Brown's vision to beat child poverty revealed

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Indy Politics

A blueprint for a Gordon Brown government to "make child poverty history" in Britain will be unveiled this week amid growing evidence that Labour will fail to hit its target to abolish it.

Almost nine years after Labour came to power, one in five children still lives in poverty. A report says infant mortality among children with parents in routine or semi-routine occupations was double that for those of managers and professionals in 2000-02 - and says the gap has widened since Labour took office.

Although the number of children living in poverty has fallen from 25 per cent to 21 per cent since 1997, the rate among children of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin is 61 per cent.

The plan, which could form the launch pad for a crusade against poverty by Gordon Brown, has been drawn up by a two-year inquiry set up by the Labour-affiliated Fabian Society.

Its proposals include: higher state benefits for pregnant women on income support; a 50p top rate of tax on the rich; targets for schools to close the "qualifications gap" between poor and better-off pupils; a shift away from tax credits towards high-quality, state-funded child care; higher child benefit, such as bigger payments for second and subsequent children; a more generous minimum wage; back-up for pregnant women to be concentrated on the disadvantaged; one year's paid parental leave transferable between parents; and a shake-up of inheritance tax so that it hits recipients rather than the estate of the deceased.

Government figures showed that Labour had missed its interim target of cutting the number of children in poverty by a quarter by 2004-05. The Fabian inquiry warns that an urgent shift in priorities in next year's government-wide spending review is needed for Labour to hit its goal to halve child poverty by 2010 and eradicate it by 2020.

Mr Blair has been wary of closing the income gap, saying in 2001 that it was "not a burning ambition for me to make sure that David Beckham earns less money". Mr Brown is believed to be more committed to an anti-poverty agenda. Asked last week whether he wanted to close the gap, he said that "in a global economy, it is an issue because inequalities are big" but favoured a "mixture" of actions by government and people taking more responsibility.

Although Mr Brown will not commit himself to all the Fabians' proposals, he described the inquiry as "valuable". His ally, the Labour MP Ed Balls, will welcome the report at a Fabian meeting tomorrow and will launch it with the Cabinet minister David Miliband on Thursday.

Mr Balls, who is the Fabians' vice-chairman, said yesterday: "It is a very important report. The Government and party will want to study its analysis and recommendations in detail."

Mr Brown is wary about the report's call to drop Labour's manifesto pledge not to increase the basic or top rate of tax. But he is interested in its proposal for targets to narrow the "attainment gap" in schools between the poor and better off and he wants to ensure more young people stay in education after the age of 16.

The inquiry expressed concern that children with parents in routine occupations were less than half as likely to achieve five good GCSE grades as those with professional parents. It found that the attainment gap between younger children on free school meals and their peers has not narrowed since 1998.

Brownites want to use the Fabian report to open a debate on the issue. They hope an anti-poverty drive will reinvigorate Labour in the post-Blair era, putting "clear light" between it and the Conservative Party. " We don't want the election to be a choice between two different forms of 'managerialism'," said one Brown ally.

The inquiry, chaired by Lord Victor Adebowale, the chief executive of the Turning Point social care organisation, says: "Children born in different circumstances in the UK today have different chances of enjoying good health, a good level of personal development and education, and a safe environment in which to live.

"In particular low income, low socio-economic status, disability and membership of particular ethnic groups are associated with much higher risks. Many children will 'make it' despite coming from a disadvantaged background. However, on average these social groups experience systematically worse outcomes. We believe this offends against ... principles of fairness."

Sunder Katwala, the Fabians' general secretary, said: "Gordon Brown can't wait until he is Prime Minister to achieve the historic mission. He must start now with the Comprehensive Spending Review if we are to halve child poverty by 2010."

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