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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 July 2006, 23:30 GMT 00:30 UK
Call for action on child poverty
Lone parent
The government has fallen short of meeting it poverty target
The government may miss its child poverty target unless it changes its approach to boosting the incomes of the poor, a charity has said.

Targeted benefits and tax credits have helped to lift 700,000 children out of poverty since 1999.

But for these tactics to eliminate child poverty by 2020, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said it would cost taxpayers an extra 28bn a year.

A more wide-ranging approach to poverty relief was needed, it said.

Since 1999 the number of children living in poverty has fallen by 700,000 due to rising parental employment and the introduction of tax credits.

People who grow up in poverty are increasingly likely to be poor as adults
Donald Hirsch, Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF)

The JRF said there now needed to be a greater redistribution of wealth to benefit poorer families combined with policies to help parents into work.

Just using tax credits and benefits to alleviate child poverty would become very expensive over the next few years, the report added.

Continuing to follow such a policy would add 28bn to annual government expenditure between 2010 and 2020, an "unlikely scenario" the JRF said.

Targets set

In 1999 the government said it wanted to gradually eliminate child poverty.

It set itself the goals of reducing child poverty by a quarter by 2005, half by 2010 and altogether by 2020.

In March, the government announced it had narrowly missed its first target, managing to reduce poverty levels by about a fifth rather than a quarter.

The report's author, Donald Hirsch, a special adviser to the JRF, said that "bold" action and extra funds were needed to eliminate child poverty.

"A strong commitment needs to be sustained for a long period. Families must be helped to improve their market earnings, at the same time as getting extra assistance if their incomes fall short," Mr Hirsch said.

At present, the government's policy is based around encouraging parents into work and topping-up salaries through the tax credit system.

The JRF report said that in future a more broad-ranging approach was needed, including the following:

  • Benefits to rise in line with earnings rather than inflation

  • Reducing underachievement in education to boost the long-term earnings prospects of parents

  • Addressing the gender pay gap - women earn less than men on average

  • Better childcare provision and more encouragement of family-friendly employment practices.

Mr Hirsch warned that failing to reduce poverty would have negative long-term consequences for society.

"People who grow up in poverty are increasingly likely to be poor as adults. This causes widespread hardship for individuals and carries costs for all of society," he said.

In response, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson said they welcomed "this excellent report."

"We know in order to meet our future child poverty targets there is much more to do.

"That is why we have said we are redoubling our efforts and examining our child poverty strategy in order that we can build on the progress we have made so far," the DWP spokesperson said.

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