Anger as Boris Johnson falsely claims child poverty has fallen despite huge rise under Tories

Prime minister fails to say what he will do to prevent 'intolerable outcome' of even higher numbers below breadline - as his own experts predict

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 17 June 2020 16:37 BST
Keir Starmer clashes with Boris Johnson over child poverty

Boris Johnson has sparked anger by falsely claiming child poverty has fallen – despite soaring numbers below the breadline and official forecasts of worse to come.

The prime minister was confronted over the Conservatives’ record, which has left 600,000 more youngsters living in relative poverty since the party came to power in 2010.

That total grew by 100,000 last year, statistics released in March showed, which means 4.2 million youngsters in the UK – or 30 per cent – are existing below the poverty line.

The bleak figures follow steep cuts to benefits paid to families, the disabled, the low-paid and the jobless as part of George Osborne’s austerity drive.

In the Commons, Keir Starmer pointed out Mr Johnson’s own Social Mobility Commission was now forecasting a further huge rise to 5.2 million children in poverty by 2022.

“An even higher child poverty rate would be an intolerable outcome from this pandemic, so what is he going to do to prevent it?” the Labour leader demanded to know.

But the prime minister failed to set out any measures, instead apparently denying the statistics set out by his own experts.

“Absolute poverty and relative poverty have both declined under this government and there are hundreds of thousands – I think 400,000 – fewer families living in poverty now than there were in 2010,” he claimed.

Asked later, Mr Johnson’s spokesman was unable to produce any evidence to back up his claim of a fall in poverty.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “The government cannot continue to shy away from rising child poverty on its watch.”

Pointing to the 600,000 rise since 2010, she added: “That's a crystal clear picture – pre Covid-19 – and one that, as the reaction to Marcus Rashford's intervention shows, is unacceptable to people across the UK.”

Calling for “a joined-up plan for bringing child poverty rates down,” Ms Garnham added: “Uplifting child benefit by £10 per child per week would be a good place to start.”

In the Commons, Sir Keir hit back, saying: “The prime minister says that poverty has not increased. I have just read a direct quote from a government report – from a government commission – produced last week, which says that it has gone up by 600,000.

He added: “The prime minister obviously has not got the first idea what the social mobility report, from a government body, actually said.”

2020 is the year when Tony Blair’s government pledged to abolish child poverty altogether, a vow put into legislation in 2010.

However, it was abolished by Iain Duncan Smith who called it an “unsustainable” commitment – as he prepared to make £12bn of further social security cuts.

The relative poverty measure incorporates people living on or below 60 per cent of the average household income in the UK, after housing costs have been paid.

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