Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Responsibility for Child Poverty

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 12th February 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Leonie Cooper Leonie Cooper Labour

How will you be working with the new Government to tackle child poverty in London?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

There is no excuse for child poverty in a city as prosperous as London. It is scandalous that four in 10 children are growing up in poverty, that 400,000 cannot access an affordable healthy diet and that tens of thousands of parents are forced to rely on foodbanks. I am determined to do everything in my power to tackle child poverty in London but the levers to truly address it lie in the hands of the Government.

The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur was clear in his report last year [2019] that austerity was a political choice that has increased poverty in the UK. The research we published last year supported this assessment. It showed an additional 75,000 London children will be pushed into poverty by 2022 as a result of the tax and welfare reforms of the past decade. We are using this research to urge the Government to change its policies and will continue to do so.

In particular, we are calling on them to use the upcoming Budget to reverse the damage in welfare reforms like the two‑child limit and the freeze to Local Housing Allowance rates, which currently fall well short of average rents. We are also using research and other arguments to persuade the Government to give us our fair share in the next Spending Review.

I will continue to bear down on the costs for low‑income families, for example, by pressing ahead with building a record number of genuinely affordable homes, keeping transport costs down with initiatives like the Hopper, and helping families access good quality, affordable childcare. Over the next few months, I will be exploring options for expanding our successful project with the Child Poverty Action Group, which has raised thousands of pounds of additional income for hard‑pressed families by delivering welfare advice directly to parents in schools.

Photo of Leonie Cooper Leonie Cooper Labour

Given what you have just said, Mr Mayor, I assume that you were surprised if not shocked to hear Home Secretary [The Rt Hon] Priti Patel [MP] in November 2019 saying that Government policies are nothing to do with child poverty and it is just the responsibility of local authorities and a long list of other individuals and authorities.

Given that of the top 20 UK authorities that have the highest rates of child poverty, 10 are in London, do you not agree that this washing of hands by a member of the Government is really quite offensive?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

There are two big points here. Firstly, the fact that poverty levels in London are so stark is an argument to make sure we get the resources we need in both the Budget and the Spending Review. There is a perception in the Government and around the country that London is very wealthy. Parts are but, as you have said in your question, parts are not and people are not.

The second part is that the Trussell Trust has looked at the people it helps at its foodbanks and that research has shown that the drivers are a number of things, from very low incomes to the benefit changes, but sometimes there are delays in receiving the benefit. The Government has to recognise the responsibility for both the benefit changes and the delays, but also sometimes low incomes, are to do with Government policy and legislation. They need to recognise that and try to address that.

Photo of Leonie Cooper Leonie Cooper Labour

The Government does bear some responsibility, but with 25% of London’s children projected to be hungry during the school holidays and 60,000 children receiving emergency food parcels in 2019, it is really important that London itself is doing as much as it can.

You referred to some of the things that you have done. What more can you be doing? You have just launched London Power, for example, to try to help families reduce their energy costs, but what else are you able to do to help families who are in these desperate circumstances?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

A lot of the things that we are doing are outside our statutory powers and we are doing them because they are the right things to do. Some of the Assembly, as you heard in answer to a previous question, criticised me and my administration for doing that. They said it is not what we should be doing. It is what we should be doing. Our core business must be to help Londoners and give them a helping hand.

One of the things that we did very recently was to host ‑ and my Deputy Mayor [for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement] Dr Debbie Weekes‑Bernard did this ‑ a children’s food insecurity summit, bringing together experts from the third sector, community groups, charities and the private sector to see what we can do working together, pooling our ideas and resources to take some steps going forward.

Another thing we are doing is working with a number of boroughs to develop a Food Poverty Action Plan in those parts of London that have the poorest children and the highest levels of food poverty going forward.

There are a number of reasons we have for freezing fares. One of them is to help these sorts of families use public transport. You will have seen the Hopper. Actually, the poorest Londoners tend to use buses rather than the Underground, which is why the Hopper is a gamechanger for many of them, particularly in outer London.

There is the Living Wage. One of the reasons why I am really proud we have more than doubled the amount of Living Wage employers since I have been Mayor from the previous Mayor is because it means that decent Londoners who do a hard day’s work can get a decent day’s pay. There are other examples of things we are doing using the Good Work Standard, using procurement and using our convening power.

However, the key thing is that whatever we are doing is a fraction of addressing the issues that really the Government can and should be doing because a lot of these problems are caused by Government policy.

Photo of Leonie Cooper Leonie Cooper Labour

I for one am not going to be criticising you for tackling the scourge of hungry children across our city. Thank you very much, Mr Mayor. Thank you, Chair.