Government consults on wider definition of child poverty

15 Nov 12
Ministers are consulting on a new measure of child poverty, saying the current focus on relative income excludes other vital factors.
By Richard Johnstone | 15 November 2012

Ministers are consulting on a new measure of child poverty, saying the current focus on relative income excludes other vital factors.

The existing definition, set out in the Child Poverty Act 2010, applies to children living in households whose income is below 60% of the median. The coalition wants seven other factors to be taken into account, including worklessness, poor housing, access to quality education, and family stability.

Launching the consultation today, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘It is widely understood that the current relative income measure by itself is not providing an accurate picture of child poverty. Having such a narrow focus can drive perverse decisions.’

He added: ‘Life change is the key to moving people out of poverty by addressing the issues that hold some families back. People should be able to get on in life, no matter what their background.’

Schools minister David Laws added that it was not enough to measure child poverty by income alone. ‘The experience of child poverty is about more than whether their family income this week is low.’

He insisted that the changes would not be about ‘massaging the figures’ but about ‘recognising the many dimensions of child poverty and concentrating policy on longer-term solutions and not on short-term fixes’.

The previous government missed its target to halve child poverty to 1.7 million by 2010. In 2010/11, 2.3 million UK children were living in households with incomes below 60% of median levels.

But ministers said these figures showed a fall in the number of children living in relative poverty – not because their income had risen but because the recession had lowered incomes overall. This proved what a misleading measure relative income was in isolation.

However, the Child Poverty Action Group said the government should focus on reducing, not redefining, child poverty.

Chief executive Alison Garnham said: ‘It's perfectly sensible to look at the progress the government is or is not making across a broad range of indicators affecting children and families, but there’s no getting away from the plain fact that if child poverty is rising as a result of government policies then it's a rethink of government decisions, not definitions, that's needed.

‘The projected rises in child poverty over the next few years, after a decade in which the UK's child poverty reductions were the largest in the OECD, are terrifying for anyone who has a heart for children or a head for the nation's finances. Rather than spending £25bn every year living with the social and economic fallout of child poverty, ministers should be moving heaven and earth to protect children from cuts and prevent child poverty happening in the first place.’

The consultation, which also asks for suggestions to include debt levels and parental skill and health in the new measure, is open until February 15 next year.

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