Thursday, March 18, 1999 Published at 16:32 GMT
Pledge to eliminate child poverty
Better support for children is intended to improve welfare's image
By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder
Tony Blair has pledged to wipe out child poverty within 20 years.
In a keynote speech aimed at putting welfare reform back on top of his political agenda, the prime minister said he wanted to make the welfare state popular again.
He claimed Labour had an "historic aim" to be the first generation to end child poverty for ever. He said it was a "20 year mission - but I believe it can be done".
He insisted that the government was embarked on a process of radical welfare reform which had already seen major changes.
But it is claimed Mr Blair has backed away from a "big bang" approach and is simply tinkering with the system.
The sacking of former Social Security minister Frank Field - who had been taken on to "think the unthinkable" about welfare - was seen as the first sign that the problem of radically reforming the welfare state had defeated the government.
He said government spending on children is rising by more than £6bn over this Parliament and, as a result, of tax and benefits changes, 700,000 children will be lifted out of poverty.
He said the changes already introduced by the government - including the working families tax credit and the new deal for the jobless - had been hugely successful.
"The consequences of these reforms is a quiet revolution. They are being carried through by a quiet revolutionary, Alistair Darling.
"We are creating a welfare system which is active, not passive, genuinely providing people with a hand up not a hand-out," he said.
"Today it is often associated with dependency, fraud, abuse, laziness. I want to make it once again a force for progress."
But his speech was attacked by the Tories who claimed his policies actually undermined the family and marriage and would do nothing to tackle child poverty.
And even welfare groups accused him of making "sweeping statements" instead of introducing practical policies.
Martin Barnes of the Child Poverty Action Group said the speech was looking too far into the future.
"Why wait 20 years, they can do more now," he said.
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