for devolved governments, says UN

Steps taken by devolved administrations to mitigate the worst impacts of UK austerity “come at a price” and are “not sustainable”, according to a report commissioned by the UN.

Philip Alston
Philip Alston met children in Scotland during his visit to the UK

On Wednesday, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, published his findings following an investigation into poverty across the UK. He visited the UK in November and toured towns and cities across the country before outlining his preliminary findings.

He described it at the time as an “outrage” that devolved administrations were having to spend resources to shield people from UK Government policies.

In his final report, Prof Alston concluded that the Scottish Government had “reached the limit” for what it can afford to mitigate.

He wrote: “Devolved administrations have tried to mitigate the worst impacts of austerity, despite experiencing significant reductions in block grant funding and constitutional limits on their ability to raise revenue.

“Scotland and Northern Ireland each report spending some £125 million per year to protect people from the worst impacts of austerity and, unlike the United Kingdom Government, the three devolved administrations all provide welfare funds for emergencies and hardships.

“But mitigation comes at a price, and is not sustainable. The Scottish Government said it had reached the limit of what it can afford to mitigate, because every pound spent on offsetting cuts means reducing vital services. “The mitigation package in Northern Ireland runs out in 2020, leaving vulnerable people facing a “cliff edge” scenario. “For devolved administrations to have to spend resources to shield people from Government policies is a powerful indictment.”

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Prof Alston described Scottish Government schemes for addressing poverty, including the Fairer Scotland Action Plan and the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, as “ambitious”, and called the establishment of a new social security system “promising”.

Noting that the system aims to make benefits equally accessible, he indicated it is “too soon to say whether these steps – and Scotland’s new powers of taxation – will make a difference for people in poverty”.

He added: “If the compelling recommendations made by the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership are adopted, and if the Scottish Government acts swiftly on its commitment to incorporate the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scottish law, these steps will make a huge difference.”

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Prof Alston also indicated that the UK has violated its human rights obligations through sustained and widespread cuts to social support, and said policies of austerity introduced in 2010 “continue largely unabated, despite the tragic social consequences”.

The Department for Work and Pensions branded the report a “barely believable documentation of Britain” and said it painted a “completely inaccurate picture” of its approach to tackling poverty.

The report calls on the UK Government to reverse “particularly regressive” measures such as the benefit freeze, the two-child limit, the benefit cap, and reduction in housing benefit. It also recommends restoring local government funding to provide social protection and tackle poverty.

Prof Alston said the policies pursued since 2010 amounted to a clear violation of the UK’s human rights obligations. He added: “Considering the significant resources available in the country and the sustained and widespread cuts to social support, which have resulted in significantly worse outcomes, the policies pursued since 2010 amount to retrogressive measures in clear violation of the country’s human rights obligations.”

This is a barely believable documentation of Britain, based on a tiny period of time spent here

DWP

The DWP said it was spending £95 billion a year on welfare and maintains a state pension system that supports people into retirement.

A spokeswoman added: “The UN’s own data shows the UK is one of the happiest places in the world to live, and other countries have come here to find out more about how we support people to improve their lives. NO DWP SUICIDES THEN? I’m sure Jodey Whiting’s family will disagree with this utter BS!

“Therefore this is a barely believable documentation of Britain, based on a tiny period of time spent here. It paints a completely inaccurate picture of our approach to tackling poverty.

“All the evidence shows that full-time work is the best way to boost your income and quality of life, which is why our welfare reforms are focused on supporting people into employment and we introduced the National Living Wage, so people earn more in work.”

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Universal Credit loan company fraud claim: Minister intervenes

Rob and Alishia Curry
Curry, photographed with her partner Rob, said she was persuaded to apply for an emergency loan before being defrauded

A minister is urgently investigating how a woman was duped by an online loan company that pocketed her benefits. Mother-of-three Alishia Curry said instead of processing her details for a loan, the firm submitted a Universal Credit request in her name which led to regular payments being stopped.

Ms Curry, from Buxton, Derbyshire, said she lost about £1,000 in one month and has had to miss meals to save money. Work and pensions minister Justin Tomlinson said he would investigate.

He said he was treating the case “as a matter of urgency”. Ms Curry, who is pregnant with her fourth child, said she applied for an emergency loan to replace her cooker.

She said she searched online for a loan and entered in details to make an application, and when she was called back they took personal and financial details that were then used to claim benefits.

Beware of the Universal Credit Scam

MP Ruth GeorgeMP Ruth George said the mother was left with no access to money for the next month

When her existing benefits did not come through Ms Curry learned she had been signed up for Universal Credit without her knowledge but with the funds going into someone else’s bank account.

Since this happened she has lost about £1,000 in income support and child tax credits which were stopped once her Universal Credit application went through. She said she had been advised to use a food bank or borrow money.

Ms Curry said she did not know which company used her details to make the application, which was approved by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), even though she never met anyone in person.

“Surely they should have asked me to go down for a face-to-face [meeting] or something before they verified that account,” she said. “I’ve had to miss meals just to feed the kids. It’s depressing.”

Labour MP for High Peak Ruth George has been backing Ms Curry and warned people on benefits to be careful of sharing their details. Ms George said the DWP had insisted the claim was valid as their records showed Ms Curry had been given her advance payment. She said the case “raises serious questions for the future”, and urged anyone on benefits to “be very careful about what information they give to people”.

The DWP said it could not comment until Mr Tomlinson’s team had concluded its investigation.

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DWP review into death of six-stone Stephen Smith will be held in secret

Calls for an independent inquiry have seemingly been ignored.

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has confirmed that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will be holding an urgent review into its practices, following the tragic death of a benefit claimant who weighed just six-stone after the DWP slashed his benefits.

64-year-old Mr Smith lost his life after a prolonged battle with the DWP, with pictures showing how the loss of vital benefits left him resembling a person in famine conditions.

Stephen Smith, shortly before his death. Photo: Public Domain/Facebook.

Mr Smith, from Liverpool, was repeatedly denied state support despite letters from his GP warning about his dramatic weight loss and the wider impact on his overall health and wellbeing.

He eventually has his benefit payments reinstated, including £4,000 a backpay, but the damage had already been done and he lost his battle to survive.

His case has been held up as an extreme example of the cruelty of the current welfare system, prompting calls for an independent inquiry from and urgnet overhaul to benefits system.

Now, Amber Rudd has confirmed that the DWP is investigating the circumstances running up to Mr Smith’s death, but only after the local press pressed for a formal investigation.

Ms Rudd, who has been named as a possible replacement to Theresa May as Tory Party leader, told the Liverpool Echo: “This is a grave and tragic case. I speak on behalf of the Department when I say that we are very sorry to hear of the experience Mr Smith had and that our thoughts continue to be with his friends and family.

Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd MP. Photo: Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0]

“You asked for an official inquiry into this matter. I can advise you that an urgent Internal Process Review has been commissioned on Mr Smith’s case, which will be complete by the end of May.”

However, the scope of the review will be limited to an internal review of the DWP’s handling of the case, meaning we may never learn the full findings of the DWP’s investigation.

Ms Rudd continued: “This will be objectively reviewed against the customer journey and what should have happened – including safeguarding processes.

“This will help us to understand what happened, with recommendations for improvements and changes to be shared with the Permanent Secretary following this review.”

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Human Rights Watch slams cruel Tory welfare policies in report

THE UK Government’s “cruel and harmful” welfare policies have left tens of thousands of poor families hungry, a damning new report has said.

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Global charity Human Rights Watch said successive Westminster governments had “violated” the right to food, but took particular aim at the Tories. It listed a string of welfare policies over the past decade, including the introduction of Universal Credit and the benefit cap, as being behind a surge in hunger and added many of the families affected were headed by single parents.

It described as a “particularly egregious policy” the “two-child limit” which limits child-tax credit to the first two children in a family. Exceptions to the rule include if the child has been born as a result of rape, is from multiple births or has been adopted.

“This arbitrary limit on a means-tested benefit penalises low- and middle-income families for having more than two children. Although in January 2019 the Government announced a partial reversal of this policy, to ensure it is not applied retrospectively to children born before that date, its effect on all families with a third or further additional child born after April 6, 2017, remains in place,” the report said.

The cuts, which it said were motivated by austerity, had amounted to a 44% reduction in support for children and families. He added: “Standing aside and relying on charities to pick up the pieces of its cruel and harmful policies is unacceptable. “The UK Government needs to take urgent and concerted action to ensure that its poorest residents aren’t forced to go hungry.”

Human Rights Watch also accused the UK Government of having “largely ignored” mounting evidence of falling living standards among the poorest residents. It pointed to the “skyrocketing” use of food banks and multiple reports from school officials that “many more” children are arriving at school hungry and unable to concentrate.

The charity conducted more than 120 interviews in three areas of high deprivation in England and looked at government data to compile its report. It heard from young single mothers who feared they would lose custody of their children if they openly asked for food aid or admitted they were going hungry.

It urged the UK Government to go address the “significant structural problems” of its welfare policies. It called for an end to delays for Universal Credit payments and for benefits to keep in line with inflation. It also urged ministers to develop an anti-hunger strategy with legal weight.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We’re helping parents to move into work to give families the best opportunity to move out of poverty. YEAH SURE! “And it’s working – employment is at a record high and children growing up in working households are five times less likely to be in relative poverty.

“We spend £95 billion a year on working-age benefits and we’re supporting over one million of the country’s most disadvantaged children through free school meals. Meanwhile we’ve confirmed that the benefit freeze will end next year.”

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