Douglas Carswell

22 FEB 2013

Time to take child poverty seriously

More than one in four children in my part of Essex are living in poverty, says the Campaign to End Child Poverty.

"But that's the sort of thing a Campaign to End Child Poverty would say", some might think. Others might be quick to point out that the poorest in Britain today are better off than they would have been a generation ago. I understand all that, but still think that this report needs to be taken seriously.

If anything, I would suggest this report understates the problem. By defining poverty in terms of income (less than £10,400 a year) it does not properly factor in the hardship caused by rising prices.

So what to do about it?  Doubling welfare spending since 1998 does not seem to have solved the problem.  Perhaps we need a different approach.

1. Jobs: The best cure for poverty is a job.

Given the way the report defines poverty, I suspect that many households it categorises as living in poverty are benefit recipients of one kind of another. Of course not everyone is able to work. Some have very good reason not to.  But for others, there is work available. On my last trip to the Job Centre I was told there were over 170 vacancies available then and there.

"Ah! But many of these jobs are hardly worth it" you might respond. And you'd have a point. The tax and benefit system means some people would be only very marginally better off after working long hours.

We need to do far more to encourage people back into work by dealing with some of the disincentives that discourage some people from taking a job.

2. Affordable child care: Many of those this report is referring to are not just statistics to me. They are people I know by name.

Many women, in particular, have told me that a lack of affordable child care prevents some mums who might otherwise choose to work from taking a job.

Liz Truss, the minister, is currently fizzing with new ideas to ensure that there is far more affordable child care in places like Clacton.

3. Social housing: Until recently, local Tendring council required that new housing developments include 40 percent social housing. As you might imagine, this approach helped concentrate socio-economic problems in pockets of deprivation. This is perhaps reflected in the reports figures.

The council has now ditched that approach, and has a sensible target of around 10 percent. Planning liberalisation in Brooklands and Jaywick will, I am confident, mean big improvements in the local housing stock.

4. Energy costs: Everyone in Westminster seems to think that we need to produce more "green" energy. Everyone in places like Clacton seems to be paying the price for all the extra wind turbines though higher bills.

Nothing is producing more financial hardship than rising energy costs. Yet higher energy costs are a direct result of our obsession with renewable energy targets.

If we are serious about reducing child poverty, we need to tackle fuel poverty. And that means allowing energy companies to produce cheap energy from shale gas, coal and other fossil fuel sources.

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