The government has announced new plans to move the goalposts on the way child poverty levels in the UK are tracked and measured.
The current child poverty measure – defined as 60% of median income – is considered by some to be a ‘inaccurate way of measuring the life chances of disadvantaged children’.
According to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), ‘the number of children in poverty went down significantly as the economy shrank during the recent recession, when in reality there was little change to those children’s lives’.
David Cameron recently claimed that when the government increases the amount of money going to pensioners, the child poverty rate increases. This is because the current poverty rate is a relative measure, described by the DWP as a ‘poor test of whether children’s lives are genuinely improving’.
The government say they will bring forward legislation which will focus on ‘levels of work within a family and improvements in education attainment’.
Other measures and indicators will also be developed including family breakdown, debt and addiction. These will form part of a new ‘children’s life chances strategy’, say the DWP.
The Tories attempted to change the way child poverty is measured during the last parliament, but the move was blocked by the Liberal Democrats.
Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith said: “Eradicating child poverty is an absolute priority for this government, and I have consistently argued that it is not enough to tackle the symptoms without also tackling the underlying causes.
“The measures announced today are the foundation of a new, comprehensive way of addressing poverty and reflect our conviction that work is the best route out of poverty.
“Our new approach will drive effective government action by focusing attention on making meaningful change to children’s life chances.”
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Minister, Stephen Timms, branded the move as a “obituary notice for compassionate conservatism”.
Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham said: “The Government is turning its back on poor children.
“Only a year ago, the Secretary of State claimed the child poverty targets would be met but last week’s child poverty statistics showed that absolute child poverty has risen by half a million since 2010 and that progress on relative poverty has stalled.
“Today’s statement isn’t about strengthening efforts to end child poverty but about burying the failure of the Government’s child poverty approach. And with more cuts coming down the line, child poverty is set to rise.
“Two thirds of poor children are in working families – it’s unclear whether these children will be counted as poor in the future.
“The Child Poverty Act secured the support of many in the voluntary sector and all the main political parties because it made clear that any effective child poverty strategy has to take a broad approach – it needs to look at jobs and skills, health and education, home and communities as well as direct financial support to families.
“A child poverty strategy which excludes income isn’t a child poverty strategy”.
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said last month: “Moving the goal posts by changing the definition of child poverty will do nothing to help the millions of children who are suffering in real poverty.
“The Government needs to stop debating definitions and start doing more to help children.
“Income is central to tackling the problem and the Government must act on the targets it has committed to in the Child Poverty Act.
“It must take effective steps to reduce the number of families living on low incomes, including by making sure that work always pays. It is crucial that all of these families get the support they need.”
Last edited at 16:18 on 1 July 2015 to include a comment from CPAG.