The press reports the main reaction from voluntary sector to yesterday’s budget as one of disappointment: a missed opportunity to tackle child poverty. But money is in very short supply (so is support for the government) and choices had to be made. Boosting housing, employment and pensioners seem like logical, if tactical, decisions, although they're unlikely to help children who need help now.
Despite talking of prioritising children, the budget pledge of £20 increase in tax credits has been described as paltry. It seems pretty much agreed by child poverty groups that in deciding against providing families any worthwhile cash, the government will be forced to renege on its promise to halve child poverty by 2010.
Kate Green from the Child Poverty Action group has been widely quoted putting the numbers into perspective: "The money targeted on the children struggling most during the recession amounts to less each week than the cost of a pint of milk. It is disgraceful to give such a pittance.”
However, given the current climate, the chancellor’s focus on unemployment, may make more sense. Joblessness can create a cyclical trap depression, addiction, ill-health and desperation. Unemployment needs to prevented and services to support people’s growing needs want bolstered.
To this end then, the government has made attempts to help. £125 million addition to the social hardship fund is a welcome pledge and will enable families to access interest free loans. The guarantee of a job, training or work placement for 18-24 year olds who’ve been employed for over a year is especially timely, as is the promise of traineeships in the care sector for 16 and 17 year olds.
The government claims to have reduced disincentives to work, and gives figures for this, part of which involved increasing the national minimum wage. Whilst it could certainly go further by making this a real living wage, it could be argued that removing barriers and making people work-ready is surely the way forward. (Now we just need the jobs.)
Plans to spend £400million to unlock stalled housing projects and £100million to build new social housing is also important, if limited, as poor housing is inextricably linked to poverty, and the detriment to children living in it, unquestionable.
Regardless of these positive steps though cries of ‘not enough’ ring true. Terrifying times lie ahead: unemployment and its associated problems are set to rise. Simultaneously, the country awaits the inevitable retraction of the public services that mop up the painful fall out of the redundancies and repossessions.
In the coming years as support dwindles when the immediate need for it increases, children growing up in poverty may desperately wish the government had put more money in their parent’s pockets.