Lewisham vows to fight child poverty as report reveals soaring levels in the borough

Child Poverty. Pic: Jack Mallon

Child Poverty. Pic: Jack Mallon

Lewisham Poverty Commission has vowed to renew its fight against deprivation in the borough after recent figures showed one in three children were living in poverty across the borough.

Councillor Joe Dromey, the commission’s chair, said the council were to build 1,000 social homes over the next four years and reiterated plans to promote the Living Wage in Lewisham. The survey from the campaigning group End Child Poverty  showed Lewisham is currently in the top 20 of local authorities in the country with highest levels of child poverty

Dromey told EastLondonLines: “No child should have to live in poverty. We are determined to tackle child poverty and ensure every young person can fulfil their potential.”

“Building on the Lewisham Poverty Commission, we will be working to tackle low pay and promote the Living Wage, we will deliver 1,000 social homes to tackle the housing crisis, and we will fight Tory welfare cuts.”

Sam Royston, Chair of the campaign group and Director of Policy and Research at the Children’s Society, said: “No family in modern Britain should be struggling to put food on the table, heat their homes and clothe their children.

“End Child Poverty is calling on the Chancellor to end the freeze on children’s benefits, and to invest in interest free credit for low income families, to ensure that poverty doesn’t result in spiraling debt.”

End Child Poverty, an association group made up of welfare charities and trade unions, published its report earlier this year. It showed 34.6 per cent of children were living in poverty after housing costs.

Housing costs refer to rent and mortgage payments and does not include what is spent on utilities.

Laurence Guinness, Chief Executive of The Childhood Trust, told EastLondonLines: “Child poverty in London is disproportionately higher than the rest of the country. Housing costs are higher than anywhere else in the country and that’s a big drive for child poverty in London as housing costs make up a very high percentage for low-income families. The scarcity of social housing is another big factor.

“To tackle the issue, the London living wage needs to implemented, more social housing at social rents needs to be built and made available. We are seeing families living in desperate conditions with no hope of that changing.”

While average incomes in Lewisham are higher than the national average, there are high levels of low pay and one in four jobs in Lewisham pay below the Living Wage.

Councillor Colin Elliott, a member of Lewisham’s Poverty Committee, told EastLondonLines: “As a father with two daughters, my wife and I found that during half term, and the summer holidays in particular, our outgoings would drastically increase to cover child care fees. With the summer holidays approaching this will undoubtedly be a concern for many families already struggling to make ends meet.

“I believe that with the vast amount of data we already have on children living in poverty and their families, a more proactive approach could be implemented, whereby families with children living in poverty could be sign-posted to the support and advice readily available. For me, this is key in ensuring that the risks of families falling into poverty are mitigated at an early stage.”

Councillor Silvana Kelleher told EastLondonLines: “In my considered view, poverty in all its forms is a sign of unworthy leadership as it is unnecessary due to there being enough of everything for everyone were resources to be more evenly distributed.

“I know that all in the council are committed to doing all they can to end the current climate & feel extremely frustrated by the limits placed upon them by national policies.

“Now, more than ever, we need to work together to protest against centrally created policies & bring about a fairer society that works for the many.”

The Lewisham Poverty Commission report, released last October, has highlighted child poverty as one of the top three focuses in its scheme to tackle poverty in the borough.

The report said that: “Child poverty has a direct impact on the life chances of young people, limiting their chances of succeeding at school and going on to find secure employment.

“Child poverty is also associated with a wide range of health-damaging impacts, including adverse long-term social and psychological effects. The poor health associated with child poverty limits children’s potential and development, leading to reduced life chances in adulthood.”

“Education and training are vital routes out of poverty. Lewisham has excellent primary schools, but it has the worst GCSE results in London and high numbers of young people with no qualifications. In Lewisham only 45.9% of pupils eligible for free school meals achieve 5 GCSEs at A*-C.”

In a study conducted by Trust for London, Lewisham had the 16th highest rate for poverty across the 32 boroughs.

Tower Hamlets suffers the worst rate with 39% of the population living below the poverty line.

The report contained various recommendations to tackle poverty in the community including using data to prevent homelessness and extending landlord licensing, which have now been approved by councillors.

These will form part of the official council policy and begin to take effect in the following months.

The report also says that: “The Council should encourage business growth in the Council borough, particularly in growth sectors of the London economy.

“The Council should continue to champion the Living Wage in Lewisham. It should continue to provide an incentive in the form of a business rates discount to employers that become accredited London Living Wage employers.”

Another initiative working to reduce poverty in the borough is the ‘Lewisham Deal’, which aims to provide more apprenticeships in the area, generate more opportunities for local business to trade and promote the real Living Wage.

The scheme is in partnership with a number of organisations including Lewisham Council, Goldsmiths University, Lewisham Homes, Phoenix Community Housing, Lewisham Southwark College and the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust.

Goldsmiths College, University of London, has pledged to support the deal and collaborated in developing the most recent poverty report.

Simon Griffiths, Senior Lecturer in Politics at Goldsmiths and one of the commissioners of the report, told EastLondonLines: “I was really keen to be part of the Commission. Partly because I wanted the recommendations that were made to be well-grounded in academic evidence about what really helps people out of poverty.

“Big institutions, like Goldsmiths, can make a real difference to the lives of the people in their local community, through good employment practices and providing opportunities to local people. I really hope, given the brutal cuts to local government, that the report mitigates this a little and helps people.”

The College has paid its staff and contractors the London Living Wage, which stands at £10.20 an hour, since 2011.

According to an analysis by Universities UK, universities generate £95 billion for the UK economy and contribute more than 940,000 jobs across the country.

Goldsmiths currently has 40% of suppliers based in London, and over £8 million being spent annually with suppliers based locally in southeast London.

The College is working to develop plans to advocate for more local businesses to join the register for suppliers, allowing them to bid for contracts at Goldsmiths and other London universities.

Leave a Reply