Comment: Whoever wins, the next mayor must tackle child poverty

One in four children in London live in poverty, a stark figure that should be at the centre of the mayoral election campaigns.

By Kate Bell

Poverty in London is higher than in any other English region, and there are more poor children in London than in Scotland and Wales put together. Poverty blights the experience of childhood and can damage future opportunities. In the year in which London is setting itself up as a showcase to the world, it's shocking that over a quarter of children in the capital still live in families without enough to get by.

Child Poverty Action Group has come together with a coalition of organisations to show the mayoral candidates that they have the power to take action to improve these families' lives.

Our manifesto calls for action in four areas.

Creating family friendly work is essential. One of the major factors explaining why the capital's poverty rates are so much higher than the rest of the UK's is because it's much harder for parents to take up jobs in the capital. We want the next mayor to launch a family friendly employment scheme, challenging employers to offer all vacancies on a flexible basis, and to pay at least the London living wage.

Getting childcare in London working is a big part of this agenda: costs in London are 23 per cent more than the national average, and places are too often provided at times that just don't fit with parents working patterns. That's why we want the mayor to launch a childcare brokerage system to match parents to providers, and to help parents to pay for hefty childcare deposits which can deter them from taking up the childcare places they do find. We also think they need to do much more to lobby central government about the need for additional childcare support to deal with the capital’s high costs.

Once this support is in place, it's important that parents know about it. The Greater London Authority estimates that around £1 billion of financial support goes unclaimed each year in London. We want the mayor to make sure that people know their rights, promoting information, making sure that the new London Health Improvement Board looks at the impact of poverty on health, and making sure that parents who do face financial difficulties have alternatives to loan sharks when they need to borrow money.

Finally we need the mayor to promote better housing for families. The next mayor will gain huge new powers in this area, and we want him to use them to ensure that enough family sized homes are being built, to ease the capital's severe overcrowding. We also want to see action on affordability in the private rental sector, with fears that changes to the benefit system, and a new definition of 'affordable' rents at 80% of market prices, will make large parts of London unaffordable for families on low incomes.

We know that there's strong public support for these changes. Polling shows that a clear majority of families said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who pledged more affordable housing (63%), made employers pay the London living wage (61%), encouraged employers to offer flexible working hours (60%), delivered more affordable and flexible childcare (59%), or did more to promote information about the help available with living costs (54%).

There are electoral gains to be had for candidates who promise action in this area. But the real gains will be felt by the families and children who at present are missing out.

Kate Bell is the London Campaign Co-ordinator for the Child Poverty Action Group

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