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Children in the UK are suffering “the highest levels of poverty in living memory” – with basic toiletries including shampoo, soap and toothpaste now considered “luxury items”, Gordon Brown has said.

Speaking to the Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge, the former prime minister said he was “shocked and ashamed” at the current levels of poverty in Britain, which he said had not been seen for “many, many years”.

Mr Brown raised the plight of what he called “austerity’s children” – those who were born in the last 15 years “who are growing up poor, who probably have never known what it is to be anything other than poor”.

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There are currently 4.3 million children who are officially in poverty after housing costs – translating to 30% of all children in the UK, according to statistics published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in March.

The figure is an increase of 100,000 on the previous year.

Mr Brown, the most recent Labour prime minister and a former chancellor, told the Politics Hub the cost of living crisis has exacerbated the already-difficult situation for many.

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Gordon Brown says people in the UK are struggling to afford basic toiletries like soap and shampoo. Pic: iStock

“We’re running a multi-bank which is a food bank, clothes bank, furnishings bank, toiletries bank, baby bank, all rolled into one,” he said.

“Last winter, people were desperate for bedding just to keep warm. They’d stop heating their homes and they were simply trying to heat themselves.

“As we move into these summer months – toiletries people cannot afford and consider soap and shampoo and toothpaste as a luxury item.

“And that is why the biggest hospital admissions for children under 10 – between five and nine – is for dental decay. And that’s three-and-a-half times higher in the poorer communities than the richer communities. So we are seeing austerity’s children.”

The former prime minister urged Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to take action in the autumn statement he is expected to deliver later in the year, while his advice for Sir Keir Starmer – who is on course to be the next Labour prime minister – was that he should “stick to his principles”.

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Sir Keir has angered some in his party by so far refusing to abolish the two child benefit cap, which the Labour leader has said he cannot commit to due to the “tough decisions” his party will face if propelled into power.

Mr Brown once again repeated his calls for a “root and branch” review of Universal Credit, which he said had “gone wrong” – including the two-child benefit cap that was introduced by the Conservative government in 2017 and prevents parents from claiming child tax credit or universal credit for more than two children.

He indicated to Ridge that he believed the Labour leader should drop the cap, saying: “I think they should do a review, a root and branch review of Universal Credit.

“And you’ve got to look at every aspect of Universal Credit which has gone wrong. And it’s not, of course, just the two child rule that is causing problems – it’s the caps that have been placed on, for example, housing benefits.”

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Appealing to Sir Keir as he prepares for the possibility of reaching Downing Street, Mr Brown said the Labour leader should “never lose sight of why you’re there in the first place”.

“If you do lose sight of that, then you will fail. If you don’t lose sight of it and commit to your principles in implementing them, then I think you’ll succeed, and I’m sure he will,” he said.

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The former chancellor also urged Mr Hunt to continue the £500m household support fund that is due to expire at the end of September, and called for a children’s fund to be created alongside foundations, charities, businesses and governments at both local and national levels.

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UK election on July 4: What would Labour Party win mean for crypto?

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UK election on July 4: What would Labour Party win mean for crypto?

While nothing is assured in politics, the Labour Party has a commanding lead in the polls just six weeks away from the general election.

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How the Peraire-Bueno brothers allegedly drained M from their MEV bots exploit

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General election called for 4 July, as Rishi Sunak says ‘now is the moment for Britain to choose its future’

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 General election called for 4 July, as Rishi Sunak says 'now is the moment for Britain to choose its future'

Rishi Sunak has called a general election for 4 July, saying “now is the moment for Britain to choose its future”.

In a statement outside Downing Street delivered in the pouring rain, the prime minister said he had met with the King to request the dissolution of parliament.

Follow the latest politics news live – general election confirmed

“The King has granted this request and we will have a general election on the 4th of July”, Mr Sunak said.

The surprise move is a huge electoral gamble given Labour are ahead by about 20 points in the polls.

It comes after official figures showed inflation had come down to 2.3% in April.

Mr Sunak said this is “proof that the plan and priorities I set out are working”.

More on General Election 2024

However, he said “this hard earned economic stability was only ever meant to be the beginning”.

In a rallying cry to the nation he said: “The question now is how and who do you trust to turn that foundation into a secure future for you, your family and our country?

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“Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future and to decide whether we want to build on the progress we have made or risk going back to square one. With no plan and no certainty.”

Mr Sunak had to contend with New Labour anthem Things Can Only Get Better being played from beyond the gates to Downing Street as he delivered his speech.

In a sign the election will be fought on the economy, the prime minister opened his remarks by harking back to his days as chancellor during the pandemic, saying he served the country while “the future hung in the balance”.

He said that economic stability is “the bedrock of any future success” and accused Labour of having no plan.

Summer election big gamble for Sunak

By Darren McCaffrey, political correspondent

The prime minister, late, increasingly soaked and being drowned out by protesters, confirmed there will be a July election.

Rishi Sunak’s pitch to voters is essentially better the devil you know, stick with me, I have a plan and Labour has no ideas.

“Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future, to decide whether we want to build on the progress we have made or risk going back to square one with no plan and no certainty” he said.

He is hoping that a relatively long campaign, a focus on security, in what he describes as an uncertain world and his economic record will eat into the enormous poll lead Labour have.

It is interesting there was much less focus on migration and small boats.

Sunak admitted mistakes had been made, accepted they had been in power for 14 years but played on lots of voter’s apathy about what Labour’s plans are for government.

This is undoubtedly a massive gamble for the prime minister, no party has ever come back from such a difficult polling situation, but he hopes under scrutiny Labour and Starmer will crumble.

At the moment, most in Westminster think it’s a gamble that will not pay off.

Let the proper campaign begin.

He finished his statement with an attack on his rival for Number 10, Sir Keir Starmer, saying he has “shown time and time again that he will take the easy way out and do anything to get power”.

“If he was happy to abandon all the promises he made to become Labour leader once he got the job, how can you know that he won’t do exactly the same thing if he were to become prime minister?

“If you don’t have the conviction to stick to anything you say, if you don’t have the courage to tell people what you want to do, and if you don’t have a plan, how can you possibly be trusted to lead our country, especially at this most uncertain of times?”

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Election ‘opportunity for change’

Keir Starmer
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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer

Delivering his own televised statement from central London, Sir Keir said the election is an “opportunity for change” as he tore into the Tories’ record in government.

He pointed to sewage in rivers, people “waiting on trolleys in A&E”, crime going “virtually unpunished” and mortgages and food prices “through the roof”.

“On 4 July you have a choice, and together we can stop the chaos, we can turn the page, we can start to rebuild Britain and change our country,” he said.

If Sir Keir wins the election, it will end 14 years of Conservative governments under five prime ministers.

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey, who is also hoping to make gains the the rural Tory heartlands, said the election is “a chance to kick Rishi Sunak’s appalling Conservative government out of office and deliver the change the public is crying out for”.

What are the rules for calling an election?

Mr Sunak has been saying for months the vote would happen in the “second half of the year” but had refused to set a date.

The assumption was that he would wait until the autumn to give him more time to deliver on his pledges.

However, speculation he could go to the country earlier mounted in Westminster on Wednesday as Cabinet ministers were summoned for an unusually timed meeting, with Defence Secretary Grant Shapps and Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron cutting short trips abroad to attend.

As general elections have to be held every five years, the final day a vote could have taken place was 28 January 2025.

However, the Conservatives in 2019 restored the prime minister’s power to call an election at a time of their choosing within that five years.

The last general election was held in 2019, when Boris Johnson won the Conservatives a landslide over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Since then, there have been two more prime ministers, Liz Truss and Mr Sunak, and the Conservatives’ 80-seat majority has been reduced by a series of by-election losses while their popularity among voters has plummeted.

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