Dear London Mayoral Candidates: 1 in 3 of your children live in poverty. This should be your only concern!
As we gear up for the London mayoral elections, the capital has to get to grips with the rising pandemic of poverty which is devastating lives before they’ve even begun.
LONDON (Bywire News) - 120,000 dead, the biggest economic crisis in history; millions of jobs lost.
The pandemic has taken a sledgehammer to the British economy and society. However, during the last ten years the country has been in the grip of another plague. It has killed more people, caused widespread devastation and no amount of social distancing can halt it. Even so, those in power have done little to stop it and have sometimes encouraged it.
Child poverty is the UK’s great sickness, and London is the epicentre.
The stats tell their own story. 37% (700,000) of all children across the capital are in poverty. That’s the highest rate in the UK. Once you take housing costs into account 43% of children in inner London and 34% of children in outer London live in relative poverty.
London’s maternal employment is the lowest of any region in the UK with only 53% of women with children in work compared to 65% across the UK.
Two thirds of those living in poverty are from working households in which at least one member of the family has a job. Pay is low, housing prices are rising and childcare is unaffordable. What used to be a decent salary in the past is now not even enough to just scape by.
Two thirds of all people across the country say they struggle to afford their basic costs. With rents and the cost of living set to rise, almost nobody can feel entirely safe from the rising poverty line. Yet, despite all of this it rarely makes it onto the front pages.
The poor child of Europe
Figures from Save the Children shows that the number of children living in poverty rose by a quarter since 2010. With it came something that almost never happens in developed countries: children started to die.
Over the past five years, child mortality has been climbing with the poorest communities being hit the hardest. This is the kind of statistic which is almost entirely alien to a global north country.
Researchers from Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle Universities found clear evidence that the rise is linked to poverty. Research from the BMJ shows that each percentage point increase in child poverty leads to an increase in child mortality.
These deaths did not have to happen. They are entirely avoidable. They are the clear result of the Conservative government policy. Throughout the 2000s poverty and mortality rates fell. Across other global north countries child mortality has also continued to decline despite the financial crisis.
Then came David Cameron and the coalition in 2010. They instituted a policy of austerity which reversed years of progress.
Government policy pushed the burden of the recovery onto ordinary people while rewarding those who had caused the crash with tax cuts and bonuses. A report from the OECD showed that individuals had paid for the crisis through higher income tax and social security obligations. However, here in the UK, the business sector and the rich enjoyed a host of tax cuts.
Corporation tax was slashed; the top rate of income tax came down to 45% and the threshold for inheritance tax was raised. According to data from the Labour party, between 2010 and 2019, cuts in corporation tax alone gave £86bn in tax cuts to corporations and the super-rich. On top of this, inheritance tax giveaways had cost £5.6bn and cutting the additional rate of income tax had cost £1.2bn.
Meanwhile, ordinary people bore the brunt of the costs with steep rises in VAT and Council Tax. Starved of funding councils around the country have had little option other than to push tax up.
In London the government has been exerting enormous pressure on the Mayor’s office to raise Council Tax bills, at a time when people are struggling under the weight of the pandemic.
On top of that rent prices and the cost of living have soared. Average house prices have outstripped wages. Home ownership for people under 40 has collapsed. People have been forced into rental accommodation, but this is less secure and more expensive than it was in days gone by.
A lack of social housing and growing demand has pushed prices up. Rent regulation has been scrapped and tenants now live with the constant risk of being made homeless for no reason. Reports show an increasing number of people on low or middle incomes are falling behind with rent.
The inevitable result was that poverty almost immediately began to rise. However, it is only from 2015 with David Cameron’s government given a free hand that child mortality started to climb. These deaths were reflected in the wider population, a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research linked 131,000 preventable deaths to austerity.
The impact of poverty is devastating. It creates a drag on children’s prospects for the rest of their lives. Parents find themselves struggling to balance difficult working patterns, children face little security and an increasingly stressful environment at home. Parents do their best but they struggle to give their children the firm foundation in life that they would like.
Government’s can argue about figures all they like, but when you cut back on healthcare, housing deaths are inevitable.
A national emergency
This is a national emergency, but it’s surprising how low on the agenda it is. The Conservative’s candidate for Mayor, Shaun Bailey has had almost nothing to say on the subject. Sadiq Khan, has made some progress, with moves to cut rail costs, an energy company providing more affordable bills, more council homes and a drive to get more people onto the real living wage, but more has to be done.
This is a social, economic and health crisis which was here before the pandemic and will continue after it. It has killed thousands of people and will kill thousands more. Talk is cheap, but you only solve a pandemic by tackling the root cause.
In this case it’s rising rents, exploding living costs, a lack of worker rights, and unaffordable childcare costs. These are the issues which must be solved if we’re to address the crisis which is unfolding right before our eyes.
All mayoral candidates should commit to creating a clear and effective roadmap which treats this with the urgency it deserves in their next term of office. It has been ignored for too long and children are dying as a result.
If successful London can, as so often in the past, create a lead which others can follow and eradicate this scourge on our society once and for all, then finally we can consider ourselves a ‘developed nation’. Until children stop starving to death, it just won’t feel that way.
(Written by Tom Cropper and Michael O'Sullivan)