Annual poverty audit pledged

THE GOVERNMENT will this week promise to produce an annual audit of poverty in Britain, following the publication of a damning report showing that the gap between rich and poor is as wide as ever, writes Rachel Sylvester.

Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Social Security, will set a series of year-on-year targets for reducing deprivation by which the public will be able to judge whether ministers are succeeding in tackling inequality.

Ministers are said to have been shocked by the findings of the survey, written by Department of Social Security. It describes poverty on a huge scale and says little has changed since Labour came to power, despite the party's aim to reduce social exclusion.

One in five children lives in households where no one works and one in three youngsters live in poverty, the report says. There are also huge differences between ethnic groups, with 40 per cent of Bangladeshi and Pak-istani households in overcrowded conditions, compared with 2 per cent of white households.

Tony Blair has set the goal of eliminating child poverty within 20 years. The report will make clear that it will not be possible to tackle the problem more quickly, but it does identify targets against which the Government is willing to be judged at the next election. The indicators, which cover three groups - children, people of working age and pensioners - include reducing truancy, cutting homelessness and raising life expectancy.

n The British development agency Oxfam has been challenged to a public debate by the International Monetary Fund in Washington next week. The IMF, which acts as the world's financial policeman, has also prepared an internal document for discussion at its annual meeting addressing the criticisms levelled at it by Oxfam.

LEADING ARTICLE, DAVID PIACHAUD, PAGE 26

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