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Tuesday, September 21, 1999 Published at 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK

UK Politics

War on poverty

One indicator is people who have been on benefits for over two years

The UK Government has set out a wide-ranging strategy to lift one and a quarter million people out of poverty by the next election.

Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling heralded the report as "a landmark in the campaign against poverty" and "the most far-reaching campaign against poverty since Beveridge".

[ image:  ]
"For the first time a government is standing up to be counted setting specific standards against which we will be judged tackling poverty and its causes," he said.

The first annual "poverty audit", which lists 32 main indicators of deprivation and sets out how the government will tackle them, aims to ensure the poorest fifth of families with children will be more than £1,000 a year better off by the year 2002.

The BBC's Alison Holt: "Children are at the heart of today's meaures"
Among the indicators published on Tuesday are reductions in the proportion of children living in workless households or in poor housing and an increase in the number of 19-year-olds with at least five GCSEs at A to C grade, an NVQ level 2 or an intermediate level GNVQ.

Mr Darling said: "It is not just about income, it is about educational standards, it is about equality of housing and it is about health.

"What we are determined to do is ensure that everyone gets the best possible chance in life and that we meet the target of getting rid of child poverty within a generation."

Quarter of population in poverty

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The government estimates there are 12 million people living in relative poverty, nearly a quarter of the population and almost three times as many as in 1979.

It says four million are children, with one in five children living in workless households.

Poverty is defined as a family who live on less than half the average income. For a family with three children, this is about £220 a week.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has already pledged to eliminate child poverty by 2020.

Social Security Minister Alistair Darling: "It is morally wrong and economically foolish to write people off"
Mr Darling rejected criticism by the Conservatives' David Willetts that government policy was not being sufficiently targeted and that it was increasing welfare dependency.

"We are taking action because we think it is morally wrong and economically foolish to write people off in the way that the Tories did," he said.

Progress on the poverty audit targets will be checked annually.

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It includes existing government initiatives such as the New Deal programme to get people into work, increases in Child Benefit and the Sure Start programme.

Sure Start is aimed at children up to the age of four living in the most deprived areas of the country.

It brings together health, education and other agencies to promote a co-ordinated response to issues such as teenage pregnancy and low birthweight children.

Another key plank of the anti-poverty initiative is changes to the tax and benefit system designed to give people with families and the disabled an incentive to work.

[ image: Anna believes working will help her out of the poverty trap]
Anna believes working will help her out of the poverty trap
The government recently introduced a tax and benefits package which it says will guarantee families with children a minimum income of £200 a week.

It says tax and benefit changes will also benefit pensioners.

A recent independent assessment of the anti-poverty measures by Professor David Piachaud of the London School of Economics stated that they would lift two million people above the poverty line by 2002.

But it also said that, without radical changes in taxation, current policies would only reduce poverty to 1979 levels.

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There has been criticism that the policies concentrate too much attention on children and those who are able to work.

The Child Poverty Action Group says some people cannot work and more should be done to raise their benefit levels.

It says the government's poverty indicators are "very general and nebulous" and more specific measures are needed, such as a minimum income standard for all families with children, whether they are in work or not.

Director Martin Barnes said: "There is clear evidence that benefit levels are inadequate and fall far short of what is necessary for the wellbeing and health of children."

The CPAG says a big increase in benefits could be paid for if the government abandoned plans to cut the basic rate of income tax.

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