Brown pledges to pass 'litmus test' on child poverty

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Gordon Brown pledged yesterday to take a million more children out of poverty, insisting that tackling deprivation was "the litmus test for any political party running for office".

Mr Brown promised a review of policies across departments to deal with children at risk. He said he wanted action to tackle stark inequalities in infant mortality and children's health. He told MPs work to tackle poverty among the under-18s was the country's best "anti-deprivation policy, as well as the best anti- delinquency and [anti-]crime policy".

Speaking during resumed debate on the Queen's Speech, Mr Brown lambasted the Conservatives, contrasting what he said was Labour's investment in public services with the tax cuts of up to £20bn proposed by the Conservatives.

The Chancellor mocked the Opposition benches over the current Conservative leadership election, describing it as "Westminster's version of Big Brother".

But Michael Portillo, the shadow Chancellor and front- runner in the Tory leadership race, turned his fire on the Government's record, telling Mr Brown to stop campaigning. "I would like to remind the Chancellor, he did win the election, it is over. He does not have to go over all the old arguments again."

Mr Brown used his speech to hail initiatives such as tax credits for families with children, which he said had helped cut the number of children in poverty by more than a million.

He promised a series of inter-departmental reviews, looking at policies for children at risk and voluntary sector help for families to cut poverty further.

He said: "It is right that there be a review across departments of all services for children at risk, to ensure that in the next spending round children in greatest need, wherever they live, can best get the help they need so no child is left out or left behind."

He added: "Tackling child poverty, ensuring no child is left behind, is not just an economic and social imperative, it is a litmus test of any political party running for office."

He ridiculed the Conservative leadership campaign. "While we get on with the business of government, we see the contestants nightly on our TV screens; their clothes off in a world of their own, being eliminated week by week in seemingly endless ballots.

"The last two are to be voted out by whatever is left of a largely dwindling audience of viewers. What we have got ahead of us is the Westminster version of Big Brother."

He said: "This is a time, I would of thought, for reflection. They have a lot to reflect about. Not just a search for power, but a search for a minimum level of coherence."

Mr Portillo accused the Chancellor of an "edgy, nervous and bombastic" performance.

He attacked the Government's record on public services and claimed his economic management had never been tested in difficult circumstances. He said: "The size of the Government's majority allows it to make whatever reforms it considers to be necessary to the public services – who can stop them? They have a completely free hand.

"If the Government can deliver changes that make a real difference to people's quality of life then this side of the House will support them. If the Government can't do that, the Government will be completely out of excuses."