Child poverty target under attack

The existing method for measuring child poverty is inadequate, according to a new think-tank report. It says the method fails to acknowledge that poverty is about much more than a lack of income.

The report comes from the Centre for Social Justice, established by the current Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith when he was in opposition. It directly criticises the income-based targets for eliminating child poverty contained in the previous Labour government’s Child Poverty Act 2010.

Key points

  • Because of an excessive focus on income, the fight against child poverty has been marred by ‘short-term, narrow and expensive’ policy responses.
  • Using a relative measure amounts to a ‘methodological flaw’: it means the poor will always exist statistically, as it is ‘inevitable’ that some in society will have less than others.
  • An ‘arbitrary’ line to measure child poverty says ‘almost nothing’ about the suffocating nature of child deprivation, and fails to assess a child’s opportunities to break free from it.
  • The poverty measure should instead focus on the main drivers of poverty, which it says are family breakdown, educational failure, economic dependency and worklessness, addiction and serious personal debt.
  • This alternative approach would help promote policies that transformed lives, rather than merely maintaining people on marginally higher incomes.

A rejoinder by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) pointed to what they considered to be a number of serious factual and statistical errors. They concluded: ‘it is difficult not to regard many of the arguments advanced in the CSJ report as little more than a smokescreen to allow the government to claim to do “something” about poverty without spending any money.’

The interactive graph on the Income thresholds page demonstrates the basic errors in the report’s claim that relative measures mean the poor will always exist statistically.

Source: Rethinking Child Poverty, Centre for Social Justice

Links: Report | CSJ press release | CPAG rejoinder | Daily Telegraph report

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