Mitcham and Morden MP Siobhain McDonagh urged the government to tackle child poverty in London last week after statistics revealed a shocking scale of deprivation.
The Labour MP led a parliamentary debate last Thursday on methods to reduce the number of children below the poverty line in the capital, currently standing at 700,000 (37%) according to Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).
Child poverty in London constituency Bethnal Green & Bow is the highest in the UK with Poplar & Limehouse ranking third, and Ms McDonagh feared the Government was not taking the issue seriously enough.
Speaking in the debate, she said: “A childhood in poverty often leads to an adulthood in poverty and a shorter, less fruitful life.
“It is time for Parliament to understand just what causes poverty, and the tangible actions this Government has the power to take to make UK child poverty a thing of the past.”
Children are more likely to grow up in poverty in London than any other UK region, and one in ten London families have relied on a foodbank.
A report last month from the Campaign to End Child Poverty showed Tower Hamlets has the highest child poverty rate of any UK Local Authority even with housing costs deducted. Newham and Hackney are also in the top five.
Ms McDonagh detailed the bleak picture in her constituency, telling of children without beds – some sleeping in vans in car parks for several weeks – while parents asked to use school phones after lengthy delays to Universal Credit payments.
Responding to a child who said they would buy cereal and porridge to keep warm if they won the lottery, Ms McDonagh claimed before the debate: “These are the dreams of a child in London in 21st-century Britain.
“In reality, the only lottery he has been involved in is the lottery of birth – he has lost that lottery and the consequences will be lifelong.”
She also pushed for the unlocking of ‘non-green’ green belt land around train stations and utilising public pension funds for house-building.
Conservative MP for Hornchurch and Upminster Julia Lopez, a former Tower Hamlets councillor, responded to Ms McDonagh by highlighting Labour’s child poverty record.
She said: “We have to look at outcomes as well as methods and spending.
“Under the Labour Government there were some serious and entrenched poverty problems, the benefits system was trapping people and there was not a belief that people could do more than they were given.”
CPAG Chief Executive Alison Garnham issued a stern warning to lawmakers over their lack of action.
Ms Garnham said: “The problem is growing, yet we have no poverty reduction targets and no agreed roadmap for tackling the problem.
“Ultimately, our child poverty rates are the outcome of the policy choices we make – child poverty is preventable.”
CPAG estimate child poverty costs the UK £29bn annually in services and wasted potential, with 380,000 more children in poverty now than in 2011-12.
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