Government strategy to end child poverty 'set to fail'

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New analysis shows that the Government's child poverty targets will be missed by a large margin, with an estimated 3.5 million children in poverty by 2020.

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The report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission argues that the Government lacks any credible plans to get back on track to end child poverty by 2020.

It goes on to say that the Government's draft child poverty strategy 2014 to 2017 is a missed opportunity and falls far short of what is needed.

While the commission, chaired by former health secretary Alan Milburn, recognises there are some good things in the strategy, such as the extension of chidcare support for low-income families, it believes they will not be enough to achieve the Government's poverty targets.

According to research carried out for the commission by Landman Economics and the National institute for Economic and Social Research, even if the UK achieved OECD-beating employment rates, it would still not be possible to end child poverty by 2020.

The research estimates that even heroic assumptions about parental employment rates and earnings would still leave more than three million children in absolute poverty by 2020.

Within its report, the commission goes on to identify problems with the Government's strategy for reducing child poverty, including:

  • a lack of any clear measure to assess progress with the Government continuing to distance itself from statutory measures in the Child Poverty Act 2010;
  • absence of a step-by-step plan for meeting the targets leaving the strategy as a list of policies rather than a detailed plan that is specific about what needs to happen to jobs, wages and benefits to ensure the decline of poverty;
  • failure to engage with independent projections that poverty is set to increase substantially;
  • lack of new action on in-work poverty with policies being insufficient to achieve the ambition set out in the strategy to tackle low pay and help parents progress into higher paying jobs;
  • ignoring the impact of additional welfare cuts, making achieving the targets even more challenging, which the commission says is the 'elephant in the room' in the draft strategy.

To ensure the Government's final stratgy is an effective and credible plan for tackling child poverty, the commission urges ministers to revise the draft and develop a step-by-step plan for how the 2020 targets will be met.

Alan Milburn, chair of the commission, said, 'The Government's draft child poverty strategy is a missed opportunity. The farce of ministers proving unable to agree on how to measure poverty after rubbishing existing measures is particularly lamentable.

'The Government's approach falls far short of what is needed to reduce, yet alone end child poverty in our country. Our new research shows that the gap between the objective of making child poverty history and the reality is becoming even wider.'

He added, 'Across the political spectrum,  party leaders now need to come clean about what they plan to do to hit the targets, or what progress they can deliver if they expect to fall short.'

Commenting on the commission's report, Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), said,  'The Coalition established the commission as an expert watchdog on poverty, so when it says the Government's child poverty strategy lacks credibility ministers must do something about it.

'Getting more parents into work, improving job security and increasing minimum wage are all essential,  but as the commission's research shows it's not enough. The big problem is the Coalition's decision to target austerity on children's benefits and tax credits for families in low-paid work. Its not fair to punish millions of families with children for an economic crisis caused by the banks.

'The Government's draft child poverty strategy needs a major revamp to make it credible, with a clear explanation of how targets will be met.'

Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children said, 'Living in poverty can be a miserable existence which limits opportunity in every aspect of a child’s life - from health and well-being to education and employment.
 
'With only one Parliament to go before Government’s 2020 commitment to eradicate child poverty, it’s clear that radical action is urgently needed. Helping families to climb out of hardship while preventing others from entering the poverty trap must be the top priority for national and local government. Government and all political parties need to respond to the Commission’s challenge and set out firm measure and commitments to achieve this.'

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said, 'We remain committed to our goal of ending child poverty by 2020.

'Our strategy outlines plans to tackle the root causes of poverty, including worklessness,  low earnings and educational failure.

'This approach is a better reflection of the reality of child poverty in the UK today and is the only way to achieve lasting change.'