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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Analysis: Has Labour met poverty pledge?
Labour pledged to drastically cut child poverty
Figures published on Thursday suggest the government failed in its pledge to lift 1.2 million children above the poverty line in the last Parliament.

BBC social affairs analyst Roger Wicks explains what the figures mean.

What are the details of the figures?

The number of children living below the poverty line fell from 4.4 million in 1996/97 when Labour came to power to 3.9 million in 2000/01.

New Labour will be judged by the target it set and claims made

The government measures poverty as those whose household income is below 60% of the median - measured "after housing costs".

The 1997 figure "before housing costs" was 3.3 million.

Who has published the figures?

They are published in the annual document, Households Below Average Income, by the Department for Work and Pensions. They cover the year 2000/01 (up to April 2001).

How significant is the fall in child poverty?

The new statistics represent a substantial reduction in child poverty, particularly in the context of a trebling of numbers since 1979.

Figures also show that the incomes of the poorest fifth are rising as fast as the richest fifth.

Inevitably, however, new Labour will be judged by the target it set and claims it has made.

Labour's pledge for its second term - a further one million reduction - will now be brought under question.

The new Labour government made the reduction of child poverty one of its central objectives

Ministers had set particular store by this week's figures, arguing that the full effect of their polices was yet to be felt.

Large increases to child benefit and income support though had already come in.

But the working families' tax credit, aimed at 1.4 million low income families, was launched in October 1999, so its impact was still to be felt - until the new figures.

What is the link with benefits?

Eradicating child poverty is central to reforms to the benefits and tax credits system. Central to government policy is the promotion of paid work.

This year's Budget on 17 April will see flesh put on the bones of the child tax credit set for 2003.

How much of a blow is this for the government?

The new Labour government made the reduction of child poverty one of its central objectives.

Gordon Brown
Brown's claims are questioned
Tony Blair pledged to eradicate child poverty in 20 years and halve it in ten years on 18 March.

The government argues that the figures should be seen in the context of what would have happened to the poverty level if the Conservatives had been re-elected in 1997.

Such a claim is strongly countered by organisations such as the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

The chancellor told the CPAG in May 2000 that the pledge had already been met:

"By next year compared to 1997 we will be investing an additional 7,000m a year in children's financial support

"The poorest 20% per cent of families receive not 20% of that additional money but almost 50 %.

"As a result we have taken more than one million children out of poverty."

How bad is child poverty in the UK?

Even taking a million children above the poverty line would leave two million or more children living in poor families.

Child poverty rates are currently the worst in Europe and double those in France and five times those in Nordic countries so it would remain high by European standards.

As more children are brought above the poverty line, it gets harder to help those further down the income scale

A report published by Unicef in June 2000 was deeply embarrassing for the Government.

A league table of child poverty in rich nations places Britain very near the bottom. For 'relative' poverty (households below 50% of average income) Britain is placed 20th out of 23.

Progress so far shows the clear extent of the problem.

And as more children are brought above the poverty line, it gets harder to help those further down the income scale.

The BBC's James Westhead
"The UK's record remains the worst in Europe"
Liberal Democrat spokesman Steve Webb
"They've over promised and under delivered"
Mike Brewer, Institute of Fiscal Studies
"Child poverty in the UK stands at 30 percent"
See also:

11 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Labour defends child poverty record
15 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Child poverty plan 'could fail'
21 May 01 | Health
Children 'breakfast on junk food'
23 Feb 01 | Health
Child poverty 'high in the UK'
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