ALL EYES ARE turning to Executive Mayor John Biggs as it is revealed that children in four constituencies in the UK are more likely than not to grow up in poverty – and two of the four are in Tower Hamlets.
Overall, 53% of children growing up in Tower Hamlets live in poverty – the highest figure in the UK, and an increase over the last year of ten percentage points. The average level of child poverty across the UK is 27%.
The devastating news comes in a report commissioned by a number of charities which are working together under the umbrella title of End Child Poverty. The report finds that the biggest increases in child poverty over the past two years have taken place in areas already at the top of the deprivation league.
The report goes on to name four parliamentary constituencies in which over half the children are growing up in poverty – the first time poverty ratings have gone over 50% of the child residents*. Two of the constituencies are in Tower Hamlets: Bethnal Green & Bow and Poplar & Limehouse. The other two are Ladywood and Hodge Hill in Birmingham.
*The Council has asked us to point out that this is an error – poverty ratings have been over 50% in the past, having peaked at 64% in 2007. We are clarifying that this was during a Labour Administration, when Cllr Denise Jones was Leader of the Council.
There are 25 constituencies where over 40% of children live in poverty – most of which are in London, Birmingham and Manchester. Within these constituencies, there are pockets where poverty goes over 50% – with one ward in Oldham registering over 60% of children in poverty.
Poverty is defined as a household living on less than 60% of median household income. Sam Royston, Chair of End Child Poverty, called the findings in the report a scandal.
The charities believed that the major cause of the hike in poverty is the recent freeze in welfare benefits – during which time inflation has risen, meaning that anyone on benefits has seen their disposable income reduce.
End Child Poverty is therefore calling for an end to the four year freeze of welfare benefits which was announced in 2016 – before the situation gets any worse. The freeze comes at a time when many households are transferring from traditional benefits onto Universal Credit: the charities estimate this could propel a further 1 million more children below the poverty threshold.
The Government, with a characteristic display of hope over reality, responded to the report by claiming it had a good record and if people wanted to get out of poverty they should get a job.
Tower Hamlets Executive Mayor John Biggs has not commented on the figures yet. His predecessor, Mayor Lutfur Rahman, took a number of targeted measures to tackle child poverty – including modest allowances for 16 year olds staying on in education and providing four Council-run day nurseries.
The public awaits hearing John Biggs’s anti-poverty strategy.
*The Council has asked us to point out that John Biggs does clarify his anti-poverty strategy when requested to do so. John Biggs’s comments, which the Council has supplied to us, are:
“The impact of the government’s cuts are hitting our residents hard. From the benefit cap to Universal Credit, central government has hacked away at the welfare safety net and local councils have been left to pick up the pieces. I have set aside £5 million into a Tackling Poverty Fund to help mitigate the worst impacts of Government policies. These figures should be a wake-up call to government of the impact their policies are having on the most vulnerable in society.”
•Read our full story about the Council’s “corrections”
Council corrects ELN on child poverty figures