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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 February 2007, 14:43 GMT
Poverty ranking is all relative
Relative poverty does not measure material possession
A Unicef report into child well-being has concluded poverty rates in the UK are the second greatest of the major industrialised nations.

But while the UK is ranked below countries traditionally viewed as poorer such as the Czech Republic and Hungary, the report's authors are not comparing standards of living.

The report concerns itself with relative poverty - a measure of households in one country where income is behind the average.

Unicef has taken account of a country's median income for a couple with two children and created a ranking of those up to the age of 17 who live in households with earnings of less than 50% of that total.

It acknowledges its listing "tells us much about inequality and exclusion but little about absolute material deprivation".

Unicef said the fact that a smaller percentage of children are growing up less relatively poor in the Czech Republic than in the UK does not mean they are more affluent but that the Czech Republic has a more equal distribution of income.

'Cutting edge'

Some economists argue relative poverty is not a real measure as many of those below the line can enjoy an actual standard of living higher than in the past - and greater than many other nations.

1. United States
2. United Kingdom
3. Italy
4. Ireland
5. Spain
6. Portugal
7. New Zealand
8. Poland
9. Japan
10. Canada
11. Austria
12. Hungary
13. Greece
14. Australia
15. Germany
16. Netherlands
17. France
18. Czech Republic
19. Switzerland
20. Belgium
21. Sweden
22. Norway
23. Finland
24. Denmark
Source: Unicef. Ranking shows countries having highest percentage of children 0-17 years in households with income less than 50% of the median

For example, the Unicef ranking shows the child poverty rate in the United States is greater than in Hungary but fails to show that 50% of median income in the year 2000 was $24,000 (12,282) is the US and $7,000 (3,582) in Hungary.

According to Unicef such an argument fails to recognise that in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development nations the "cutting edge of poverty is the contrast, daily perceived, between the lives and poor and the lives of those around them".

It is with this in mind that Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, from York University, one of the report's authors, points out that relative poverty for children in the UK has doubled since 1979.

But reducing relative poverty of all Britons has been one of the key aims of the Labour government since Tony Blair was elected in 1997.

And falling relative poverty rates in recent years have been attributed to changes such as the introduction of means-tested tax credits and pension credits.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, have indicated the party has moved away from its traditional view on the subject.

In a recent speech, its leader David Cameron said: "In the past we used to think of poverty in absolute terms - meaning straightforward material deprivation.

"That's not enough. We need to think of poverty in relative terms - the fact that some people lack those things which others in society take for granted."

Reaction to the study

Is the UK failing its children?
13 Feb 07 |  Have Your Say

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