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Welfare Reform Bill could create a ‘lost generation’ of children growing up in poverty, says report by the APPG on Health in All Policies

A generation of children who grow up in poverty and have worse health as a result, risk being airbrushed from official records, according to an inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Health in All Policies into the impact of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.

The APPG, which is chaired by Debbie Abrahams MP, Shadow Minister for Disabled People, launched its inquiry into the impact of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015-2016 on child poverty, child health and inequalities in December 2015. The bill is currently being debated in parliament and the inquiry’s findings are published today (10 February 2016).

Commenting on the findings of the report, Child Poverty and Health: the impact of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015-16, Ms Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, said: "We must have a successful and prosperous economy, but this all-party report clearly illustrates that the Government’s attempts at an economic recovery are being built on the backs of the poor and vulnerable, widening the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.
 
"It's unbelievable that in 2016 there are 3.7m children in the UK living in poverty, the majority [60%] of whom have parents in low-paid work, and that the Welfare Reform Bill introduces measures that have the potential to increase the number of children growing up in poverty by 1.5 million by 2020. This is utterly unacceptable especially when there is strong evidence that shows that eliminating child poverty in the UK would save the lives of 1,400 children under 15 every year."
 
The inquiry examined the evidence of the relationship between child poverty and child health, and then looked at seven measures within the Welfare Reform and Work Bill to see how each of these is likely to affect child poverty and, as a consequence, child health.
 
Out of these, six measures will directly and detrimentally affect child poverty. The seventh measure which looked at the impacts of the 1% reduction in social housing rent, appeared to have a short-term, positive impact on household incomes but in the longer term would reduce the availability of affordable housing, driving up rents and housing costs.
 
The APPG has made more than 30 recommendations to address the negative effects of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill and to make the Government think again when the bill comes back to the Commons 10 days after recess.
 
Ms Abrahams added: “With the bill making no requirement for child poverty strategies to be established at local or national level, it will make the true scale of child poverty and inequality in this country invisible.

She said: "We need a comprehensive, cross-government strategy to tackle child poverty, otherwise we are in danger of failing our children and creating a lost generation.
 
"The cumulative effects of this bill will be to significantly increase child poverty. Conversely, knowingly introducing national policy which will increase children living in poverty, condemning many to unfulfilled futures or worse, is not just a dereliction of responsibility but is morally bankrupt.
 
"As one of our witnesses so eloquently put in their evidence to the inquiry, 'It baffles me; if poverty was an environmental pollutant that had such a toxic effect on children and their life chances [we’d act]; how [are] we able to let something like this wash over such huge chunks of the population knowing what impact it’s going to have on children’s lives?'"

ENDS

The executive summary of the report follows below.

  • To request an interview with Debbie Abrahams, please contact John Ramsden, mobile 07896 992975
  • For further comment about the report and its public health implications, please contact Liz Skinner, Senior Media and PR Officer, Faculty of Public Health, tel 020 3696 1478, email , out of hours, 07703 715106.
About the APPG on Health in All Policies

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Health in All Policies was set up to explore consideration of the effects of all national public policy on the health of the populations of the UK – particularly on health inequalities between different population groups. It aims to provide a discussion forum for all parliamentarians and to act as a source of well-evidenced and independent information on key social, health and public health issues. The Faculty of Public Health provides the secretariat to the APPG.
More information about the APPG

About FPH

The UK Faculty of Public Health (FPH) is committed to improving and protecting people’s mental and physical health and wellbeing. Our vision is for better health for all, where people are able to achieve their fullest potential for a healthy, fulfilling life through a fair and equitable society. We work to promote understanding of public health issues and to drive improvements in public health policy and practice.
As the leading professional body for public health specialists in the UK, our members are trained to the highest possible standards of public health competence and practice, as set by FPH. With 3,300 members, in the UK and internationally, we work to develop knowledge and understanding, and to promote excellence in the field of public health. For more than 40 years, we have been at the forefront of developing and expanding the public health workforce and profession.

ENDS

Executive Summary

Chapter One: The relationship between child poverty, child health and inequalities
Increased levels of child poverty have a direct causal impact on worsening children’s social, emotional and cognitive outcomes. Eliminating UK child poverty would save the lives of 1,400 children under 15 annually. Maternal depression is a significant risk factor for poor child social and emotional development, and evidence links poverty, particularly debt, with sleep deprivation and depression in new mothers. Good early development is strongly associated with many positive outcomes in later life, including higher educational attainment and improved employment prospects in adulthood.

Chapter Two: Measuring child poverty
Clauses 1-6 of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill propose to abandon the current statutory mechanism for tackling child poverty contained in the Child Poverty Act 2010 and place greater emphasis on worklessness and low educational attainment. It is the Government’s premise that “income through benefits maintains people on a low income, whereas income gained through work can transform lives”.  However, the APPG is concerned that the Government, by focusing only on workless households, will miss the substantial number of children in poverty that live in working households. The APPG is also concerned that no impact assessment of this shift of emphasis has been undertaken. APPG believes that worklessness is not a better measure of poverty than low income. Furthermore, if the central issue of low income is not addressed, the current and future health, wellbeing and life-chances of children in poverty will be seriously affected. APPG recommendations therefore include the retention of the existing measures of child poverty and a statutory requirement to have a full assessment of the impact of the Chancellor’s annual budget statement on child poverty.

Chapter Three: The benefits cap, four year benefits freeze and changes to the Universal Credit Work Allowance
Clauses 7-9 of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill would lower the current benefit cap and remove the requirement to link it to average earnings. It would also impose a four-year freeze on benefits. The APPG is concerned that the combined effect of these proposals would significantly reduce the income of thousands of already struggling families, particularly those with a single parent. This would increase levels of child poverty and exacerbate the many risks to children’s health, wellbeing, educational development and future prospects. The APPG’s recommendations include the removal of the benefit cap and the four-year benefits freeze, and the preservation of the link between welfare benefits and national median earnings. Any change to the benefit cap should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny before the Secretary of State’s decision is made, including the impact on child poverty and health.

Chapter Four: Child Tax Credits and the child element of Universal Credit
Clauses 11-12 of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill would restrict the individual child element of Child Tax Credit and the child element of Universal Credit to two children per family. The rationale for this is partly to discourage families on benefits from having more than two children. The APPG contends this would seriously affect families who for a variety of reasons, such as religious and cultural ones, have more than two children and that it may in fact contravene the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The APPG therefore recommends that these proposals be reversed.

Chapter Five: Abolition of the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) Work Related-Activity Component
Clause 13 of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill would reduce the amount of money people in one category of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) receive, taking approximately £30 a week from new claimants who are deemed to be capable of making some effort to find work. It says this will save money and create more of an incentive for disabled people to get jobs. However, the APPG believes that new ESA claimants will be uniformly financially penalised with no justification. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the proposals would be effective in getting people into good quality work. In fact, they would be counterproductive because the additional anxiety would make claimants more unwell and therefore less able to find work. The APPG recommends abandoning the proposal to reduce ESA. It further recommends measures to improve information and support for disabled claimants to enable them to get jobs.

Chapter Six: Conditionality for ‘carers’ in Universal Credit
Clause 15 of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill will lower the age of the youngest child of a carer at which the carer is expected to begin work-related activity. The APPG contends, however, that many carers, particularly single parents, are highly motivated to find work but face significant structural barriers to employment. This proposal is thus likely further to exacerbate child poverty. The APPG therefore recommends that these proposals be reversed. The Government’s proposed increase in provision of free childcare for 3-4 year olds for working parents is welcomed. However, the APPG is concerned that it may not be adequately funded.

Chapter Seven: Reduction in social housing rents
Clause 19 of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill requires social housing providers to reduce their rents in England by 1% a year for four years. The Government believes that more affordable rent will incentivise tenants to make the choice to work. However, only a few tenants in social housing will directly benefit. The reduction will likely mean fewer new homes built at a time when they are desperately needed. The APPG recommends that the Secretary of State should produce a plan to off-set the impact of lower rent levels on social landlords’ provision of affordable housing.

Chapter Eight: The impacts of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015 on child poverty, child health and inequalities
Evidence to this Inquiry has raised serious concerns about the impact of the reforms not only on the most vulnerable in our society, but also on people and families who are already in work. These impacts are already being felt by many, with serious implications for their health and wellbeing and for their children.
Seven impact assessments for specific elements of the bill have been published by the Department for Work and Pensions, at the time of writing, including assessments on the impact of the benefit cap, removal of the ESA work-related activity component, the benefit rate freeze and changes to the child element and family element of Tax Credits and Universal Credit. However, no assessment of the impact of the bill as a whole, or of its cumulative impact, has been made. The APPG therefore recommends that a full, comprehensive and evidence-based impact assessment of the cumulative effect of the bill on child poverty, child health and inequalities be urgently undertaken.

Written: 09/02/2016 , last modified: 19/08/2016