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Wednesday, July 14, 1999 Published at 10:08 GMT 11:08 UK

UK Politics

Brown unveils child poverty targets

An estimated four million British children live in poverty

New targets for rescuing a million children from poverty by next year have been outlined by Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown on Wednesday.

In a move which is seen as playing to Labour's traditional voters, Mr Brown told a meeting of child poverty experts that he wanted to increase the number of England's children taken out of poverty by 200,000 by the middle of next year.

Last week, Mr Brown said that 800,000 children would be rescued from poverty through government initiatives by the year 2000.

These include the Working Families Tax Credit, the Children's Tax Credit, increases in child benefit and Income Support and the three-year £450m Sure Start programme, a multiagency initiative which targets children aged 0 to four who live in deprived areas.

Wednesday's meeting was designed to give the Chancellor the opportunity to consult child poverty experts on other measures which could be undertaken to increase the number of children helped.

One the government is considering is whether to combine the Working Families Tax Credit, the Children's Tax Credit - to be introduced in 2001 - and Income Support in one seamless Children's Credit which would go to the main carer in a family.

It is unclear what kind of extra funding will be available to back the plans.

A Treasury spokeswoman said any details would not be revealed until the Budget.

Four million

The government says it wants to eradicate the problem of child poverty in the next 20 years.

It is estimated that up to four million British children come from families which are living on half average earnings.

Calling the problem "a scar on the soul of Britain", Mr Brown said: "Children who grow up in poor families are less likely to reach their full potential, less likely to stay on at school, or even attend school, more likely to fall into the dead end of unemployment and poverty as an adult, more likely to become unmarried teenage mothers, more likely to be in the worst jobs or no jobs at all, most likely to be trapped in a no-win situation - poor when young, unemployed when older."

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) gave the targets "a cautious welcome", but called for radical measures from the government.

It wants to see the eradication timetable halved to 10 years and firmer targets and milestones.

It believes, for example, that redistribution of wealth should be higher up the agenda.

"We are an unequal nation, not a poor one - redistribution, although politically sensitive, must be more explicitly on the agenda.

"There is a limit to what can be achieved by economic growth and redistribution 'by stealth'."

The CPAG wants the reversal of the government's planned income tax cut, the introduction of a minimum income standard for both the employed and the unemployed, an overhaul of the social fund and the extension of free school meals to cover all children living in poverty.

Research shows that poverty has a dire effect on children's health and development.

Poor nutrition, for example, can lead to low birthweight babies, which causes greater risk of other health problems in later life.

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