Sunday, 16 March 2008

Child Poverty

This is a bit old news now, but it's one of the reasons I've been too busy to blog over the past week or two. As people know, I've been acting as the informal co-ordinator in parliament of Labour backbenchers with an interest in child poverty, and as such have been working closely with the End Child Poverty coalition.

A couple of weeks ago I met with two of the campaign groups involved in ECP, to discuss what final push we could give to the campaign ahead of the Budget, to make sure that child poverty remained firmly on the political agenda. I volunteered to try to get a few colleagues - we thought maybe 20 or so would be a respectable number - to sign a public letter to the Chancellor and Prime Minister, which we'd then send to the Observer.

So I emailed out a letter to Labour MPs and was amazed by the response; more than 70 signatures in less than 48 hours, and nearly 80 by the end of the week. Signatories included David Blunkett (former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions), Hugh Bayley (minister at the DWP when the child poverty pledge was made), Tony Lloyd, the chair of the PLP, and the chairs of the three main select committees tasked with scrutinising the child poverty pledge, i.e. Treasury, DWP and Children, Schools and Families. A significant number of Parliamentary Private Secretaries also signed up.

The media was puzzled: they wanted to know whether this was an act of rebellion by PPSs; or if we'd been put up to it by the Government; or if we'd been put up to it by one or more Cabinet ministers trying to fight their corner in the last minute pre-Budget negotiations. But the sheer range of MPs who'd signed up - some arch-loyalists, some ex-ministers, some Campaign Group MPs, some who could be seen as Brownites, some who could be seen as Blairites - meant it was impossible to suss it out.

The truth was far simpler - Labour MPs care about child poverty and want the Government to fulfil its pledge to abolish it within a generation. We know some good stuff has been done, but there's still more to do. And we wanted to get that message across. No conspiracy, just conviction politics. (In fact, on Monday night a Cabinet Minister whose Department has some responsibility for child poverty walked past me on his way from the division lobby. "Nice sweater" he said, which I thought was rather strange, although I was wearing a blue sweater dress at the time, which is something of a favourite of mine. At 5am that night I woke up, and realised: "Nice letter", he'd said. Which came as quite a relief.)

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