Child poverty: Government accused of abandoning society's poorest

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Indy Politics

Labour's much-vaunted ambition to eradicate child poverty within a decade appears to be fading.

Tony Blair promised in 1997 to halve levels of child poverty by 2010 and to wipe it out altogether by 2020. The Chancellor repeated yesterday that the government was "determined" to achieve that goal. Yet levels of poverty have been rising for two years in which state spending was relatively generous. They look set to worsen after the Chancellor was only able to afford a £20-a-year (equivalent to 38.4p a week) boost to child tax credit from next April.

In last year's Budget, Mr Darling announced measures to lift 250,000 youngsters out of poverty, including a £150 rise in the child element of child tax credit. But campaigners fear that increasing unemployment among low-income families will counter the effect of Mr Darling's generosity last year. Yesterday the Campaign to End Child Poverty accused ministers of lacking the will to hit their target.

Martin Narey, its chairman and the chief executive of Barnardo's, said: "While we welcome the investment in getting the unemployed back to work, poor families – including more than 1.5 million children with a parent in work – were entitled to believe they would be helped. That help, 38p a week per child, is derisory. The poorest children have been abandoned."

The chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, Kate Green, said: "It is disgraceful to give such a pittance. The Budget urgently needed to give targeted help to struggling families who will spend straight away and give an immediate boost to the economy."

In 1998-99 there were 4.4 million children living in relative poverty, after housing costs were taken into account. In 2006-07 the number was down to 3.9m – actually an increase of 300,000 over the previous two years. All the signs are that the 2010 target could be missed by as much as 1.5m children. The Institute of Fiscal Studies has calculated that the Government needs to spend another £3bn a year even to have a realistic chance of halving child poverty next year.

Mr Darling also announced yesterday that he planned to supplement the Child Trust Fund of a disabled youngster by £100 a year and by £200 for the severely disabled.

Rates of child poverty in Britain are almost double those found in France and Germany. Yesterday the Poverty Action Group published research suggesting that the UK comes 24th out of 29 countries in a league table of "child wellbeing".

Case Study: 'It's good news for pensioners'

Lesley Wakinshaw, 90, Pensioner

Mr Wakinshaw, 90, spent 24 years in the Army before serving as a catering officer in the Territorial Army

"I receive a basic state pension of £230 a week, but for years got only half that. It was only when Age Concern told me I was entitled to more that I doubled my income. So I'd like to see the Government try harder to spread information about pensions. On the face of it this Budget is very good news for pensioners. Keeping my winter fuel allowance at £400 could be the difference between life and death. My wider worry is that at some point we'll all have to pay this back. It's OK to borrow and borrow but eventually the collector knocks."