Four years ago the Prime Minister pledged to eradicate child poverty within 20 years.
By Martin Barnes
Director of the Child Poverty Action Group
The pledge is ambitious, and rightfully so. Any decrease in the number of children in poverty should be welcomed, but the relatively small fall, revealed by the latest statistics, is disappointing.
The Government can and should do more, but progress is being made and this should be acknowledged.
Disappointment is not the same as failure. We have a Chancellor who is passionate in his commitment to end child poverty, and significant increases in financial support for children have been made.
The new child tax credit, starting in April, will be an important and necessary vehicle for delivering on the child poverty pledge.
An additional £2.5bn for children was announced in last year's Budget, with a commitment to increase the tax credit in future years at least in line with earnings.
Take-up is crucial, but the Treasury is pulling out all the stops to ensure that families are aware of their entitlement.
Further increases in financial support for children will be needed if the Government is to achieve its target to reduce the number of children in poverty by a quarter by 2004/05.
The next milestone will be a halving of child poverty by 2010.
Long term investment
There is no magic wand for ending child poverty but ensuring an adequate income for children must be at the heart of the government's strategy.
Tackling child poverty is an investment for the long-term, and is crucial to delivering world-class education and health services.
The poverty of today is not always the same as the poverty seen by our parents or grandparents, but it is not a thing of the past.
Poverty remains one of the most serious problems facing children today, with a negative impact on health, education, social and psychological development and future life chances and opportunities.
But poverty today is often hidden, driven behind closed doors by stigma, embarrassment and isolation.
Children may miss school because they are worried about their appearance, or not claim their free school dinner because they are afraid of being labelled the 'poor kid' and teased because of their poverty.
Poverty also leaves a long-term legacy: children in poverty are less likely to stay on in full time education after 16, at greater risk of low pay, unemployment and ill-health.
Ministers should take every opportunity to explain why the goal of ending child poverty is so necessary.
It is not about the politics of envy, but a pragmatic response to the social and economic costs of a society where so many children are left behind.
But the pledge to eradicate child poverty deserves cross-party support.
Politicians can disagree on the means, but the goal of improving the well-being and life chances of children should straddle the political divide.
The next Budget and this summer's spending review will be the last opportunities for influencing delivery of the child poverty target for 2004/05.
Estimates suggest that the Chancellor will need to spend an additional £1bn on the child tax credit.
Despite the difficult and gloomy international situation, the challenges at home should not be forgotten.
Tackling child poverty is an investment, but it takes a brave politician who is ready to take tough decisions today, for long term returns.
The government has much more to do. It should keep its ambitious targets - a 20 year time scale suggests, after all, that the pledge to eradicate child poverty is onerous - but it must do more to wins hearts and minds for this important issue.