Ending child poverty by 2020 - my highest priority as Labour MP for Bristol West
As I look out of the window from my campaign office, I can see a child living in a flat nearby. in this part of town, one in two children is living like this child, in poverty - and from what I can glimpse, this child is probably one of them. Parents who love and care for them, are often working, but struggling to make ends meet. People relying on the food bank in Easton to feed their children. I want to be judged as an MP for how many children are lifted out of poverty.
One of the last things the last Labour government did was to pass the Child Poverty Act 2010, making a legal commitment to ending child poverty by 2020. The last Labour government had set its sights high from the start. The achievements were many – nearly 1 million children were taken out of poverty during the 1997-2010 Labour government. Child Tax Credit, Sure Start, Education Maintenance Allowance for 16-17 year olds staying in education, improvements to childcare, raising low incomes, introducing the minimum wage and much more – these all helped. Our own Labour MP for Bristol West,Val Davey, was responsible for bringing in the Education Maintenance Allowance, a radical policy which helped so many young people from families on low and moderate incomes to stay on at school to study for sixth form.
Such was the change in the nation’s political thinking that all parties signed up to the Child Poverty Act and thus joined in the commitment to the legal mandate to end child poverty by 2020.
In the last five years most of this has tragically gone into reverse. Nearly a million children are now back in poverty when they weren’t before 2010.
Cuts to tax credits, pay freezes, VAT rise and lack of attention by this government to the rising costs of basic living essentials – all of these have affected people on low incomes the most, and families, particularly single parents families, worst of all.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have done a great deal of excellent research to help us to have good information about the extent, nature, causes and consequences of poverty in the UK. They recently published a report on the 2015 Tory-LibDem government budget titled "The UK cannot achieve full economic potential while poverty and disadvantage remain high". The title says it all - poverty is economically inefficient as well as morally indefensible. Another report discusses why it is important for cities to connect economic growth and poverty reduction - and how this can be done.
This country's children cannot wait a moment longer for a Labour government, having been so badly let down by this one.
What are the symptoms locally of current child poverty?
In Bristol West, in the poorest parts of the constituency, we have some chronic problems which are affecting children’s life chances from the moment they are born. These include:
- Low income, high rents, high energy bills and insecure work, with poor conditions such as zero-hours contracts.
- Families who are struggling with the consequences of domestic violence and abuse, having to leave an abusive partner is costly in practical and financial terms as well as emotionally and physically painful. My work for the last quarter of a century has been to try to end domestic violence and other forms of violence against women. We have made great progress but it’s still an appalling and sadly all too frequent part of the lives of too many families.
- Lack of access to affordable childcare, reliable transport or accessible training to help get people into work.
- Problems of social exclusion and feelings of low aspiration which come about from being surrounded by poor living conditions, lack of health care (getting a doctor in some parts of the constituency is getting harder and harder).
- Lack of decent affordable housing. As I sit in my campaign office in Lawrence Hill I look out of the window and can see flats in appalling conditions, for which I know people are being charged high rents. If they complain, they risk revenge evictions. If they move, they will likely be charged fees by letting agencies. For those living in council and housing association homes the conditions and security are better but there simply isn’t enough.
- Demoralised teachers struggling to cope with increasing demands, parents who want the best for their children at school but don’t always know how to make that happen or how to support their child’s education, children feeling that there is no point in having high aspirations as they don’t see what their future jobs could offer.
What’s the alternative?
My vision is a Labour vision – where no child is hungry, every child has a secure, warm and safe home. Where every parent is able to meet the basic needs of their child and is able to balance family life with work.
Every child should have access to outstanding education and health care and everything should be done to narrow the inequalities between children from poorer backgrounds and those from better off backgrounds, as early as possible.
How do we achieve this?
I have three key aspirations for our children:
- 1. That all children will live in families where there is enough income to manage securely;
To achieve aim 1 – we need to have a determination to prioritise ending all forms of poverty. I'll ask my team to put this as number one on our lists for every day - we will start each day asking ourselves what we are doing today to help end poverty. I will push in parliament for every single thing in the Labour manifesto which will help to reduce and end poverty. I will speak out in this constituency against poverty and work with employers and trade unions to promote not just a Living Wage but good terms and conditions for all workers. Labour will also be tackling the symptoms and underlying causes of the cost of living crisis.
Specific Labour policies which will help achieve this include: abolish exploitative zero hours contracts, raise the minimum wage to a living wage, tackle unfair private rental costs, regulate the energy companies, abolish private letting agency fees and outlaw revenge eviction. We also need to ensure that thousands of new homes are built every year – and various Labour policies will achieve this, with the aim of a minimum of 200,000 new homes every year by 2020. We will also increase free childcare to 25 hours per week for every 3 and 4 year old and boost support for Sure Start Children's Centres.
We also need to make sure that economic growth is stronger, more sustainable and more equitably distributed – this means standing up for decent pay, terms and conditions for working people as well as proper care and help for people who can’t work.
- 2. That they will have meaningful and high quality opportunities to learn, develop and aspire;
To achieve aim 2, we need to believe that having meaningful opportunities to learn and develop should be a right for all children and to work with parents, schools and others to make sure that this happens. As a Labour MP for Bristol West I will make this a priority and will be visiting every school regularly to find out how I can help support staff, parents and children to achieve this. I will fight for our schools and I will take every opportunity in public and in private to demonstrate that I have the highest aspirations for our children to fulfil their potential.
Specific Labour policies which will help: protecting funding for education in real terms, from early years to further education; boosting apprenticeships and creating technical qualifications and institututes; establishing school standards commissioners to ensure higheset quality standards in teaching and learning and to commission schools where they are needed; abolish wasteful Free Schools programme; require all teachers to be qualified - all Labour manifesto commitments.
- 3. That all children will feel valued.
To achieve aim 3, we need MPs and leaders who demonstrate actively that they value all children and find as many ways as we can to show this and inspire and require others to do likewise. I will do this by supporting our social workers, teachers, nursery staff and above all PARENTS in all the ways they value our children. I'll ask my case workers to make sure they are regularly monitoring information from the local authority safeguarding staff. I'll visit all schools, nurseries and children's centres in the constituency regularly and I will champion and promote those who have exciting ways of showing children they are valued.
What’s holding us back?
Sometimes it can feel as if this is just a dream, not a real possibility – and yet we saw under the last and previous Labour governments that having big ambitions about ending injustice and poverty, creating a magnififent health service, or building 1000s of council home after the last world war – Labour has always had a strong tradition of taking big dreams of a better world and making them a reality.
We are held back in this country by wide inequalities of wealth, income and opportunity – caused in large part by gaps in educational attainment but also differential and often unfair systems of rewards in the labour market.
We are held back by a lack of connection between our grand aims and public debate on poverty – a lack of a clear vision of what a world free from poverty could look like and how it would be better for everyone, not just those who are the poorest. Global leadesr such as Stiglitz, former director of the World Bank, have passionately and clearly argued for the economic as well as the moral case for tackling inequality and unfair financial and trading systems. He’s also been inspiring for showing how the alternatives could be achieved, that we don’t just need to throw up our hands in despair. But this hasn’t captured public imagination in as widespread a way as is necessary for achieving long ter support for the sorts of policies we need. There is still a tendency for some public debate to find ways of blaming people for their own poor life situations, to create divisions between people rather than finding solutions to the inequalities and injustices, or pointing out that these inequalities are actually detrimental to everyone.
Judge me on my record on child poverty - and elect a Labour MP to do it!
If we have a Labour majority on 7 May this year, we can achieve so much to end child poverty - and much more, of course. If we win in Bristol West, we can help to build that majority and make all these commitments a reality - we know how we are going to pay for them nationally, I know how local organisations, people, councillors, employers, schools and others can work together to achieve it locally - and I will be proactive in pushing for this. And judge me on what I have done to help end child poverty
Please help to end child poverty by voting Labour in Bristol West on 7 May.