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I’ve been reading an alarming Children’s Society report on Children’s lives in Waltham Forest. Walthamstow has a generation of children impacted by austerity measures introduced by recent Governments, and a failure to challenge them from opposition parties.
While the Conservatives and Labour signed up to various levels of austerity measures in their 2010 manifestos, the Green Party immediately opposed it as a political choice that could be avoided. Many economists agreed with them that the result of such cuts would have a bad effect, and disproportionately affect the poorest in society.
9 years later, those predictions have come true. Austerity didn’t work. Debt has spiralled further under a Conservative Government and now claims austerity measures are over, despite no evidence to the contrary.
What does this mean for children in Walthamstow?
In-work poverty and child poverty has increased. The number of children using food banks has more than tripled. Evidence shows that women and people of colour have been affected most by austerity. Social rented housing schemes have declined, homelessness has risen.
Children will have borne the brunt of this. Their parents will be facing these problems, causing more stress, financial worry and upheaval at home. Just when they need mental health services most, these are also being cut back.
On top of this, there have also been cuts to youth services, libraries and schools that will be directly hindering children from reaching their full potential, to discover new passions and develop skills that will later benefit the UK economy when they become tax-paying adults.
What can be done?
Central Government devolved a lot of responsibility for providing services to local authorities, but at the same time also cut their overall budgets. The resulting cost-saving needed to keep to Government targets means local services are impacted unless funding is ring-fenced to protect it.
Local Welfare Assistance schemes are one such service that isn’t ring-fenced and while Waltham Forest does currently provide such a scheme, there is no guarantee that this will continue. Even then, applications for funding far outweigh awards, and spending on this has dropped significantly in the last few years.
One plus is that the Troubled Families Programme, which is ring-fenced, has seen funding increased for youth services, but at the expense of early years and family support provision. But even this is in danger of losing long term funding.
What we need now is investment from central Government, not just to restore the previous levels of funding, but increased to a level where they can now repair the damage caused. Yet again, short-sighted politicians are causing more problems than they solve. That’s why I’m backing the recommendations set out by the Children’s Society in their report.
How would Greens tackle child poverty?
- We want to ensure that all children receive the basic elements of a good childhood: a decent place to live, safety and security in their community, time and space to play, as well as opportunities to learn and develop inside and outside of school.
- We will enable councils to lead the delivery of support for families with an early intervention infrastructure which ensures the best start to life for children and young people.
- We will invest in youth services and centres, to help turn at-risk children away from crime. All the evidence shows the cuts in youth services have increased crime, especially knife crime. To end knife crime once and for all we need to invest in specialist programmes provided through youth centres.
- We will relieve the financial squeeze on schools after years of education cuts, by increasing funding by at least £4 billion per year and focusing funding on reducing class sizes to under 20 to enable teachers to focus on individual pupil needs.
- Universal Credit with sanctions and built-in delays of up to 6 weeks has pushed families into debt and children into poverty. Unite the Union commissioned a report inviting responses from UC claimants. 42% of those who responded said they had used food banks and 69% had skipped meals with 78% having to rely on the financial support of friends. 82% of people were pushed into debt or further into debt by UC.
- The Green Party will replace the unworkable Universal Credit system with a Universal Basic Income with more help for those who need it most. Under the scheme, all adults would receive a payment of £89.00 per week up from the current £73.10 Job Seekers Allowance. Families with an income of under £50,000 per year would receive £70 per week for each of their first two children and a further £50 per week for each additional child and single parents an additional £25.00 per week.