New figures this week, published by the End Child Poverty coalition, show that 9,076 children are now living in poverty in our area. This sad result of six years of cuts to help to low income families means Bermondsey and Old Southwark is in the top 20 constituencies in the UK with the highest levels of child poverty.
This is a shocking figure. It means almost four in ten children in our community are defined as, after housing costs, living in poverty. With the imposition of the new welfare cap, benefit freezes, rising house costs, stagnant incomes, and the roll-out of universal credit, it is difficult to imagine that this number will fall. It will sadly rise even further under this Government.
The last Labour Government, 1997-2010, lifted over 800,000 children out of poverty. The Lib Dem/Tory coalition and current Tory Government changed policies and cut help even to working families. I see the result of this every day. Every surgery session I now refer someone to a local foodbank as they are no longer able to afford the basic essentials – and not just for food, but for baby items like nappies. The Trussell Trust provide this kind of help locally and estimate that they helped 2,124 people with food parcels last year, including almost 900 children.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) are in no doubt that tax and benefit decisions made since 2010 have had a direct impact on the rise of poverty and child poverty in the UK. The Government even tried to stop monitoring child poverty levels to hide their shame – and we must not forget that Lib Dems, like my predecessor, were complicit in the cuts.
Theresa May began her premiership with pledges to tackle inequality and poverty. So far, we have seen no action to tackling the growing problem. But the Autumn Statement in a couple of weeks does give the Government another chance to turn May’s rhetoric into real policies. I just suspect it will be a poverty of aspiration that determines May’s Ministers’ response to the problem.