CNJ: Child poverty is government policy

It’s time the crisis of mothers’ and children’s poverty and the climate crisis were prioritised

28 January, 2021 — By Selma James and Nina López

MARCUS Rashford, called “leader of the opposition” for his campaign against child poverty, speaks of the suffering of his mother when she couldn’t afford food for him and his siblings despite holding down three jobs.

Everybody knows that no children would go hungry if mothers had the cash to feed them.

Child poverty is not an accident, it’s government policy: 86 per cent of austerity cuts targeted women, especially single mothers; 93 per cent of households affected by the benefit cap had children, 72 per cent were single parents; the majority of workers on zero-hours contracts are women, often single mothers.

So five million children are in poverty – over 50 per cent in some parts of Camden, even worse for children of colour whose parents’ incomes are driven further down by racism.

None of this is new. What’s new is that Rashford, a famous footballer remembering his childhood poverty, acted on it.

Every year thousands of children are taken into “care” – 78,150 were in “care” in England in 2020.

Children in the poorest neighbourhoods are 10 times more likely to be in foster or residential “care” than those from affluent areas, punished for poverty.

Struggling mothers are blamed not helped.

Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 exists to prevent such trauma by supporting families to stay together; but the money is not forthcoming.

Instead around £238,212 a year is spent keeping one child in institutions (three-quarters run for profit), and £46,124 in foster “care” (39 per cent privatised).

Privatisation provides financial incentives to break the bond between mother and child.

Since Covid-19 no one can deny society’s dependence on the work of carers, mainly unwaged and low-waged women. But mothers, carers for both children and adults, are hardly mentioned; 71 per cent of mothers who asked to be furloughed had been refused.

Leanne Wood, a Welsh Assembly member and former leader of Plaid Cymru, called to extend the £500 bonus promised paid carers to “all care home workers” and “all unpaid carers”. Cooks and cleaners got it. Family carers didn’t.

London boasts the largest concentration of billionaires (and Hampstead more millionaires than anywhere in the United Kingdom), but relies on Dickensian food banks, “survival sex” and zero-hours contracts.

Even National Health Service workers, many immigrants whose training was financed in poorer countries, must supplement wages at food banks.

Rashford’s campaigning won two U-turns on free school meals. But this shameless government siphoned public money to their mates, paying £30 for food boxes worth £5.

This on top of £12billion of contracts for overpriced or faulty personal protective equipment. PPE.

Rashford’s polite call for transparency speaks for us all. Rashford wants the £20 universal credit increase under Covid to be permanent. Others call for a £50 a week child benefit, like the $300 a month President Joe Biden is discussing in the US.

But what about a care income, as proposed by the Green New Deal for Europe? It would bring overdue recognition for unwaged mothers and other family carers, and ensure children ate. It would also reward those who care for the environment.

As children depend on mothers, we all depend on the natural world. It’s time the crisis of mothers’ and children’s poverty and the climate crisis were prioritised – together – as our most urgent emergencies.

• Selma James and Nina López are from the Global Women’s Strike based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre in Kentish Town. Selma’s second anthology Our Time Is Now: Sex, Race, Class, and Caring for People and Planet, will be out next month.