Britain and Babies (and if you don’t know why that’s a topical headline I guess you found this article in a web search several months in the future)
Yes, it’s July 2013 and Britain’s going royal baby bonkers! You can chuckle at the tweets of someone who hasn’t been born yet (over three thousand followers, last time I looked) and read the Guardian in royalist and republican versions (though the live coverage mainly consists of variations on the theme of “still nothing happening …” [obviously this bit of the post is going to look dated quite quickly])
And you, bemused citizen of the future or some remote place unaffected by this frenzy, may conclude that this shows that Britain is a country that loves children.
Only up to a point.
Today, the Children’s Society Good Childhood report shows that children’s well-being, which was rising steadily until 2009, has been in decline since then. About half a million children are “struggling”: doing badly on personal development and growth and happiness and life satisfaction.
What a day to publish that report! But it isn’t a one-off; here’s some results taken just from reports that have been published this year:
- Having a baby is expensive. It raises the cost of heating, which poor families find it especially hard to cope with; Family Action reported that 13% of poorer families had gone without essentials like food or heating to cope with the extra costs of a baby. Later on, childcare costs hit working families; the Daycare Trust reports that price of childcare is going up much faster than the average rate of inflation – over 5% in 2012/13. Barnardo’s reports that the government’s cuts to the proportion of childcare costs covered by tax credits will act as a substantial disincentive to employment.
- Hunger hurts, and more and more families cannot afford to eat: Church Action on Poverty calculates that there are half a million relying on food banks and food parcels. The Benefit Cap is designed to penalise large families (actually, it seems designed to hit children); research published by Kellogg’s shows that families with more children spend a higher proportion of the incomes on food than families with fewer children. Magic Breakfast estimate 700,000 children are coming to school hungry and this affects their ability to learn. Michael Gove thinks that this is more likely to be the result of “chaotic homes” than inadequate incomes; Magic Breakfast says that there are many reasons why children don’t have breakfast, but “financial hardship [is] the most common”.
- Shelter found that “a generation of children is growing up in unstable, unaffordable, poor quality homes” with one in ten renting families having had to change their children’s school due to moving. The Bedroom Tax is designed to make this more common and new research from the RSA shows that children who switch schools in-year do worse in exams.
- Children in families with disabled members are more likely to be poor. 29% of families with a disabled child are poor, compared with 25% of families where no-one is disabled. The Family Fund report that parents and carers with a disabled child are at significant risk of severe sleep deprivation, with 49% having health problems as a result, 22% having relationship problems and 15% concerned about their disabled children’s brothers and sisters. Disability benefits are especially important in addressing this: 22% of children living in a family where someone is disabled and the family gets a disability benefit are poor, but for families with a disabled person but no-one gets a disability benefit, this rises to 36%. So the coalition’s cuts to benefits for disabled people are very worrying: Tanni Grey-Thompson’s “Holes in the Safety Net” noted that the abolition of the Disabled Worker Credit when Universal Credit replaces Working Tax Credit will cost up to 116,000 people £40 a week. In addition, 100,000 disabled children will lose £28 a week because the disability addition for Universal Credit is lower than the disability element of Child Tax Credit and the abolition of the Severe Disability Premium will lose 230,000 people up to £58 a week.
- There are 3.5 million children living in poverty; this is not because their parents will not work: two thirds of poor children live in a household where at least one of the adults is in employment. Child poverty costs Britain £29 billion a year; when they grow up, poor children are less productive workers and more likely to become unemployed; child poverty creates problems that then need massive social spending.
And the government must take the blame for a lot of this; they must have some claim to be the most anti-child government ever:
- In January 2011, they abolished the Health in Pregnancy Grant, designed to combat malnutrition among young mothers – a major cause of low birth weight and developmental problems.
- Since 2011, Child Benefit has been frozen. The Conservatives don’t like this benefit; Mrs Thatcher froze it too, and it was one of the reasons she became an electoral liability.
- In April 2011, they abolished the Baby Element of Child Tax Credit, which was worth £545 a year to families with a child aged under one.
- In the same month, they abolished the Maternity Grant for second and subsequent children.
As I’ve noted before, the Institute for Fiscal Studies forecasts that the proportion of children in poverty will rise 6 percentage points between 2010/11 and 2020/21, “reversing all of the reductions” in the previous decade. By 2010/21, we will have an extra 1.1 million children in poverty – but without the government’s tax and benefit reforms child poverty “would actually have fallen.”
The Children’s Commissioner for England’s assessment of the tax, tax credit and benefit changes introduced since 2010 is that, on average, couples with children have lost more in cash than any other type of household whilst lone parents have lost more in percentage terms. They conclude:
The analysis of the tax, benefit and tax credit systems has shown that successive policies have led to families with children losing a greater share of their income than those without children. It is also of great concern that some of the most vulnerable families with children are losing proportionally the most. The Government has a responsibility under the UNCRC [United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child] to address this as quickly as possible.
Overall, the evidence in this report suggest that the best interests of children are not being treated as a primary consideration (Article 3) in the design of fiscal measures relating to welfare benefits, tax credits and taxes.
I’m very happy for the royal couple: having a daughter is the best thing that ever happened to me. I just wish we had a government that thought every baby was important.