High price of gesture politics

TODAY’S REPORT on child poverty by Save the Children makes sobering reading that, once again, highlights the pitfalls of the political soundbite. At a time when there is a cross-party commitment to end child poverty by 2020, the charity forecasts that a record five million children could be facing financial hardship by the end of the decade.

In many respects, Britain’s political leaders found themselves in an invidious position through no fault of their own. If they had not endorsed this grand gesture, a legacy of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s style of campaigning, they would have been accused of lacking ambition.

In their defence, it was difficult to predict the full impact of the recession on family finances – whether it be flat wages, cuts to benefits or the implementation of the so-called bedroom tax.

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However, while Save the Children is right to highlight its fears for the future, it too needs to move with the times and recognise the fact that the Government can longer sign blank cheques – the flawed approach pursued by Justin Forsyth, the charity’s chief executive, when he was a Downing Street policy adviser during the Brown premiership.

As such, the charity needs to be exploring what more can be done to help vulnerable children from within existing resources – and recognise the attempts of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith to limit the damaging culture of welfare dependency.

However, two other points should also be made. First, parents need to appreciate the cost of bringing up a child, and it is their duty – and not the state’s – to provide for their offspring. Second, a world-class education still holds the key to the life prospects of youngsters so they, in turn, have the best chance of providing for their families when they grow up. The problem is such notions do not make for catchy soundbites.