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11 November 2011
Cathy Jamieson MP outlines her views on the findings of Action for Children's "The Red Book".
Before coming into politics, I worked with vulnerable children and families for many years. Indeed, I became active in politics because I believed that we needed to make radical changes in order to tackle the deep seated problems associated with poverty.
In government, Labour introduced tax credits to help boost income and pay for child care; brought in a national minimum wage putting more money into the pockets of hard-working parents; rebuilt schools and hospitals and invested in social housing. A network of more than 3,600 Sure Start Children's Centres provided access to high quality early education, play facilities, parenting classes, health services, employment advice, access to training courses and - perhaps most importantly for many families - a community hub where parents could meet and share experiences with other parents.
Since the coalition took office, however, we have seen a dramatic deterioration in the prospects of children living near or under the poverty line. The number of people out of work has risen significantly, with female unemployment rising to record levels. Over £6bn is being cut from direct support for children – three times as much as is being taken from the banks –including from child tax credits, child benefit, maternity allowance, child trust funds and housing support. This has had a major impact on working parents.
Where Labour gave significant financial support, this government immediately cut that support by 12.5 per cent. Not only that, but the money that local authorities get to help guarantee that there are enough childcare places in their area, and that they are affordable, comes out of the same shrunken pot as Sure Start. The result on the ground is rising prices and falling places, meaning that for more and more parents, and particularly young, single mothers, working just doesn't make financial sense.
Action for Children's recently published Red Book reveals the real struggle families are facing and the pressures public services are under with decreased budgets and increased demands upon them. They set out a number of challenges for us in Parliament to consider, as we look to developing policies for the longer term, which can re-focus our efforts on child poverty.
Specifically, we must ask ourselves whether the mechanics of the coalition's spending review, the way funding is allocated across Whitehall, stand in the way of us supporting the most vulnerable children, young people and families in our society. Despite many across the House supporting and signing up to, the principle of early intervention, the decisions being taken by this government fall far short.
One year after the 2010 spending review we need to debate how we can change our approach so that the system does not fail our most vulnerable children. Action for Children has identified a number of areas where the government's economic policy is failing families.
Labour has set out our alternative in a five-point plan, which includes measures to fund 100,000 jobs for young people and boost families' income. Crucially, our approach emphasises a move away from an approach of cutting too far and too fast towards policies based upon longer term investment in services.
As the Red Book explains, "vulnerable people are already paying the human cost of decisions made in the first year since the spending review."
Not only have the coalition's cuts already damaged communities, Action for Children's financial modelling clearly sets out that, "...continuing to pursue policies which disproportionately affect the most vulnerable will result in increased costs to the state."
This attack on our children and families cannot go on. It is our responsibility to bring an end to a system of decision-making based on a false economy which will lead to family breakdown and more children entering the care and justice systems. To prevent these children, young people and families from tipping over the edge, we need to invest the resources we do have smartly and effectively.
If we don't, then not only will the most vulnerable children be at risk, but the economic costs of picking up the pieces will sky-rocket. Our country cannot afford this, and neither can the next generation. When politicians are told the reality on the ground, it is our responsibility to listen and act. With such strong evidence, the coalition government can no longer ignore the damaging repercussions of their misguided economic decisions.
That is why now, more than ever, the government needs to re-think it's short-sighted approach and politicians from all sides must come together to develop a long-term strategy to lift children out of poverty. Our most vulnerable children and young people need, and deserve, nothing less.