UK child poverty targets fall short

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The Government is making progress in tackling child poverty but must make extra efforts to help the poorest families each year if it is to get anywhere near targets set for 2004. That is the blunt message from three reports published last week by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, all highlighting changes that have helped low-income families such as falling unemployment, better school results and improved housing conditions.

The Government is making progress in tackling child poverty but must make extra efforts to help the poorest families each year if it is to get anywhere near targets set for 2004.

That is the blunt message from three reports published last week by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, all highlighting changes that have helped low-income families such as falling unemployment, better school results and improved housing conditions.

In the report Monitoring Pover- ty and Social Exclusion 2002, researchers from the New Policy Institute reveal that out of 50 key indicators of poverty and social exclusion, 24 have improved over the past five years, while six have worsened. Poor households have benefited from higher spending on public services such as health and education.

But they warn that without further action 'the Government will have difficulty meeting its commitment to reduce child poverty by a quarter by 2004'. Co-author Guy Palmer, co-director of the New Policy Institute, said, 'The message for the Government from these indicators is that significant progress is being made in tackling social exclusion but there is still a long way to go.'

In an interim report, Changing poverty after 1997, Professor David Piachaud of the London School of Economics and Holly Sutherland, director of the Micro- simulation Unit at Cambridge University, show that existing policies will cut child poverty by 750,000 - nearly half a million less than the Government's target. They said the situation would have worsened dramatically if changes had not been made to the tax and benefit system.

In a third report, Tom Sefton, of the LSE's Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, examined how public spending worth 4,000 per household on the NHS, schools and subsidised housing is shared out. He found that people with the lowest two-fifths of incomes receive around twice the value of benefits in kind of those in the richest fifth.

But Mr Sefton said that while help for the poorest had improved since 1997, the social wage had not grown as fast as average household incomes and therefore 'did not prevent relative inequality from rising'.

To reach it the Government would have to reduce the number of children in relatively low incomes by 1.2 million since 1996-97, the report said.

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