Child poverty is set to become “a national crisis”, according to Gordon Brown.
The former prime minister is calling for urgent action and has offered his support to Marcus Rashford‘s campaign for free school meals during the holidays.
He is also campaigning to create a jobs guarantee scheme for young people.
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Speaking to Sky News, Mr Brown warned the government would not get national consensus to tackle the pandemic and economic problems unless it addresses stark issues of inequality, especially for children and young people.
He said: “Child poverty figures have risen from three million to four million and will rise beyond five million.
“That’s five million children, many who go to school ill-clad and hungry… many who are denied the chance to reach their potential.”
He added: “Marcus Rashford speaks from the heart and from his own experience, you can’t really succeed unless you have a square meal every day.
“You have a breakfast club, you have a school lunch, and in the holidays you have a holiday provision; that’s the minimum we’ve got to do to create a civilised society.
“I believe when the figures go above five million young children in poverty, we will have a national crisis on our hands, it will indeed be an emergency.”
The government has yet to set its policy in response to calls for more action to tackle child hunger over the Christmas holidays.
Last week, Boris Johnson said the government will “do everything in our power to make sure that no kid, no child goes hungry”.
England footballer Rashford has had over a million signatures on his petition to give vulnerable children food vouchers over the holidays, as happened in the summer.
Mr Brown believes the government needs to resolve the issue of “probably a million children in poverty not getting the meals that we want”.
He argues the answer is not just food provision, but also raising benefits and child tax credits, saying: “The first thing they’ve got to do is ensure the £20 a week on Universal Credit continues beyond March next year.
“The government will have to act and to recognise that you cannot build a national consensus around health or the economy if you have a divided society, where it is clear that the poorest people are losing out and feel that they are being treated as second-class citizens.”
Mr Brown also said the government needs to move quickly to protect young people from a potential generation of damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to the jobs market.
He said: “We’re now facing an unemployment problem amongst young people that is similar to the 1980’s. We will have a COVID generation of young people who grew up not knowing whether they will get a first job and when they will get it and it will scar them for many, many years ahead.”
The former PM calls on the chancellor to produce a further budget statement, “to up-grade, improve and extend the youth unemployment programme”, and warns “a silent crisis will become a real social crisis if we don’t act now”.
Mr Brown wants the government to improve its kick-start scheme, which currently only offers help to people who’ve been out of work or education for six months – meaning those who lose their jobs in the next month would have to wait until May to get on the programme.
He suggests other steps should include advancing the government’s infrastructure programme, incentivising young people into the energy renewables business, IT or logistics, or encouraging them towards the social care sector.
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