Government abandons life chances strategy

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The Department for Work and Pensions has abandoned its much-delayed life chances strategy in favour of a wider scheme on social justice.

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The Government has abandoned its Life Chances Strategy and absorbed the Child Poverty Unit

In response to a parliamentary question from Dan Jarvis, Labour MP for Barnsley Central about whether the delayed life chances strategy will be published or replaced, the employment minister in the Department for Work and Pensions Damian Hinds said, ‘The Prime Minister is clear that tackling poverty and disadvantage, and delivering real social reform, is a priority for this Government. We intend to bring forward a social justice green paper in the New Year.’

The social justice strategy will identify and address the root causes of poverty, and, according to reports, will not only focus on the disadvantaged, but also ‘just about managing’ households.

Announced by former Prime Minister David Cameron in January, the life chances strategy was expected to feature measures to address child poverty, including a plan to expand parenting provision and a voucher scheme for parenting classes.

The strategy was due to be unveiled in June, however it was postponed after the EU referendum vote prompted the resignation of David Cameron as Prime Minister.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance said he was disappointed that the life chances strategy has been ‘quietly’ abandoned.

‘All children, regardless of background, should have the best possible start in life, and the life chances strategy would be have an excellent opportunity to ensure that children from disadvantaged backgrounds in particular received the support they both need and deserve.’

He added, ‘We hope that the proposed new "social justice" strategy is more than a broad, vague policy that is all ambition and no action, and urge the Government to ensure that it contains a specific focus on addressing and mitigating the effect of poverty and disadvantage in childhood, with practical, tangible proposals on how to do so.’

It has also been revealed that the Government’s Child Poverty Unit has been absorbed into the DWP, following dwindling levels of staff. In three years, staffing levels have halved.

The admission came in response to another parliamentary question posed by Dan Jarvis.

Set up in 1999 under Tony Blair’s Government, the Child Poverty Unit was jointly ran by the DWP, Department for Education (DfE) and the Treasury.

The unit’s main function was to support ministers in exercising their duties in relation to the income-related targets set out in the Child Poverty Act 2010 and the associated child poverty strategy.

Alison Garnham , chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said, 'Collapsing the Child Poverty Unit into the DWP will eviscerate it just as we face a child poverty crisis. Nine children in every class of 30 already live below the official poverty line. The Institute of Fiscal Studies projects a 50 per cent jump in child poverty by 2020.  We should be scaling up poverty-reduction programmes, not diminishing them.'

A spokesperson for the DWP said, 'It's nonsense to suggest we don't still carry out this important work. We are absolutely committed to tackling poverty and in the New Year we will publish a social justice paper outlining our plans for the years ahead.

'Work is the best way out of poverty and there are records levels of low unemployment. By increasing the National Living Wage and taking millions of people out of paying any income tax, we are ensuring it always pays to be in work."

Writing on Twitter, early years consultant, trainer and author Julie Cigman (@juliecigman), said, ‘Govt (sic) life chances strategy dropped, child poverty unit abolished, chns centres (sic) closed. Child protection spending rocketing. Join the dots...'

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