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The BBC's Christine Stewart
"Many people on benefits find it difficult to make ends meet"
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Tuesday, 13 June, 2000, 03:22 GMT 04:22 UK
UK condemned over child poverty

Britain's level of child poverty surprised Unicef
Child poverty in the UK is among the worst in the developed world, according to a report by the United Nations Children's Fund, Unicef.

The UK ranks 20th out of 23 countries in the table of relative poverty - classed as families with an income less than half the national average.

Unicef warns action must be taken to reach all poor children

The Child Poverty in Rich Nations report reveals statistics about the quality of life for millions of children in nations which otherwise lead the world stage.

While the number of children in poverty has remained stable in other industrial nations over the last 20 years, it has tripled in Britain.

But the government insists the figures are outdated and measures are already in place to tackle the problem.


"The Unicef report is based on information from 1995," said Social Security Secretary, Alistair Darling.

"The government is committed to eradicating child poverty in two decades and has instituted a number of measures in order to meet this target."

The report suggests that nearly 20% of children in Britain are rated as living in relative poverty, with 29% living in families with incomes below the official poverty line.

Alastair Darling
Alastair Darling says Britain is doing better than Unicef suggests

Mr Darling said the government aims to lift one million children out of poverty during the course of this Parliament.

"We are determined to tackle poverty and its causes to ensure that everyone has the best possible start in life," he said.

The Unicef report praises the Labour Government for action taken on poverty since it came to power in 1997.

But it warns that despite this, not all the poor will benefit.


"Cuts in lone parent benefit and other changes will mean that one in six children in the poorest tenth of the population will see their household incomes fall," warns the report.

Unicef researcher Anna Wright said the organisation was surprised at the levels for the UK, Italy and the United States.

Child poverty rates
Mexico - 26.2%
United States - 22.4%
Italy - 20.5%
Britain -19.8%
Turkey -19.7%
Sweden - 2.6%

"We were also surprised by the extraordinary variation between the top and the bottom," she said.

Britain's ranking at number 20 out of 23 is two ahead of the United Sates, where it is estimated 22.4% of children are mired in poverty.

But it is still behind countries like Turkey and the Eastern European states of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Unicef concludes there is no one explanation for child poverty, but highlights some major factors.

Children in lone families in the UK are nearly three and a half times more likely to fall victim to poverty, and a child living in a household where there is no working adult is four times more likely to be growing up in poverty.

Countries with the lowest levels of child poverty, like Sweden, are those which allocate the highest amount of money to social expenditure.

A NSPCC spokeswoman said the government's initiatives on child poverty were very welcome.

"The well-being of children should be high on the public agenda - this is what our own Full Stop campaign is about," she said.

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See also:

13 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Union wants tax rise on rich
17 Mar 00 | Business
'Children stuck in poverty trap'
21 Mar 00 | Budget2000
Crusade to end child poverty
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