The document, which was published today, aims to tackle the root causes of poverty and build on the first strategy, published in 2011, by focusing on supporting families into work, improving living standards and raising attainment, in an attempt to meet the Government’s pledge to eradicate child poverty by 2020.
Actions set out in the strategy include:
- encouraging people to take up work through Jobcentre Plus and schemes such as the Work Programme and the Troubled Families Programme;
- providing work incentives through the introduction of Universal Credit;
- raising the minimum wage and the personal tax allowance;
- reducing food costs for low-income families by introducing free school meals for all infant school pupils alongside Healthy Start Vouchers for young children, breakfast clubs in deprived areas, and free fruit and vegetables at school for primary school children;
- introducing the Early Years Pupil Premium;
- supporting parenting classes and providing free books to poor families.
According to Government figures, a child in a workless family is three times as likely to live in poverty compared to a family where at least one parent is employed.
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said, ‘Work remains the best route out of poverty and with the economy now growing again we have more people in work than ever before, as well as fewer children in workless households than at any time since records began. These children now not only have a wage-earner in the household, but perhaps even more importantly, they also have a role model to look up to.’
However, a report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission earlier this month () predicted the Government would fall short of its 2020 child poverty target by around 3.5 million children, and argued that the draft of the strategy was a missed opportunity.
Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said, ‘The strategy does not add up to being a plan to end child poverty. It ignores independent projections which suggest the UK is heading for the steepest rise in child poverty for a generation. Crucially, it fails to set out clear actions, milestones and progress measures that would set child poverty on a downward trend.
‘Worryingly, half of those who responded to the Government’s strategy consultation raised concerns about the impact of welfare reform on low income families. Rather than take these views on board, the Government looks set to continue with policies that experts show are impoverishing families across the UK.’
Enver Solomon, director of evidence and impact at the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), added, ‘The experience of growing up in the UK today is dramatically polarised between the haves and have-nots, with many children's lives blighted by daily hardship and severe disadvantage. The Government has rightly recognised the importance of tackling the root causes behind this, but the strategy falls short of setting out a comprehensive cross-Whitehall approach that makes tackling child poverty a top priority across Government with every department held to account.’
While welcoming the Government’s recognition of the importance of early intervention in tackling poverty, 4Children chief executive Anne Longfield agreed that the strategy could have gone further.
‘As children’s centres have a core role identifying the most vulnerable children at the earliest stages and coordinating support which is tailored to the needs of the whole family, it is a serious gap that this, and their potential to expand this further as hubs to provide inter-generational community support, has not been included in the strategy,’ she said.
‘It should also have a much greater emphasis on universal childcare that would do so much to support parents back into work and children’s development at the crucial first stages of life. With only one Parliament to go before Government’s 2020 commitment to eradicate child poverty, it is clear that radical action is urgently needed. Government and all political parties need to do more than that announced today to the set out firm measures and commitments to achieve this. No child should be living in poverty in one of the richest countries in the world.’
The Government has also set up a public consultation on setting the 2020 persistent child poverty target. The consultation is open until 14 August, in order to allow the Government to set a target by December, in line with the requirements of the 2010 Child Poverty Act.