Act now to lift more children out of poverty, Darling told

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Indy Politics

More than 70 Labour MPs have asked Alistair Darling to make child poverty the centrepiece of next week's Budget amid fears that the Government will break its pledges to tackle it.

In a round-robin letter to the Chancellor, the MPs say the public and the Labour Party expect him to unveil measures to put the anti-poverty strategy back on track. Mr Darling is likely to increase tax credits for low-income working families and will stress that ministers remain committed to abolishing child poverty by 2020. But his room for manoeuvre is limited because the rate of public spending growth will halve to about 2 per cent by 2011.

Campaigners fear Labour is "moving the goalposts" because it will be impossible for it to hit its interim target to halve child poverty by 2010. Action is needed before 2010 to ensure the 2020 goal is achieved, they say.

The plea to the Chancellor is signed by a wide cross-section of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Signatories include the PLP chairman Tony Lloyd, Hilary Armstrong, formerly the cabinet minister responsible for tackling social exclusion, and the Commons select committee chairmen John McFall, Barry Sheerman and Terry Rooney. The say Labour has made "significant progress" since 1997 by lifting 600,000 children out of poverty but warn that too many still live below the poverty line.

The letter states: "We appreciate there are strong competing demands for limited funding but the long-term economic impact and social consequences of child poverty merit the Chancellor making it a priority.

"Expectations are high among the general public and within the party."

Gordon Brown raised hopes that action would be taken when he told Labour's spring conference that poverty was a "scar that demeans Britain". But ministers are playing down expectations by talking up the 2020 target rather than the interim one.

Mr McFall told BBC News 24: "We have had a decade or more of prosperity but there are quite a number of people who have been left behind. There is a long way to go ... and the Government really has to deliver on this social message."