25% of all children in Barnsley are living in poverty.
It’s a shocking statistic but sadly, it’s true.
I’ve just compiled a report about child poverty in my Barnsley Central constituency. Over the past five years, we’ve seen an explosion in the number of people referred to food banks, an increase in the levels of household debt, an increase in the number of children going to school hungry.
On top of that, here in Barnsley 20% of people are just one bill, one mortgage payment, one car repair away from being unable to make ends meet. These people are bumping along the bottom line, not classified by the government as “in poverty” but desperate to avoid having their livelihoods shattered by an out-of-the-blue bill.
Child poverty doesn’t just affect children’s lives now, it affects their future. A child who goes to school hungry, or requires free school meals is statistically less likely to achieve the necessary grades to get a decent, secure, well paid job – and therefore more likely to fall back into the same cycle of poverty that their parents were trapped in.
Being able to get on in life, to improve yourself is fundamental to my entire political philosophy. It is also ingrained into our history. After World War II, as people looked to the future, it was the norm to use trade unions to access education, to improve their numeracy and literacy. Many who came through the National Union of Mineworkers, here in Barnsley, followed this route – including the former MP, Lord Mason. He went from being a working class Barnsley lad to serving at the highest levels of government as a Cabinet Minister.
We owe it to our children to ensure that they get the chance to do better than us in life. That’s what being a parent is about – wanting more opportunities for your children than you had.
There is much we can do to support those in our communities who are living in poverty. There are some fantastic local organisations – from the Barnsley Foodbank Partnership to the Barnsley Church Action on Poverty group – who all make a big difference.
But we need to ensure that nationally we tackle this problem. That is why earlier this month I voted against the Government’s plans to cut Working Tax Credits – which will leave working families on average £1,000 a year worse off, and according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, increase the number of children in child poverty to 2.8 million.
The vast majority of people on ‘benefits’ are in employment – because the reality is that for many work does not pay enough for people to live on. We need to do more to ensure that the Barnsley economy thrives, so it can provide decent, well paid jobs.
That will help us ensure that the children of Barnsley are given the best start possible in life, so they can have a bright and prosperous future – one where a cleaner’s daughter from Kingstone, Barnsley has the same opportunities as a Barrister’s son from Kingston-upon-Thames.
This article was first publshed in the Barnsley Chronicle on 25th September 2015.