The Conservatives’ attempt to re-invent themselves as the ‘party of working people’ is unravelling fast. The reality is that their Austerity politics are a device for creating a more unequal society and for punishing the lower-paid.
Osborne’s cleverest move in his ‘budget for working people’ (July 2015) was to announce a phased increase in the minimum wage, calling it the National Living Wage – an admission that the minimum wage isn’t high enough to live off. Even so, under 25s are still expected to live on the old ‘minimum wage’.
This could have provided an opportunity to lift families out of poverty, but it was instantly undermined by cuts in tax credits. Worse still, the tax credit cuts were arranged to outpace and outweigh the phased introduction of the National Living Wage.
By the next morning, the Institute for Fiscal Studies had exposed his ploy as an attack on the lower paid. The net effect was for the poorest tenth to lose £800 a year, and the 2nd and 3rd poorest tenths to lose £1300 – over £100 a month.
This might not seem much to better off parents, but in families which have little margin after absolute necessities are paid for, it will have a massive effect on children’s lives.
A study by Tess Ridge Childhood poverty and social exclusion: From a child’s perspective shows some of the ways poverty restricts children’s lives and wellbeing:
- not having the right clothing can affect relationships and self-esteem, and lead to bullying
- not being able to afford transport affects their opportunity to sustain friendships
- not receiving regular pocket money curtails independence
- being unable to afford school trips affects curricular progress as well as relationships with peers and teachers.
Her interviews show the damage to friendships:
‘If you don’t wear trendy stuff… not so many people will be your friend’ (Charlene, 12 years)
‘If children have clothes that they had for quite a while and are too short, then people call them tramps and smelly and all that. (Cally, 14 years)
Children ‘learn to be poor’ by restricting their behaviour and aspirations (p120). It is well established that parents try to protect their children from the worst effects of poverty, but Tess Ridge’s research also finds children and young people ‘struggling to protect their parents from seeing the social and emotional costs of children poverty on their lives’. even stop mentioning school trips to avoid their parents getting embarrassed.
‘I would ask my parents to buy me things and then I realised that my parents couldn’t afford things. ‘Cos I’d sit dowon and listen to their conversations and then I stopped asking for things and saved up for them. And that’s been ever since I was about D’s age, s ince I was about eight, because I was a quick learner. (Neil, 17 years).
It is no use education ministers demanding that teachers work miracles to ‘close the gap’ when her own government is busy opening it wider economically.