Growth is all very well, but it won’t solve child poverty

Sometimes even the best ideas get ignored. This week, the Government responded to a major new report published by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

The report found that absolute child poverty increased by 300,000 between 2010-11 and 2012-13 and a rise from 2.6 million households in absolute poverty to 3.5 million is now expected. Wherever you are on the political spectrum, wouldn’t you agree that those are terrible figures?

So the Commission came up with a whole range of policies to fix the problem. Among them were more ambitious targets on closing the attainment gap for disadvantaged children, improving access to youth training and employment, and bolstering pay.

The Government’s responses to many of these recommendations were limited and underpinned by the notion – quickly becoming the Government’s fall-back line on a wide range of current social ills – that economic growth will solve it all.

While the Government said it had developed policies to support disadvantaged young people to attend top universities, it rejected the Commission’s call to set a target for 5,000 more pupils in them by 2020.

The report’s calls for a clamp down on unpaid internships and a championing of the Living Wage were also ignored. The Government said the best way to ensure pay levels for young people increased was to focus on growing the economy.

On the recommendation that the Government recycle some of the savings from increased employment into tax and benefit policies that help working parents escape poverty, the Government said it is still gathering evidence about what can help people stay in work and progress to earn more and the circumstances that might make it harder for some people to earn more.

Overall the Government’s response does little to convince that sufficient and drastic action is being taken to ensure the government’s target of ending child poverty by 2020 will be met.

The strong relationship between poverty, deprivation and academic achievement is not disputed. The gap this relationship creates in educational attainment between children living in poverty and their wealthier peers can last a lifetime, cementing inequalities in the labour market and reinforcing the divisions in society that the Commission’s report warns against. Research by the International Monetary Fund has shown that these inequalities make economic growth more volatile and can create the unstable conditions which lead to sudden slowdown in GDP growth.

So growing the economy alone is not only insufficient: it is actually undermined by the rising number of children living in poverty. Only growth which is coupled with social protection will be inclusive enough to eradicate child poverty by 2020.