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Child Poverty in Scotland — [Sir David Crausby in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:27 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland) 3:27 pm, 30th October 2019

It is a pleasure to follow so many passionate and thoughtful speeches. My reflection on the debate and Members’ contributions—particularly that of my hon. Friend Hugh Gaffney, whom I congratulate on securing the debate—is that poverty is, fundamentally, probably the worst evil in our society. It is particularly pernicious, because it is a cruel and indiscriminate denial of opportunity to many people who have great potential.

My constituency has some of the highest child poverty levels in Scotland—and in the UK as a whole. When I go round it, I am constantly reminded of the denial of opportunity to many young people, particularly children. There was a turn of phrase used by Jimmy Reid when looking at high-rise tower blocks in my constituency—the infamous Red Road flats, which are now demolished and being redeveloped. He said that behind every one of the windows could be a Nobel prize-winning chemist, or a great Formula 1 racing driver, a fantastic doctor, engineer or perhaps Prime Minister, but—you know what?—they will never get the opportunity because of where they were born and the circumstances in which they were brought up. From birth they have been denied their potential. As a nation and as a community, that sabotage of young people’s lives is the greatest loss to us all, and in many cases it is literally a life sentence.

In the early 1990s Jimmy Reid made a documentary in Scotland, and he was filmed standing in a field between Milngavie and Drumchapel. The camera panned across the field, and he said that a child who is born on one side of the fields will live 10 years longer than a child born on the other side of the field, in Drumchapel. The average sentence for murder in Scotland is not far off 10 to 15 years, so for many children born in those circumstances, that is literally a life sentence. That destroyed potential is a great tragedy for us all.

Child poverty can be solved through political means—it is not inevitable, as many speakers have suggested; it can be solved. Child poverty has been both demonstrably reduced and demonstrably accelerated at the behest of policies of various Governments, and if there is one thing I can be proud of about the previous Labour Government, it is their efforts to reduce child poverty. When Labour came to power in 1997, child poverty stood at 3.6 million in the UK. When Labour left office in 2010, that figure had been reduced to 1 million. That was still too many, but it was a significant and demonstrable reduction. Today child poverty stands at 4 million—more than a reversal of those achievements—and we must address that generational tragedy.

We should not get too bogged down in the minutiae of Brexit; instead, we should focus on what we could be doing. What motivates me—and probably most Members—to get out of bed in the morning, is thinking about how we can leave a legacy that will improve lives for future generations. That certainly motivates me, my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill and other Members of the House, yet this Government have demonstrably, deliberately and consciously implemented policies that have permanently damaged lives.