Expert accuses politicians of choosing not to reduce child poverty

Politicians could act to reduce child poverty but choose not to and lie about it, a leading public health expert has said.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot said those in charge could spend more on children in their early year but they do not, blaming high taxes.

Sir Michael, who led a government review into health inequalities in England in 2010, said he is “so tired” of hearing politicians talk about Britain’s tax levels as he insisted the UK is a low tax country.

In a webinar series hosted by University College London’s Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, he cited a calculation by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) “that our tax level is about 34% of GDP (gross domestic product)”.

He said: “I’m so tired of politicians saying we’ve got the highest tax levels for 70 years. We are a low tax country. The reason I would never get elected as a politician is because I point out we’re a low tax country.”

He compared this with other European and G7 countries which he said have higher tax levels.

He added: “We are a low tax country. If we were the average for the EU 14 we’d be up at 40% rather than 34%.

“If we were Denmark or France or Austria or Italy, we’d be much higher. We are a low tax country. We could choose to reduce child poverty. We could choose to spend more on children aged nought to five but we choose not to and we lie about it. We say ‘oh, high tax levels’. They’re not high tax levels. They’re low tax levels by international standards.”

In March, following the Spring Statement, the Resolution Foundation think tank said taxes as a share of GDP are on track to hit a 70-year high of 37.7% by 2027-28.

Sir Michael described the Government’s help with energy payments during winter as “very welcome”, repeating a statement he previously made that some households had been facing a “humanitarian crisis” amid spiralling bills and prices as the cost of living rose.

But he warned the risks for the poorest households remain as “fuel poverty and cold homes will have a particular negative effect on children”.

He said children’s lungs can be damaged by growing up in cold homes, something that will have “lifelong impact”, and added that children’s mental health can be affected while educational performance “is slowed by growing up in cold homes”.

He described the UK as a “poor country with some rich people” as he described large inequalities in household disposable income across the country.

He said: “We have the biggest inequality in income of any rich country except the United States.”

He added: “Do you want to fix the health inequalities of Britain? You’ve got to fix the fact that we’re a poor country with some rich people.”

A Government spokesperson said: “These claims are completely untrue. We are committed to eradicating poverty and have helped nearly two million people out of absolute poverty since 2010, including 400,000 children.

“We have a fair and progressive tax system – the top 5% are projected to pay half of all income tax this year and we have taken millions out of paying tax altogether by consistently raising income tax and national insurance allowances.

“We have also provided record levels of direct financial support to help the most vulnerable – up to £1,200 last year and a further £1,350 in 2023/24 – on top of uprating benefits by 10.1%, while the Household Support Fund is helping people with essential costs including food, clothing and utilities.”