In the words of the Sergeant Pepper song, ’It was twenty years ago today…’, on 18 March 1999, that the British government pledged to be the first to end child poverty in a generation. By 2010, there were 1.1 million fewer children in poverty. We proved once and for all that child poverty is policy-responsive, that it can be cut, and we were half way to showing it could be eliminated. Half-way, that is, to the target to get down to 10 per cent - a target we were on track to achieve by March 2020.
Lunch at the school canteen in Lisbon (left) and in London (right)
In the last few years, a slew of reports have been published focusing on the impact of the coalition government’s decision to localise various elements of the national social security system, including council tax benefit (now council tax support) and the discretionary social fund (now local welfare assistance).
Universal credit needs fixing. That’s certainly not the first time we’ve said that, but today the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd MP seemed to agree. At a Jobcentre in south London we got our first glimpse of what changes she has planned to make the benefit work better for everyone. Meanwhile, a couple of miles away the High Court announced that we had won our universal credit assessment period case. What do these two things mean for people claiming universal credit?
The United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, completed his 10 day visit in November by concluding that the UK's high child poverty rate was “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one”. Our work campaigning for policies that will prevent and solve poverty, training and advising those who support hard-up families, and mounting legal challenges to protect people’s rights, is as vital as ever.
Welfare reform and its effects have rarely been out of the news in the past few years – and rightly so. But the focus of coverage is often on political arguments taking place at Westminster. It’s vital we hear from those directly affected by the changes to social security, and from those who work with and support them. There is a wealth of experience to be learned from people on the front line.
In our Christmas appeal this year we mentioned Helen*, who we met at our food bank project in Tower Hamlets. Our advice helped Helen and her family get the financial support they needed. But we shouldn’t have met Helen in those circumstances. She shouldn’t have had to go to the food bank in the first place.
When the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, completed his 10 day visit to the UK on 16 November, he found that the poverty he had observed was unjust and, in his opinion, contrary to British values. Britain’s high child poverty rate, in the world’s fifth largest economy in 2018 was, he said: “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one”.
Today the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty arrives in the UK for a twelve-day visit. This is an interesting time to arrive in the UK to investigate human rights for those living in extreme poverty.
“I want Britain to be the world’s great meritocracy – a country where everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their talent and their hard work will allow… And I want Britain to be a place where advantage is based on merit not privilege; where it’s your talent and hard work that matter, not where you were born, who your parents are or what your accent sounds like.”
Theresa May, speech delivered September 2016