Monday, January 20, 2014

Bishops and MPs probe child poverty

Click to enlargeTHE predicament of children living in cold, damp homes is a scandal, the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said on Monday, after a survey found that more than a quarter of the children who were questioned thought that their home was too cold.

Dr Sentamu spoke out after the Children's Society published a new report, Behind Cold Doors, based on a survey of 2000 children aged from ten to 17, and 468 families with dependent children.

More than four in ten (43 per cent) of the families surveyed said that they were likely to cut back spending on food as a result of heating bills.

The charity is calling on the Government to extend the Warm Home Discount (a rebate on energy bills funded by energy companies) to all families with children who are living below the poverty line.

The report was published on the same day as MPs voted to establish a commission to investigate "the impact of the Government's welfare reforms on the incidence on poverty".

Michael Meacher, the Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton, warned: "We are seeing the return of absolute poverty, which has not existed in this country since the Victorian age." 

Since 2010, absolute poverty (household income of 60 per cent of the 2010/11 median wage) has increased by 1.4 million people, including 300,000 children: there is now a total of 2.6 million children in absolute poverty.

Mr Meacher highlighted the impact of benefits sanctions, which were issued to 580,000 people in the eight months to June last year.

"Given that the penalties are out of all proportion to the triviality of many of the infringements . . . the use of sanctioning on this scale, with the result of utter destitution, is - one struggles for words - brutalising and profoundly unjust."

MPs contributed detailed stories from their constituencies. Jeremy LeFroy, the Conservative MP for Stafford, spoke in support of the motion: "Evidence from my constituency certainly suggests that an increasing number of people are finding it very difficult, or impossible, to make ends meet."

He suggested that benefits sanctions had been applied "in a rather arbitrary manner".

The Minister for the Department for Work and Pensions, Mike Penning, argued: "In many ways, welfare reform can have a beneficial effect on people."

MPs also discussed the regulation of payday loans. On the day of the debate, Which? magazine alleged that payday lenders were "acting unlawfully by charging excessive default fees", of £20 or more.

In an interview with The Times, the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David Walker, compared payday loans to the temptation in the Garden of Eden. 

"The charges and penalties lie in a future far enough away to be overlooked, especially in the relief of breaking out of the current mess."

* www.childrenssociety.org.uk

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