In South Swindon alone, more than a quarter of our 24,000 children live in poverty. This includes children where parents are in work.
The Trades Union Council identifies the following reasons for increased child poverty:
– government cuts to in-work benefit have been a key driver behind the increase.
Other key factors behind the rise in child poverty are:
- Weak wage growth
- The spread of insecure work
- Population growth
- The rise in the number of working families hasn’t been enough to lift families out of poverty
In 2016, the Conservatives abolished the Child Poverty Act and scrapped targets to reduce poverty.
We not only have an issue with growing inequality here that is not being addressed by government, but also an issue of growing vulnerability.
I recently sat down with some parents whose children have been groomed to become members of drug gangs in Swindon. They are given laced drugs, turned into addicts and then become willing runners for their new ‘friends’. This is happening as a result of the County Lines drug problem, but we are producing home grown gangs too.
This problem occurs overwhelmingly in the less affluent areas of Swindon. In the Parks and Central Swindon, families are on lower incomes and criminals who seek to manipulate children as young as 9 see the children as easy pickings. Sometimes this is made easier when children are removed from a family setting and taken into care. Often this care setting will be outside Swindon, making the children all the more isolated and vulnerable.
4 in 10 looked after children are placed out of area on average in the UK, and in 2017/18 58 children in care in Swindon went missing 480 times! These figures come from a report by the Children’s Society highlighting the vulnerability of our young people who are in the care system or in poverty.
The Children’s Society also highlights that 24 children were referred by Wiltshire Police to the National Referral Mechanism as potential victims of trafficking and exploitation.
What this shows is that a real strategy is needed to combat poverty and exploitation- neither are in evidence under the current government.
While poverty rises, the mechanisms by which to escape it are being reduced. I fought the closure of Swindon’s libraries and one of the tools was to demonstrate through the Council’s own Joint Strategic Needs Assessment that to close off access to learning would entrench poverty. Our schools are being starved of funding while they are also being expected to pick up the pieces for almost non-existent social and youth services and child and teenage mental health services.
All these cuts come together in a perfect storm to increase child vulnerability and to reduce our ability to address the problem at its root, which is a failure to pull together to support families in need to support their own children in need.
We need to see a comprehensive and coherent family-centred approach led by the Council under Youth Services, along with police, schools, social services, and medical practitioners where appropriate. This is something I am working towards with members of the community in Swindon, and fully commit to hold as a priority once elected as MP for South Swindon.