Government inaction will only make child poverty worse

The death of Awaab Ishak in 2020, a two-year old who died from the effects of mould in his parents’ flat in Rochdale, should have been a morbid wakeup call to the Government to address child poverty. It seems like it wasn’t.

The Conservatives are failing children in poverty. This is not just my opinion, rather I am repeating what the UN lead on extreme poverty and human rights has said regarding the scale of poverty they are presiding over. This is acutely felt in Manchester.

There are around 250,000 children living in poverty in Manchester. Put differently, if this was a classroom of 30 children, this would describe over a third of all of them. Manchester City Council has the third highest rate of child poverty among local authorities in England, with just over half of all children in my constituency of Manchester Gorton living in poverty. After 14 years of Tory cuts, child poverty levels in Manchester City have increased by almost 10%.

The Council have done what they can to tackle this head on, using the money given to them through the Government’s Household Support Fund to feed 40,000 children in the school holidays. The scheme has allowed the Council to help a total of 60,000 of the most vulnerable people in Manchester.

Yet the Conservatives plan to scrap this scheme, pulling essential support for those most in need.

The Council is trying its hardest to tackle this, providing cost of living advice to 8,000 people, helping parents afford school uniforms, and distributing £55,000 worth of cash through the Welfare Provision Scheme.

Labour Mayor Andy Burnham has also introduced the first ever Food Poverty Action Plan, urging for an uptake of Healthy Start Vouchers, providing debt and welfare advice alongside food handouts, and appointing poverty leads to each council and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

Yet with Conservative austerity, councils in Manchester and elsewhere are being prevented from providing the support they desperately want to.

Conservative inaction will only worsen a dire situation. 27% of secondary pupils in Manchester are relying on free school meals, which is nearly double the English average.

Out of school the picture is even bleaker. In Manchester Gorton the number of food parcels for children provided by the amazing Trussell Trust network has risen by 81% since 2022. Whilst their work is deeply admirable, it speaks to a depressing set of circumstances when the Third Sector is having to make up for the Conservative’s neglect.

The Conservatives have made the matter worse. Their introduction of the two-child benefit cap has meant that family budgets were slashed, with the Government acting as if the third child didn’t even exist, affecting 1.5 million children.

This has a racialised aspect too, impacting Muslim and orthodox Jewish communities more than any other faith group.
The Conservative’s economic incompetencies only furthered to deepen the issue, rising food and fuel costs for everyone. Now, 5 in 6 low-income households on Universal Credit are going without at least one essential like food, a warm home, or toiletries.

This has a detrimental effect on children’s health and education. In Manchester, the effects of child poverty means that one in three children are not school-ready in terms of development when they start reception. Living in cold housing means that infants are burning calories attempting to keep warm rather than on organ development. Child poverty deprives children of a fair chance to succeed from the very earliest parts of their lives.

For a party that claims to be the party of the economy, they seem to suffer from a fundamental lack in its understanding. By ignoring the ever increasing child poverty rates, almost a fifth of the entire NHS’s budget is spent on dealing with the knock-on effects of socio-economic inequality.

Manchester has been championing solutions to child poverty for a decade. The Greater Manchester Poverty Commission 10 years ago was calling for initiatives to reduce energy bills, increase access to financial support services, and ensuring people can afford fresh fruit and veg.

Yet without Government support and investment councils like Manchester’s can only achieve so much.

Labour will change this in government, reforming Universal Credit to make the system fairer for those most in need. Our New Deal for Working People will cut poverty, increase wages, and improve workers’ rights.

Labour is ready to do what the Conservatives won’t. It will treat child poverty as more than just a figure. It will tackle deprivation in Manchester and beyond. It will begin to end child poverty.

Afzal Khan MP

Afzal Khan is the Labour MP for Manchester Gorton, and was elected in 2017.