Child poverty damages lives: we must end it – Margaret Greenwood MP


“According to the latest government figures, 1.3 million children in 359,000 households were affected by the two-child limit in April 2022. That meant that their household income was reduced by at least £2,800 a year.”

By Margaret Greenwood MP

The scourge of poverty blights lives. For children, its impact can be severe and long-lasting, damaging to health and happiness and embedding disadvantage that can follow children through life into adulthood.

Poor housing, poor diet, the constant worry of parents who are struggling to cope: this is the lot of millions of children in the UK.

Cramped temporary accommodation can mean nowhere to bring friends home to, nowhere to do homework, and nowhere to feel safe, as has been so clearly described by The Children’s Society.

The impact on mental health can be devastating.

And then there’s hunger. Poor nutrition hinders both physical and intellectual development. It also brings misery.

Hungry children find it difficult to concentrate and sadly it is no surprise that, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, there is a gap in young people’s educational attainment by parental income across all stages of education.

Lower educational attainment then leads to poor job prospects. Even for those who do manage to do well in school, poverty still impacts on income in later life.

According to a report by the Office for National Statistics last year, ‘People who grew up in income-deprived households in England have lower average earnings aged 30 years than their peers, even when matching educational level and secondary school attainment.’ At the age of 30, half of Free School Meal  recipients earned £17,000 or less.

Simply put: the child growing up in poverty is profoundly disadvantaged. This is a moral outrage and one which we have to address.

If the moral case for tackling child poverty is clear, the wider cost to our society and economy is also stark.

A report published by the Child Poverty Action Group in March this year estimated the broader cost of child poverty to be £39 billion a year, principally due to unemployment and lower earnings amongst people who grew up in poverty, and of additional spending on public services to try to address the impact on adults who experienced poverty as children.

Over the lifetime of the governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Labour took 1.1 million children out of relative poverty before housing costs are considered. That was a major achievement and one of which we as Labour Party members are rightly proud.

However, since Labour left office in 2010 the number of children in relative poverty has increased again by 600,000.

The number of three-day emergency food parcels given out by the Trussell Trust has risen too, from 61,468 in 2010-11 to a staggering 2,986,203 in 2022-23.

Clearly, if people are being forced to turn to food banks on such a scale, the social security system is failing to protect people from poverty as it should.

One of the key policies responsible for that has been the introduction of the two-child limit in April 2017. That restricts eligibility for child tax credits and the child element of Universal Credit to the first two children in a family with certain exceptions.

According to the latest government figures, 1.3 million children in 359,000 households were affected by the two-child limit in April 2022. That meant that their household income was reduced by at least £2,800 a year.

The number of food parcels distributed by the Trussell Trust to children more than doubled between 2017-18 and 2022-23, a rise of 57%.

The low level of social security generally is one of the reasons cited by the Trussell Trust for this increase in people asking for help.

Not only is the two-child limit taking food out of the mouths of children, it is also driving inequality. Analysis of the two-child limit shows that 44% of families whose social security was reduced as a result of the policy were single parent households, and these were predominately headed by women.

Some religious or minority ethnic groups are more likely to have larger families because of their beliefs too and so are particularly affected. The introduction of the two-child limit was strongly opposed by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Muslim Council of Great Britain, and indeed representatives of faith communities generally.

As Labour’s National Policy Forum meets this weekend, the two child limit will surely be a policy under discussion, given Keir Starmer’s recent comments to the BBC that the party would not change it.

Any party that is serious about governing must cost its policies.

So I hope that the party’s position on the two child limit is reviewed in the light of the evidence put forward by the Child Poverty Action Group and others.

Tackling child poverty must be a top priority for the next Labour government: removing the two child limit offers a clear way by which this crucial work can begin.  

Featured image: Official portrait of Margaret Greenwood MP under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

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