The Government is to change the way child poverty is measured in a move that will provoke accusations it is “moving the goalposts” because it will not hit its targets to reduce the problem.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, will announce today that he intends to measure worklessness, education and family breakdown as well as the traditional indicator – whether family income is 60 per cent of the median.
Although the Government remains committed to Labour’s goal of abolishing child poverty by 2020, it has little chance of achieving it and the number of children growing in poor families is expected to rise over the next few years. Mr Duncan Smith will argue today that the official statistics should also reflect the root causes of poverty so they can be addressed. He believes that using income alone means families can move in and out of poverty when their incomes change by just £1 even though their lives will not be any different.
In a speech, the Work and Pensions Secretary will say: “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, rather than asking whether a sustainable difference has been made to a family’s life. This is about transforming their outcomes so they do not slip back below the poverty line.
Mr Duncan Smith will point out that a reduction of 300,000 children living in relative income poverty in 2010-11 was not the result of incomes rising for the poorest, but largely due to a significant drop in the median income – the mid-point on the income scale. He will say that, even though Labour spent £171bn on tax credits and increased the welfare budget, it failed to meet its target to halve child poverty by 2010 because the “cycle of disadvantage” and root causes were not tackled strongly enough.
David Laws, the Liberal Democrat Education Minister, said: “The experience of child poverty is about more than whether their family income this week is low. This consultation is not about abandoning the past. Nor is it about massaging the figures. It is instead about recognising the many dimensions of child poverty and concentrating policy on longer term solutions and not on short term fixes.”
Pressure groups criticised the move as a distraction from the fight against poverty. Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “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 relative income poverty measure is the single best indicator of whether ‘we’re all in together.’ ”
Enver Solomon, chair of the End Child Poverty coalition said: “There is no getting away from the fact that a child's family income is fundamental to their future life chances. While a holistic approach to tackling child poverty is important, income will always be vital for ending child poverty.”