One in three British babies born in poverty

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The Independent Online
Almost one in three British babies are now born into poverty, according to official government figures.

A new breakdown of social security statistics shows that, in 1995-96, about 215,000 babies were born into families which receive state benefits because they are on the breadline. That represents roughly 30 per cent of all those born in that period.

The figures were compiled by the House of Commons library from official statistics at the request of the Labour Party, which described the picture they painted as shocking. Labour said they showed a dramatic increase in the proportion of young children on the poverty line.

Shadow ministers believe the findings undermine much of the Government's argument during the recent public debate over morality, when ministers stressed their belief that poor parenting rather than poverty lay behind many social ills.

Malcolm Wicks, a shadow social security minister, said: "This is a genuinely shocking finding. It illustrates graphically that, while poverty afflicts all age groups in Britain, the face of poverty is increasingly a child's face.

"The welfare state was meant to provide support from the cradle to the grave, yet 30 per cent of babies are now born into poverty. This figure of 200,000 benefit babies is a damning indictment of the Tories' record on supporting children."

The new figures show that, in 1995-96, 216,419 maternity payments were made from the social fund, including 180,000 to income support families and 28,000 to family credit families.

Around 0.5 per cent of pregnancies end in stillbirth, reducing the calculated figure to approximately 215,000 live births. In all there were 708,000 live births in Great Britain in the period. This suggests that about 30 per cent of babies are now born to mothers who receive means-tested benefits during pregnancy.

Equivalent figures for previous years are difficult to draw up because social security regulations have changed drastically over the Conservatives' 17 years in office. But in 1979 there were roughly one million children in families dependent on supplementary benefit, the equivalent of today's income support. That represented approximately 10 per cent of the child population. In 1992 there were 2.8m children in families which received income support.

These figures suggest, Labour argues, that child poverty has increased as much as three-fold since Margaret Thatcher was first elected.

Labour's new assault on the Government record on child poverty comes just two days ahead of a Budget which some Tory MPs hope to be able to promote as a package of financial measures for the family. There are indications that the Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, has rejected on technical grounds most of the moves which advocates of family policy had pressed for.

This week Labour will argue that the future of Britain's children can only be salvaged through a concerted attempt to end the "dependency state". That would involve new measures to try to move people from welfare into work.

Mr Wicks said: "One of the biggest priorities for a Labour government will be to get Britain back to work. This is the biggest single way of combating child poverty and making sure that future generations do not suffer the same fate as children born under the Tories."