Britain is the sixth richest country in the world yet around 30% of our children (over 4 million) live in poverty; in a report released by UNICEF in 2007 Britain came 21st out of 21 of the world’s richest countries in terms of child wellbeing. If we are to take seriously the issues of child poverty and child wellbeing then we need to tackle the high levels of inequality in this country.
In a recent blog post for the Institute of Economic Affairs, Kristian Niemietz was critical of Child Poverty Action Group for an article in the Autumn 2008 edition of our membership journal “Poverty”. In it, Polly Toynbee argued that we should tax those who earn over £100,000 fifty pence on every pound they earn over that amount, to pay for improving services and reducing inequality.
“What [demands Niemietz] does any of this have to do with child poverty? What is the connection between the incomes of the richest 60,000 individuals in society, the overall size of the state apparatus, and the wellbeing of children.”
Although articles in “Poverty” do not necessarily represent our view as an organisation, in this case we totally agree with Polly that inequality and provision of services have everything to do with child poverty and the wellbeing of children.
Writing in the British Medical Journal Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson of the Equality Trust show that there is a negative correlation between levels of inequality and child wellbeing and argue that ‘Improvements in child wellbeing in rich societies may depend more on reductions in inequality than on further economic growth.’
There are two issues here. The first is the increasing evidence that inequality in itself has a negative effect on everyone in society, not just the poorest. Indeed the work of the Equality Trust has found that the negative effects of inequality include poor health (both physical and mental), increase in teenage pregnancies, higher crime levels and negative outcomes in terms of child wellbeing. What’s more, countries with lower levels of inequality also have lower levels of child poverty, and poverty itself is associated with a whole host of poor child outcomes.
The second issue, and doubtless the real source of Neimietz’s anguish, is the question of who pays.
CPAG believes those with the broadest shoulders should bear most of the burden, yet currently the poor see a higher proportion of their incomes given up to tax than do the rich. The British people largely agree with us: as polling by Compass has shown , 78% would like to see a tax system whereby the richest 10% at least pay the same percentage of their income in tax as the poorest 10%.
The forthcoming Pre Budget Report is a key opportunity for Government to address issues of inequality and reduce child poverty. Child Poverty Action Group believes it must include measures that redirect funding to help struggling families and people on low incomes as matter of urgency.