Child poverty should scar our conscience. The time for cross-party action is now, writes Dan Jarvis
Too many children today are stuck following a path that is set for them in their infancy.
The importance of a child’s early years in forming their life chances is well understood. A child born in a deprived area is likely to die nine years earlier than someone from a wealthier postcode across town. That is why intervention is required in those crucial first years of life.
On average, nine children in a classroom of 30 grow up in poverty. For those four million children this can mean living in a cold and cramped home, falling behind in school, and not being able to join in activities with friends.
We serve in politics to change lives. That is why I believe common cause can be found across our Parliament, so that child poverty need not be a feature of Britain’s future.
A renewed focus on child poverty would build a fairer country, and provide the first step to healing the divisions in our country that the referendum campaign exposed. It can be part of a new approach that puts first those people and parts of Britain that for too long have been left behind.
Child poverty should scar our conscience as much as it does our children’s futures. It limits Britain’s huge potential, because to succeed in the future we must create a country which makes the most of all our talents.
In Barnsley, I have led a campaign that brought together community groups, party members, our local council, and members of the public to take action. Together we recently published our second report on child poverty – including contributions from across the community on addressing this challenge. Ideas ranged from new requirements on developments for affordable housing, to expanding childcare, and providing greater incentives for people to enter teaching.
Yet when more than 200 children in Barnsley fall behind in language skills before they even start school, local effort must be backed at the national level. The Institute for Fiscal Studies project that this Parliament will witness the biggest increase in relative child poverty in a generation. The number of children growing up in poverty is expected to grow by half.
So the time for action is now. By setting an ambitious target to reverse this trend, we can realise a common purpose to tackle child poverty that involves communities, employers and government at every level.
That is why I will introduce a Private Members’ Bill in this parliamentary session. Its purpose is to set a new target to reduce child poverty. In doing so, the bill will set out requirements on the government to measure progress and to publish analysis on the impact of policy choices.
I look forward to developing these proposals in collaboration with MPs, charities, academics, and those with personal experiences of poverty. Parliament has a strong record of working on a cross-party basis on this issue, most notably in passing the 2010 Child Poverty Act which committed both current and future governments to take action to eliminate child poverty.
I believe that Brexit cannot be allowed to define our politics. Rather it must signal a new approach to how we respond to those in our country who are left behind.
That effort should start with a focus on reducing child poverty so that no-one is locked out of the opportunity for a better future.
I hope that colleagues from across all parties will share their expertise and lend their support to this effort.
In doing so we can build a better Britain that provides security, opportunity, and hope to those children who need it most.
Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central