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Official poverty definition ‘excludes 2 million children’

By Vivienne Russell | 8 February 2013

More than 2 million deprived children in the UK are not counted in the government’s child poverty measures, the Policy Exchange think-tank said today.

Its report, Outcomes, not just incomes, argues that current definitions of child poverty are too narrow as they focus solely on household income.


They fail to adjust for regional differences in living costs, for example, and exclude quality-of-life factors such as housing, education, household debt and whether a child has been in care. If these broader measures are applied, a further 2.3 million – or one in five – children in Britain could be said to be materially deprived.

The government’s remedy for tackling child poverty – the distribution of Child Tax Credits – is only a short-term fix and favours workless households over working ones, the think-tank said. The report notes that spending on Child Tax Credit increased by 63% between 2003/04 and 2012/13, compared with a 28% rise for Working Tax Credit over the same period. Efforts would be better concentrated on encouraging poor working parents into better-paid jobs.

Policy Exchange calls for a Child Poverty Bill to bring in a wider definition of poverty, measuring social deprivation as well as income.

Matthew Oakley, head of economics and social policy at the think-tank, said: ‘The current definition of child poverty needs changing. Simply assessing whether a child is in poverty on the basis of household income fails to take into consideration a number of serious issues. It leads us to think we are improving outcomes for children when in fact they can still be living severely deprived lives.

‘A new measure, focused on income as well as factors such as the quality of housing and level of education, would likely increase the number of children in poverty. However, it would allow the government to focus policy solutions on improving outcomes both now and in the future for deprived children, rather than simply masking the problem with state handouts that do nothing to get the root of the poverty problem.’

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