DCLG must now sign up to Child Poverty Accord

11 Oct 07
Local Government and Communities Secretary Hazel Blears is under pressure to sign up to an 'accord' to eradicate child poverty, after Chancellor Alistair Darling's Comprehensive Spending Review shifted the emphasis on tackling the issue to town halls.

12 October 2007

Local Government Secretary Hazel Blears is under pressure to sign up to an 'accord' to eradicate child poverty, after Chancellor Alistair Darling's thrifty spending review shifted the emphasis on tackling the issue to town halls.

Blears has been urged to back the little-known Child Poverty Accord – introduced in 2004 and signed by the Treasury, education department and Local Government Association – following the publication of a new Public Service Agreement detailing significant local authority responsibilities to help halve child poverty by 2010/11.

Darling published the child poverty PSA as part of the government's Pre-Budget Report and Comprehensive Spending Review on October 9. To the dismay of welfare activists, he failed to earmark a significant new Whitehall funds to help meet the 2010 target – despite estimates that the government needs to lift a further 800,000 children above the poverty threshold, at a cost of £4bn, by that date.

Asked on October 10 if he could now meet the 2010 target, Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain said it would be 'very difficult' but stressed that rising employment rates could help ministers achieve it.

Caroline Abrahams, programme director at the LGA, told Public Finance that Darling's financial snub had left one of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's flagship welfare targets 'hanging by a thread'. She added that much of the immediate responsibility had, therefore, 'shifted towards councils and their response to the PSA'.

'The problem is that the heavy emphasis on the role of councils and their partners in delivering the right environment for all public bodies to tackle child poverty is not yet accompanied by 'buy-in' from the Department for Communities and Local Government. Amazingly, the DCLG has not signed up to the 2004 accord – so we're pushing its ministers to do that and the recent signals from officials have been encouraging.'

Kate Green, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said that Darling's CSR settlement was 'bitterly disappointing'. 'For the majority of poor families there is nothing to celebrate,' she said. DCLG backing was now important because 'many councils still lack a detailed understanding of how to combat child poverty'.

However, Abrahams and Green are not waiting for Blears'support. The CPAG, backed by the LGA, is developing a policy toolkit and guidance for councils that could be ready by the end of this year.

As reported by PF back in May, the child poverty PSA formalises many existing demands on councils and their partners. It requires them to help raise local parental employment rates through the Department for Work and Pension-funded Cities Strategies and to ensure smooth management of the £4bn of new funding by 2011 that will support Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare Grant programmes.

In addition to the funding, which was announced before the CSR settlement, councils will have their anti-poverty and childcare performances assessed under the new indicator regime supporting the Audit Commission's Comprehensive Area Assessments from 2009.

The PSA also requires councils to tackle poor housing conditions, prevent homelessness, raise educational standards and eradicate fuel poverty: all of which impact on child poverty. Interestingly, the PSA also introduces two new official measures of child poverty including a measurement of relative deprivation, which experts said could help the government to target future cash allocations at specific impoverished communities.

Darling did introduce some new measures that boost central government's ability to tackle poverty.

The child tax credit will rise by £25 per year in April 2008, and by a further £25 annually from 2010. This is in addition to a £150 rise above indexation announced in Brown's last Budget.

Darling also increased the amount that lone parents would receive in child maintenance before it counts against benefits claims: from £10 to £20 by 2008, and to £40 by 2010.

Darling estimated that these policies would lift an extra 100,000 children out of poverty.

Mike Brewer, welfare expert at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said the government still needed to reduce child poverty by a further 700,000 by 2010: 'Which means [Darling] will have to do considerably more in future Budgets and Pre-Budget Reports.'


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