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Making the elimination of child poverty a priority

Last week the National Education Union published some deeply shocking statistics of child poverty. 62% of those responding to an NEU poll had seen evidence of child poverty in their schools or colleges.

They reported, “More children coming to school hungry or thirsty, worse after the weekend”. They had seen children begging food from their peers. Some children had not eaten, in some instances for days. One teacher in a deprived area said, “Most of our children don’t have food at home. They are entitled to free school meals but this is the only meal they eat in 24 hours.” Some schools were also paying for shoes for these children and providing them with shampoo and basic toiletries. Why is this happening in one of the richest societies in the world and what can be done to give all children a healthy start in life?

A study published in 2018 by the Social Metrics Commission found an estimated 14.3 million people in poverty in the UK. That is roughly a fifth of the population. 8.3 million are working-age adults, 4.6 million are children and 1.3 million are of pension age.  Nearly half of these people are in persistent poverty. Poverty rates fell in the years after 2010 but are rising again now.

The increased numbers turning to food banks for help give us further evidence of this. The Trussell Trust Foodbanks Network provides over 1,182,000 people with three day emergency food supplies and 436,000 of them are children. One reason for this is the effect of the six week waiting period before applicants can receive their first Universal Credit payment. A reduction of that waiting period would reduce the time when potential recipients are without income but still have bills coming in.

 So what do the political parties competing for our votes plan to do about this poverty and the suffering it causes? The Labour party proposes to scrap the Universal Credit benefits system but doesn’t say with what they will replace it. They also intend to raise the National Living Wage from £8.21 to £10 an hour. The Conservatives will continue the roll out of Universal Credit but increase the money recipients receive by 1.7%. The Liberal Democrats approach is different, promising a £10,000 grant for every adult in England to put towards education and training that might help  some people to get better paid jobs, but it won’t solve current poverty issues.

The National Education Union has some hard things to stay about the child poverty confronting their members in schools. “It is a sadly familiar tale, but we must not grow immune to hearing it. For every child teachers and school staff know of with broken shoes or who has not eaten, we can be sure there are many more in their school. This is the reality of austerity and it is lived by too many children and their families each day.”

Party politics aside, it is surely right to argue that caring for our children and enabling them to benefit from their time at school without the obstacles of hunger and inadequate clothing should be a priority for whichever party governs the country. This election has to be about more than Brexit. Children had a special place in the heart and ministry of Jesus (Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16) and they should have a special place in our Government’s policy too.

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