For most people in Bristol West, poverty seems a long way away but child poverty is right here where we live. In Cabot, Clifton and even Cotham.
What are we doing in one of the richest cities in Britain – in one of the most well-off constituencies - with seriously disadvantaged children as our neighbours? Averaged out across the Bristol West constituency, 29 per cent of the children you see on the street live below the poverty line.
If that’s an average then there must be some blackspots and, yes, Lawrence Hill has 47 per cent of its children living in poverty. In Easton 36 per cent of children live in poverty and in Ashley it’s 31 per cent. The figures from endchildpoverty.org.uk put Cabot at 29 per cent, Clifton at 15 per cent and Cotham at 12 per cent. Smaller rates in posher areas but I don’t feel comfortable knowing that practically everywhere in Bristol West at least one in every eight children is living in poverty.
Some sections of the national press blame the poor themselves for being workshy but this simply isn’t true. Nearly two thirds (59 per cent) live in a household where at least one adult is working.
When I’m out canvassing I meet these families. They are desperate. They have jobs and rates of pay most people wouldn’t even consider. Some have two, even three, part-time jobs, getting older children to look after younger children till they come home. Some have zero-hours contracts waiting around on no pay till the manager says “hey, we’re busy get cracking”.
Available all the time but paid only for the hours they work, these workers at the bottom of the pile have no idea how much money they will have each week.
Earlier this week I heard on our local BBC news that just 15 Bristol employers pay the living wage, now £7.85 an hour. You still hear businessmen say that their businesses would collapse if they paid staff more.
Many comfortably off people I meet on the doorstep are sympathetic to those businessmen until I point out that those workers on poverty pay claim tax credits and benefits which we all fund through the taxes we pay. All of us are subsidising poverty pay. Your taxes add to their profit. The vast majority of people claiming benefits are in work.
Poverty for their children means a whole lot more than just a few meagre presents this Christmas. It affects their whole life. Life expectancy is reduced by eight years, physical and mental development is also reduced. Educational attainment is held back. These children are most often condemned to a cycle of poverty for the rest of their lives.
It doesn’t have to be like this and the last Labour government set itself a target of eliminating child poverty in a generation. They made a difference - one million children taken out of poverty before 2010 - but since then 250,000 children have slipped back below the poverty line.
Voters expect that their government will be for the people – but if it isn’t even on the side of the nation’s children, then as a government it has failed.
It is shameful and those ministers presiding over this worsening state of affairs should be ashamed.
The coalition’s stated aim was to reduce the deficit – we still have one of the worst in Europe – and fix the economy. Yet growth is slow and new jobs are largely low-paid, part-time jobs. We know this because the tax take is far lower than economists would normally expect, so people must be earning a lot less.
Labour had a growth stimulation package which the government ignored. A growing economy does provide the jobs and a future for our young people, more people in work more spending power.
Most people I meet in Bristol West want to end poverty, to create a future for the next generation. Sustainable growth is created through turning raw goods, knowledge and materials into the food, computers, energy, health care and whatever else we need to live in warmth and security. It then needs to be shared out fairly and pay for the health, education and other things best provided publicly.
I hear some people say we should pursue a “no growth” economy. I can understand that in part, when economic growth benefits only the very richest. But no growth would trap those families in poverty for ever.
I know where my priorities lie and fighting to end poverty in Britain is what I intend to do.
Thangam's comment piece in Bristol 24/7 10th November 2014