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Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
Blair's poverty pledge 'flawed'
Child poverty
Tony Blair has pledged to end child poverty
Tony Blair's pledge to end child poverty within 20 years will fail unless the government changes its approach, according to a leading think tank.

The Social Market Foundation says the "flawed" way the government measures deprivation - as those living on less than 60% of the median income - means it is chasing a moving target.


In our most deprived communities things are really not getting much better

David Willetts, Conservatives
As a result, the government's mission to end child poverty within a generation was being "fought blind", it said.

Single parent families, in particular, were finding it difficult to cope, even when their incomes far exceeded the 60% watermark, the SMF said in a report published on Tuesday.

Review under way

The report's author, Tom Startup, said there was "good reason to believe" the government's current poverty measure did not "adequately capture the reality of poverty."

He said the government should look instead at a "basket of goods" households should be able to afford to remain above the breadline.

The government is currently reviewing the way it measures poverty, in the light of recent criticisms.

Work and Pensions Minister Malcolm Wicks told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We certainly accept that it is a very complex concept.

But he ruled out a move to the SMF's "basket of goods" system, as "old fashioned".

Benefit 'fiddling'

Tony Blair made his pledge to end child poverty within a "generation" in a 1999 speech and recently claimed the government was making good progress.

Before last year's general election, Chancellor Gordon Brown claimed Labour had lifted 1.2m children out of poverty.

But the government's own household income figures, released earlier this year, showed the true figure was nearer 0.5m.

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary David Willetts blamed the shortfall on Mr Brown's "fiddling" with the benefit system, which meant people were not claiming cash they were entitled to.


The current measure of child poverty is not perfect, but it has stood the test of time and is politically tamper proof

Child Poverty Action Group
Mr Willetts said the government relied too heavily on theoretical poverty targets and, as a result, was failing to address underlying social problems.

"Sadly, the evidence is coming in that in our most deprived communities things are really not getting much better.

"It is the hardest problems you want to tackle rather than the ones that are just on the borderline, where you can apparently record success most easily," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman Steve Webb also criticised the present definition of poverty as "meaningless to everyone apart from statistical gurus."

Steve Webb
Steve Webb: Wants new ways of measuring poverty
He added: "Harnessing the popular mood to the fight against poverty will require clear evidence, and these (SMF) proposals may help to provide that."

The SMF report was sponsored by the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities outside London (SIGOMA), which is campaigning for more money for its member councils to tackle poverty.

'Leadership' needed

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) warned any attempt to adopt new definitions of poverty may serve to "define the problem out of existence".

Director Martin Barnes said: "The current measure of child poverty is not perfect, but it has stood the test of time and is politically tamper proof.

"Adopting a new measure will be fraught with difficulties - put 10 experts in a room and you may end up with 12 different definitions of poverty."

But he said poor families needed support, not "a debate about definitions and statistics."

He called for a greater sense of urgency and more "visible leadership" from the government on tackling poverty.

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