THOUSANDS of protesters marched through London last Saturday to protest at the Government’s failure to meet its targets on reducing chilled poverty in Britain.
The main slogan of the march, organised by the Child Poverty Action Group – a coalition of 120 organisations – was: “Keep the promise”.
The coalition’s report published last week said more than a third of children in Britain live in low-income families or families in poverty. It found that of the 13,233,320 children in Britain, 5,559,000 are in families that are classed as “struggling”.
The marchers set off from Milbank in carnival mood, in spite of the cold weather, accompanied by bands. Families with children predominated and the event was hosted by EastEnders actor Chris Parker. Also present were pop singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Shameless actor David Threlfall.
In 1997 the newly-elected New Labour government promised to halve child poverty by 2010 and end it by 2020. But the coalition report shows that target is as far away as ever.
It says the 2009 Budget is the last real chance the Government has to meet its targets.
After meeting group members, Prime Minister Gordon Brown repeated a pledge to impose a legal duty on Government to eradicate child poverty by 2020 – an easy pledge to make knowing that, one way or another, he is likely to be out of government by then.
Campaign director Hilary Fisher said: “Poverty has an impact on every aspect of a child’s life, health, education and well-being. Now is the time for the Government to turn their commitment into reality and provide that investment which will make that change.”
The Government says it has lifted 600,000 children out of poverty since 1999 but a further 2.9 million remain. Speakers at the rally in Trafalgar Square included TUC general secretary Brendan Barber and Unison general secretary Dave Prentis.
Prentis said: “One in three children in the UK live in poverty today. That is shameful. And it impacts upon us all.”
If the Government was to meet its targets, he said, it would need adequately-funded programmes in place by next spring.
And he urged members: “Do join us. Don’t let the Government off the hook – speak up for children in poverty. Together, we can make a difference.”
Brendan Barber called on the Government to commit another £3 billion in benefits and tax credits to help families in poverty.
He said: “This has got to be at the top of the agenda. At a time when the Government has been able to find tens and tens of billions to support the financial system and the bankers, I think it is time we found the £3 billion to deliver on that commitment.”
He said that all jobs should be “decent jobs”, paying fair wages “that can really support a family”.
“Let us not forget,” he said, “that the real cost of child poverty is £40 billion – £600 for every man woman and child in the country.”
The campaign has three aims: to inform public debate about child poverty, to forge commitments across the public, private and voluntary sectors to end it, and to promote the case to Government and civil servants.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who was joining the rally, said the situation was “shameful”.
“Everyone in Britain and all political parties have a duty to do everything we can to end child poverty in Britain for good,” added Clegg, who wants a simplified benefits system to help families.