This week’s Two Voices asks: Is the Government right to abolish Child Poverty Act targets?
Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild says…
Our Rabbis taught: “You must circumcise and redeem your son, teach him Torah, find him a wife and teach him a craft”. Some add: “Teach him to swim.” Rabbi Judah said: “One who doesn’t teach his son a craft, teaches him brigandage.” Our tradition articulates family obligations towards children. Some are rituals we’d expect from a religious tradition, but the others apply to any child – to ensure a child is educated, helped into a stable adult relationship and can earn a living.
Swimming is a useful life skill. But it is Rabbi Judah’s statement that resonates today most of all. The one who doesn’t give their child the skills to earn their own living is condemning them to be the ‘have-nots’, living on the margins of society. The 2010 Child Poverty Act defined poverty and set goals to alleviate it.
Progress was made, attention paid to nutrition and education alongside tax credits for working families and child benefit payment. Judaism teaches we must educate so the person can work for a living, but it doesn’t blame those who cannot, nor condemn them to penury. Poverty is complex and is not only caused by fecklessness, yet current rhetoric might make one think it was. We need to go back to Deuteronomy for our lens and our guidance: “The poor shall never cease from the land; therefore I command you, You shall surely open your hand to your poor and needy brother.”
• Sylvia Rothschild was formerly rabbi at Wimbledon and District Synagogue
Simon Rothstein says…
When we think of child poverty in the UK, two assumptions immediately come to mind. Both are wrong. The first assumption is that this is something that happens in faraway countries. But statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions show that 3.5 million children are living in poverty in Britain today.
More than one child in every four does not receive adequate nutrition; they may be homeless, living in inappropriate accommodation or in hostels. The other, equally dangerous, way of thinking is that those growing up poor must be from bad or broken homes, with parents who are work-shy, addicts or abusive.
In fact, in the UK, two thirds of children growing up in poverty live in families where someone works. Without a doubt, it’s these frightening and very real statistics that have caused the changes recently announced by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. The optimist in me wants to believe that scrapping the targets will shift the focus to the root causes of poverty and find a long-term sustainable solution, and away from number crunching, as the Government claims. The cynic in me thinks maybe changing the language is easier than tackling the problem. The Child Poverty Action Group estimates that by 2020, 4.7 million children will be in poverty. That’s one target everyone must make sure this country does not meet.
• Simon Rothstein is editor of LJ Today