Can a national child poverty strategy be all things to all children?

Well, just as we were drawing breath after the London elections, we find ourselves back in election mode once more. And once again we will be straining every sinew to ensure that child poverty is a central issue of the campaign and one that all the political parties are held to account on. In particular we will be making the case for all parties to pledge to a child poverty strategy that not only makes firm and time-bound commitments about reducing and ultimately eradicating child poverty but also recognises that achieving this aim will require different approaches in different parts of the country.

Of course, some of the key policies that we, along with over 100 other members of the End Child Poverty Coalition, want to see front and centre in a child poverty strategy such as abolition of the two-child limit and benefit cap, are ones that an incoming Government in Westminster alone can implement. But we also need a child poverty strategy that operates regionally and locally so that it can respond to the different contexts that children live in across the country. For example, in the North East child poverty is driven in large part by low pay, insecure work and out-of-work poverty (North East Child Poverty Commission, 2024), whereas in London it is exorbitantly high housing costs along with costs such as childcare that are the major issue. Important new analysis from our colleagues at Trust for London and WPI Economics exploring the possible reasons behind the apparent fall in overall poverty numbers in London in the past few years, suggests that costs are now so high that for many people the only way to escape poverty in our city is to leave it.

A national child poverty strategy that fails to recognise these regional differences and allow for differential responses is not going to have the impact it so urgently needs to. The incoming Government, must engage with and harness the data and knowledge that the Greater London Authority, combined and local authorities have about their regions and localities and establish mechanisms to ensure sustained focus and action on the issue at regional and local level.  Moreover, it needs to recognise the impact that the collapse of local government funding has had on children’s services which has undoubtedly affected the poorest children most. It is crucial that a child poverty strategy ensures that local authorities are sufficiently resourced to meet the needs of the children living in their communities.

So, in answer to the question, yes, a national child poverty can and must deliver for all the UK’s children, no child wherever they live should be experiencing poverty, but this will only be achieved if we acknowledge and respond to their different circumstances. From our perspective as the London Child Poverty Network, we will use the coming weeks to champion as loudly as we can the right of the 700,000 children living in poverty in London to live in a poverty free city, a goal that we firmly believe is achievable if the political will is there to achieve it.



Tackling child poverty must be high on the new mayor's agenda

Yesterday Londoners went to the polls to elect their Mayor and members of the London Assembly. As we await the results, it is a good moment to pause and consider what should be at the top of the Mayor’s agenda from day one of their new term of office. From our perspective at London’s Child Poverty Network we are crystal clear that tackling the high levels of child poverty that continue to mar our city must be up there.  

The first crucial step towards bringing about a child poverty free London must be to work with those children, families and those organisations who support them in their communities to develop a strategic response to tackling the problem over the next four years. As a network we have been very supportive of Sadiq Khan’s move to guarantee free school meals for all primary school children in the city, which demonstrates that he gets the severity of the situation and the need to take bold action to address it – but we know that on its own, it is not enough. Now is the time to bring everyone to the table to decide what other actions need to be prioritised to address the systemic causes of poverty. And we are not the only ones saying so, just before the election period began back in March a cross-party group of London Assembly Members supported our call and published a report recommending that ‘[t]he Mayor, working in conjunction with local authorities and the voluntary sector, should publish a child poverty strategy for London in 2024-25.’ 

So, what are the key policies the strategy ought to contain?  Well, it is a fact that many of the levers for reducing child poverty lie beyond the direct powers of the Mayor of London; our broken social security system for example, which exacerbates rather than ameliorates child poverty rates by setting benefit payments at levels which are not sufficient to provide families with essentials; discriminates against larger families through the two-child limit; and imposes sanctions that push families into debt rather providing them with the scaffolding they need to escape poverty. These are not policies the Mayor can directly change, although they can add their strong voice to the chorus of cries for reform.  

Where the Mayor can take direct action though, they must. Child poverty in London is driven in large measure by the exorbitantly high costs of living in the city, housing first among them. Without access to decent housing, 84,940 children in our city are living in temporary accommodation, often deprived of basics such as access to a hot nutritious meal, a warm comfortable bed and space to play and learn. Whoever emerges victorious from the election count will already be well aware that sorting the housing crisis is going to be one of the biggest challenges they face and indeed all the main candidates have pledged to do so, in various ways, during their election campaigns.  What we are calling for now is for these efforts to also be a central plank of a new child poverty strategy for the city. By looking afresh as the problem through this lens we can ensure that the housing that is built truly meets the needs of young families living on low incomes and enables them to live in and contribute to our city, as part of our communities rather displaced to other more affordable parts of the country.  

Addressing high childcare costs must be part of a London child poverty strategy too. In our recent report Make Childcare Make Sense we looked at how sky-high childcare fees disproportionately affect families living on low incomes making it next to impossible for them to stay and/or progress in work and how an inclusive, affordable childcare system could vastly improve their and the children’s lives and allow them to contribute to London’s economic well-being. Getting the national childcare and early education policy framework right is essential to achieving this goal but so too is leadership and intervention at the London-wide level and our report sets out a series of recommendations for the Mayor and GLA.  

Faced with these high housing and childcare costs, another reason many families in London struggle to make ends meet is a lack of high-quality, well-paid work; in London, almost half of those in poverty are in employment and in 2022, 17% of Londoners in work were paid below the London Living Wage (Trust for London). Many of these also face the issue of insecure work. Recent research from the Living Wage Foundation has found that there are over 800,000 insecure jobs in London. Addressing these twin issues of low pay and insecure work must be another strand of a child poverty strategy.  

Finally, is also crucial that a strategy recognises the interaction between poverty and discrimination and has addressing it at its core. We cannot for example, ignore the fact that systemic racism and disablism in the education system often combined with the impact of poverty, is responsible for holding back some of our young people and preventing them from flourishing in the way they should. A child poverty strategy rooted in a human rights-based approach is key to achieving deep and lasting change.  

So, once they have had a chance to catch their breath, we hope our newly elected Mayor will engage with us as a network, draw on our members’ rich and diverse experience and work with us to map out and deliver a plan for achieving a child poverty free London; an achievable goal if we all harness our collective determination and belief to make it happen.