Under David Cameron we saw child poverty targets scrapped and poverty reframed as a matter not of lack of money but of poor ‘life chances’, while the number of children in poverty increased. Theresa May promised to address the ‘burning injustices’ in society, including poverty, but has continued to pursue policies which are projected to drive child poverty up to over 5 million by the end of this parliament.
In place of a green paper on social justice, her government delivered the policy paper Improving Lives: helping workless families. The paper focuses entirely on the small number of families experiencing worklessness and the ‘associated disadvantages’ of conflict, drug and alcohol dependency, mental ill-health, debt and homelessness. It is silent on rising in-work poverty and is entirely premised on the assertion that parental worklessness is the central factor damaging children’s outcomes,in spite of strong evidence from the London School of Economics, the University of Liverpool and others that parents’ income has a far greater effect on children than worklessness itself. The policies proposed in this paper include a continuation of the ‘troubled families’ programme, discussed in this issue in a feature by Stephen Crossley, and other family-level interventions.
In expectation of the promised green paper on social justice, we invited former members of John Smith’s 1994 Commission on Social Justice to write reflection pieces on what has been achieved since then, and what social justice ought to look like in the UK today. Their essays are followed by one from the director of the liberal Conservative think tank Bright Blue, and all provide much food for thought.
Following June’s election result – just announced at the time of writing – there are many unanswered questions about what the next five years will hold. Was a surge in youth turnout connected to the huge economic squeeze hitting young people, and what will be the response? Will the income and spending power of ordinary families be allowed to continue to decline, or will we see a rethink of damaging policies such as the benefits freeze? Will the ‘two child limit’ be revisited under a minority government that depends for its survival on Democratic Unionist MPs, most of whom signed a motion against the policy in April?
It is our view that meaningful progress on social justice cannot be achieved unless the new government acknowledges that poverty is a reality, recognises the harm it causes and acts to stop – and reverse – rising child poverty rates. CPAG is calling on the new government to prioritise child poverty, protect families from rising living costs, make universal credit fit for families, take immediate steps to prevent demand for foodbanks and develop a visionary national childcare strategy.