BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 3 December 2007, 00:01 GMT
The battle against child poverty
By Lucy Rodgers
BBC News

Child on bike
The number of children living in poverty has increased

No-one could have knocked the government's ambitious aims.

Back in 1999 when the then prime minister, Tony Blair, pledged to halve the number of children living in poverty within 10 years and eradicate child poverty altogether within 20, there were few who could argue it wasn't a noble goal.

But less than three years before the first major deadline in 2010, it appears ministers are falling well behind in meeting their own bold targets.

According to the latest report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, although the number of children living in poverty has fallen by 600,000 since the government made its pledge, it remains 500,000 short of the target it should have reached in 2004/5.

While the tax credits are working quite well, they are, in a way, treating the symptoms - meanwhile, the root problems are getting worse
Peter Kenway
Poverty report author

The report's authors say the most serious setback was an increase of 200,000 children living in poverty in 2005/06 - taking the total to 3.8 million, or one in three children, if housing costs are taken into account.

Government strategy has "lost momentum", it concludes, and is "in urgent need of a major rethink".

So, what went wrong?

"I think this is to do with two things," says Peter Kenway, co-author of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report.

"They relied very heavily on tax credits - supporting the idea that work is the right way out of poverty - which are working. If you took tax credits away, one million more people would be in poverty.

"But the problem seems to be that the number of children getting tax credits is also going up. So, while the tax credits are working quite well, they are, in a way, treating the symptoms - meanwhile, the root problems are getting worse."

No 'silver bullet'

Although half of all children in poverty are in working families, according to the report, the redistribution of income through tax credits has not kept pace with the growing inequality in incomes across Britain.

"That is a sign that tax credits alone are not quite sufficient," says Mr Kenway. "They are asked to carry more burden than any single policy."

However, while he admits there is no "silver bullet", he would like to see the government tackle low pay, especially in the public sector, the tax burden of low-income working-age households - such as council tax - and the education of young adults aged between 19 and 20 who don't have a minimum level of education.

WHO IS POOR?
Household income less than 60% of median for similar households
Single adult with no children - net income less than 108pw after income tax and housing costs
Couple with no children - net income less than 186pw after income tax and housing costs
Couple with two children - net income less than 301pw after income tax and housing costs
Lone parent with two children - net income less than 223pw after income tax and housing costs
Source: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

"We are hoping for a major rethink," he adds. "What is really important is that we start going forward again."

For Jason Strelitz, policy advisor for charity Save the Children, the reason why the targets are not being hit is clear.

"It is simply because the government hasn't invested sufficient resources in meeting them," he says.

The charity, along with the other organisations which form the End Child Poverty Campaign, is calling for an extra 4bn to be spent on benefits and child tax credits to ensure the 2010 goal is reached.

As part of the package, Save the Children also wants to see the introduction of seasonal grants during summer and winter, when extra financial burdens - such as the new school year and Christmas - are placed on the poorest families.

"We don't doubt the government is committed to the goal, but it's about having the political will to see it through," says Mr Strelitz.

Long-term policies

Most of the End Child Poverty Campaign partners agree that the government's pledge has been a brave one. But they say targets must be reached, and still can be if money is directed to the right families.

"They are very hard targets to meet," admits Kate Green, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, which is also part of the campaign.

"As the country as a whole is getting better off, the poorest are getting worse off."

She believes hitting the 2010 target is about investment, and if the money doesn't come, the target "cannot be made".

But with regard to the major goal of eradicating child poverty by 2020, she believes other long-term policies, such as employment and education measures, should play a larger role.

Crucial to this, anti-poverty campaigners say, is increasing the minimum wage, providing families with better access to childcare and ensuring schools in poorer areas get adequate support and funding.

We continue to hear very strong statements from ministers, who say they are absolutely committed to this - but they need to put their money where their mouth is
Kate Green
Child Poverty Action Group

Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform Caroline Flint says a "tremendous amount of progress" has been made in improving the lives of children in poverty, but acknowledges "more needs to be done".

She says the government is taking action "to rip up sick-note Britain, establish a new cross-government Child Poverty Unit" and ensure more people are able to "access the two-thirds of a million job vacancies that exist on any given day".

But, although Kate Green says the government's targets are still "achievable" and "must be done", she wants more than just promises.

"We continue to hear very strong statements from ministers, who say they are absolutely committed to this. But they need to put their money where their mouth is.

"They have really nailed their reputation to this and I would have thought they would want to prove they can do it."

Child poverty graphic



SEE ALSO
Anti-poverty strategy 'stalling'
03 Dec 07 |  Business
More UK children live in poverty
27 Mar 07 |  UK Politics

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific