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A new report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that over the next five years, over a million more British children will be pushed into poverty, bringing the total of children in poverty to a new high of 5.2m.

‘Poverty’ is defined as a household income of less than 60% of the UK median after housing costs: and, by 2020, 37% of British children will be living in such households – the highest percentage since modern records began in 1961.

The IFS puts the projected increase in child poverty down to the government’s planned freeze on working-age benefits at least until April 2020, plus the introduction of Universal Credit and cuts to child tax credits (the controversial third child rule).

The benefit freeze will reduce the average income of affected households by £500/year, whilst the Child Poverty Action Group has calculated that the introduction of Universal Credit will reduce the average family income by £960/year, and a massive £2380/year for single parent families.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a huge outcry about Universal Credit. Much of this has been about the current six-week wait for the first payment, which has driven many people into debt and put them at risk of eviction.

The government strongly defended the current system although more recently there are suggestions that the waiting period may be reduced to a month, still far too long for people with no savings to fall back on.

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credit NE Child Poverty commission

Recently, Labour won a vote in Parliament to pause the rollout of Universal Credit; Tory MPs were ordered by the whips to abstain from the vote, and every single one except Sarah Wollaston, who voted with Labour, did as they were told, in a shameful display of utter disregard for the lives of the poorest people in society.

Meanwhile Theresa May continues to insist, despite reams of evidence to the contrary, that Universal Credit is ‘a system that is working’.

However, the six week wait, whilst utterly indefensible, is only a small part of the problem with Universal Credit. Far more damaging is the huge reduction in income it represents for working families who are transferred onto Universal Credit, and the massive increase in child poverty as a result.

In addition, a recent report by single parent charity Gingerbread highlights the increased risk of poverty amongst parents of three and four year olds, who under Universal Credit are required to seek work or face having their benefits sanctioned.

Tom Waters, an author of the IFS report, said:

“If the government sticks to planned benefit cuts, it should not be surprised if, according to the official measure, absolute child poverty rises. Every region and nation is projected to see an increase in child poverty, with the largest increases in the North East, East Midlands, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and the smallest in London, the South East, and South West.”

It’s utterly shameful that in a rich country like Britain, child poverty levels are soaring. This has nothing to do with economics, nothing to do with the government claim that it needs to ‘reduce the deficit’, and everything to do with Tory political ideology. That is, to punish the working poor whilst insisting that ‘we’re all in this together’.

Various MPs have suggested that Universal Credit may be Theresa May’s poll tax.

We can only hope they’re right.

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