Dan Jarvis: We have to act to end the injustice of child poverty
I stood for Parliament because I believe that every one of those children should share the same opportunities in childhood and later life. Yet for too many children, poverty can mean living in a cold and cramped home, falling behind in school and suffering ill health in later life.
I want to ensure that where you are born is no barrier to where you end up.
Today in the House of Commons, I’m introducing a Bill to set a target to reduce child poverty. I do so because our duty to do right by all children means that in 2017, no child should grow up in poverty.
If we are to take the steps required for poverty to no longer be an everyday reality for four million children in Britain, then we must recognise the realities of modern poverty.
We must identify solutions which are co-ordinated across government, building partnerships with communities, employers and devolved mayors once they are in position.
I recently visited a first-class Sure Start Children’s Centre in Athersley which serves many of my constituents.
I met parents who shared stories of the remarkable difference these local centres make to their children.
I couldn’t help noticing the total dedication of everyone working there, supporting children and parents from every background.
It’s a familiar story across every community where lives are changed because people come together to share their time and expertise to be good neighbours in the service of others.
Those local efforts must be supported at the national level and this is the time to make that happen. The experts at the Institute for Fiscal Studies project that levels of relative child poverty will increase by 50 per cent by 2020.
That comes at a time when feelings of concern and insecurity about our future direction as a country are becoming commonplace. This is not limited to Brexit. It extends to a fundamental question of what we are prepared to tolerate as a society.
The polling organisation Ipsos MORI regularly surveys the public to ask about the top issues facing Britain. One in five people now highlight poverty as one of the biggest challenges facing our country.
That anxiety has increased significantly in recent times and it now stands at the highest recorded level since the question was first asked in 1997.
In these uncertain times, we face a defining challenge in order to provide greater security to families. Calling time on child poverty must be fundamental to that. Setting a target would demonstrate a seriousness of purpose and determination to stop more children living in poverty. It would provide a foundation for a wider approach which matches the complexity of the causes of poverty today.
The social and economic costs of failure are too great to risk. As well as redirecting public spending, poverty makes it harder to achieve the productivity gains that workers and the economy desperately need. This matters because work no longer pays for too many families.
Two-thirds of children in poverty grow up in a home where at least one parent works.
So while the Government highlights the role that work can play in moving out of poverty, taking a comprehensive approach requires action to support those trapped on low incomes, so that they can progress to better paid jobs. That matters because four in every five people entering low-paid work, will remain low paid 10 years later.
I think the Government’s upcoming Industrial Strategy can take two steps to support these workers.
It should feature a targeted plan to support low wage industries, such as the care, retail and hospitality sectors, to increase productivity.
Government can also play a role by bringing together employers and trade unions to focus on raising productivity, which is the key to increasing pay.
Local low pay commissions should play a role in areas dominated by low pay, which would make a real difference across Yorkshire.
It has been a tough decade for many families in my Barnsley constituency, and right across Yorkshire.
People rightly feel their concerns have not been heard, and their circumstances have not been understood, by the Westminster Government.
I brought this Bill forward because families need real change. Poverty destroys childhoods and limits futures. Ending that burning injustice should be a defining mission for the Government.
Our collective success, both locally and nationally, will increasingly require us to meet our duty to those who are left behind. That is why we must seek to provide security, opportunity, and hope to those who need it most.
That begins with a renewed effort to end poverty so that every child can realise their potential. That has to be our ambition. It should be a challenge that unites us all. So let us set ourselves that target once more.
Dan Jarvis is Labour MP for Barnsley Central.