Child poverty target missed – government moves to change target

The statutory target to halve child poverty by 2010 was missed, an official report has confirmed. The government immediately announced plans to change the target measure – to include income, but providing a ‘more accurate picture’ of the reality of child poverty.

The official report says the number of children living in relative income poverty in 2010/11 was reduced to 2.3 million, but this was 600,000 short of the number required to meet the target set under the Child Poverty Act 2010. The report confirms plans, already signalled in a speech by the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, to consult on new measures of child poverty in autumn 2012.

Key points from Duncan Smith’s speech

  • Previous government spending directed at reducing child poverty has failed to have the intended impact.
  • There has been an excessive focus on relative measures of poverty, an ‘arbitrary’ poverty line and treating the symptoms of poverty rather than its causes.
  • The government remains committed to the targets in the 2010 Act, but it is ‘increasingly clear’ poverty is not about income alone.
  • A better method is needed for measuring changes to children’s life chances.

The commissioner for children’s rights in England responded:

‘Although poverty is about more than income, this remains the key determinant of children’s life chances. It is the most frequently used, internationally recognised means of measuring poverty. I would be concerned by any move away from using it to help show that a family, and therefore its children, are poor.’

Similar reservations were expressed by charities and campaign groups, including UNICEF and the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). CPAG issued a briefing highlighting ‘common mistakes’ about child poverty – including the idea that the poverty line used is an ‘arbitrary’ measure; that relative poverty is not ‘real’ poverty; that nothing has been achieved with respect to child poverty over the last decade; that any progress was simply ‘poverty plus a pound’; and that there has been a failure to tackle the ‘real’ causes of poverty.

The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies pointed out the ‘tension’ between keeping the income-based 2020 target and the government ruling out further large increases in fiscal redistribution. Government policies, it said, are therefore unlikely to transform the distribution of income anywhere near radically enough over the timescale involved.

Sources: Child Poverty in the UK: The Report on the 2010 Target, Department for Work and Pensions/Department for Education, TSO | Speech by Iain Duncan Smith MP (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions), 14 June 2012

Links: Report | IDS speech | BBC report | Guardian report| Children’s Commissioner press release | CPAG briefing | UNICEF press release | IFS observation

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