Government misses its target in fight against child poverty

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Indy Politics

The Government must "redouble its efforts" if it is to eliminate child poverty by 2020 after failing to hit its first target, Minister Margaret Hodge said today.

In 1999, Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged to reduce poverty among children from 4.1 million to 3.1 million by April 2005.

But a Department for Work and Pensions report today revealed that it had missed its one million target by 300,000.

"I do not think it is a failure," said Ms Hodge, defending the Government's record. "I think we set ourselves an incredibly ambitious benchmark by which we are going to judge our performance.

"I think the fact that we got so close is something I am immensely proud of - it is pretty ruddy good from where we started from."

When asked if she thought the 2020 goal was still achievable, she replied: "We don't want to push it back.

"It remains incredibly challenging, highly ambitious but hugely important - we have got to redouble our efforts," said Ms Hodge, Minister of State at the Department of Work and Pensions.

The DWP's Households For Low Income report found that absolute poverty had been cut by half.

It also found that 2.4 million people - including pensioners and the working population - have been lifted out of relative poverty since 1997 after housing costs.

The report measured poverty in terms of before housing costs (BHC) and after housing costs (AHC) in order to show how mortgages or rental payments affected income.

The level of BHC child poverty was reduced by 23% and AHC child poverty by 17% - representing a 700,000 fall in numbers on both counts.

The report calculated the benchmark for low income as less than £210 a week, based on a couple without children.

Ms Hodge said that when Labour came to power, child poverty in Britain was the worst in Europe. One in three children was growing up in poverty.

"We can now say that we are the fastest improving country in Europe," she said. "We are pulling children out of poverty more quickly than any other European country."

The report also examined the number of pensioners living in poverty.

It said 2.8 million were considered to be living in poverty in 1997, surviving on £69 a week.

That figure had now dropped by 2.1 million AHC to 700,000.