Child poverty will increase, say churches


Church officials have warned that child poverty is likely to increase in the UK over the next few years, despite the Government's renewed commitment to eradicating it by 2020 as set out in a consultation launched Thursday.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist and the United Reformed Churches have criticised the Government's strategy to end child poverty, arguing that welfare reforms and other policies have widened the gap between rich and poor in Britain, and will result in a greater number of children living below the poverty line.

Over a quarter (27 per cent) of children in the UK already live in poverty, but in a report commissioned by the Government of Northern Ireland, the Institute of Fiscal Studies has predicted that by 2020, that number will have increased from 3.5 million children to 4.7 million.

The IFS report also disputes claims that the Government has reduced child poverty since coming to office in 2010, and instead reveals a steady increase attributed to tax and benefit changes.

In a statement concerning the Child Poverty Strategy consultation, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith claimed that "at the heart of our welfare reforms is the commitment to transform the lives of the poorest and most disadvantaged in our society".

He contends that cuts to benefits and other areas of the welfare state are "part of the Government's long-term plan to build a stronger, more competitive economy and a fairer society".

"We are committed to making work pay and improving the lives of some of the poorest families in our community," he notes.

Members of the Joint Public Issues Team, made up of representatives from the Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed churches, argue that welfare reforms have so far failed, and insist that the problems encountered already will worsen in time.

"Child poverty is set to increase for the rest of the decade and beyond and this strategy will not stop this," said Public Issues Policy Advisor Paul Morrison of the Government's proposals.

"Perversely, the strategy trumpets measures that will actually increase child poverty. The benefit cap and the bedroom tax are mentioned as poverty reduction strategies, yet we know that already both measures and driving families into poverty.

"For families which can't afford to heat their homes, or feed and clothe their children adequately, this strategy is a wasted opportunity."

Morrison furthers his criticism, contending that: "A childhood spent in poverty is a sad and terrible failure of our society to prioritise those most vulnerable.

"Jesus spoke of the preciousness of each and every child. The nation's commitment to eradicating child poverty is a beacon of hope on the political landscape.

"This strategy fails to turn that hope into a credible reality."

The consultation on the draft strategy will run until 22 May 2014.