Let’s talk child poverty, shall we? The Labour party are trying to commit everyone to their “End Child Poverty” campaign. Though the spirit of the cause is truly generous, I wonder whether the Labour party are over-optimistic about their targets.
First of all, they want to define poverty as living below 60% of the average wage. Of course, the BBC article on this states “average (median)”. Average does not always equate to median. And the average wage will vary, depending on who’s currently employed and their salaries. The latest data I have found is from 2008, where it was reported that the median weekly wage was 479 GBP. This equates to almost 25K per annum. What the average is, I have no idea. 60% of this pay would be 15K. If the average wage is less than 25K, which is very possible given the number of people working for minimum wage, the poverty level would be even lower. It is very easy to manipulate the numbers by employing more people at minimum wage and firing those in executive positions. Given the current economic crisis, this might not be just a fantasy.
If the Labour party want to reach their target of less than 10% of children living below the poverty line, one way is to artificially lower the average wage. Therefore, fewer people might fall into the category of “dirt poor”. One might argue that lowering the average wage of a working parent would still put their children in jeopardy. However, that may not be the case. According to a BBC Business article from 2004 (outdated, I know), New Labour policies may have reduced poverty in children and pensioners, but they did not decrease the gap in pay inequality. That was because tax credits and benefits were poured into schemes whereby those with children were awarded a substantial amount whereas working-age childless adults had no benefit. So, if those with the lowest wages are the childless working-age adults, that could bring the average pay down, bringing the poverty line down and many children living in real poverty would be ignored because of the definition of poverty.
And, though fighting poverty is all good and well, where are we to get the money? We all know that cuts will have to be made, and though the government pledges more money, is it really “more money” or is it a “cut” in real terms?
I also find some “material measures” quite amusing. They believe that all children should have some of the following: a family vacation for at least once a year (we try, but if we can’t afford it, how can we?); enough bedrooms for every child above 10 years of the opposite sex to have his/her own room (2 girls, 2 bedrooms; 1 boy/1 girl, 3 bedrooms; 5 kids, a mansion – who pays?); leisure equipment such as sports equipment (at home?); celebrations on special occasions (will the government pay for my kids’ birthday party?); swimming at least once a month (are there free community pools?); a hobby or leisure activity (XBox, Playstation, Nintendo count?); friends around for tea or a snack once a fortnight (I am very derelict in this duty); toddler group/playgroup/nursery at least once a week (no toddlers here and mothers I’ve seen with toddlers already form their own groups, so the government does not really need to get involved in this one); go on school trips (they do – and we have to make voluntary contributions); outdoor space or facilities nearby to play safely (every neighbourhood already has their own playground, don’t they?) How many of these measures need to be met in order for the box to be checked?
Ms. Cooper has stated that Labour plans to implement action such that any future government will have to follow through. And are they sticking to the deadline and forcing the next government to meet it?