Labour's record on poverty in tatters

Ministers abandon targets for children as new figures reveal rising number on breadline

The full scale of Labour's failure to help the poorest in Britain was laid bare yesterday with revelations that hundreds of thousands of people were being plunged into deprivation even before the recession hit, and that the Government had been unable to make any impression on the numbers of children and pensioners in poverty.

Ministers were forced to admit that they had all but abandoned Labour's historic promise to halve child poverty by next year, telling The Independent that the state of the economy meant that saving jobs had to be the priority.

The admission came as official figures blew apart the Government's credibility on helping those struggling the most. They painted a bleak picture of worsening poverty in Britain even before the recession took root. The number of people living in poverty had climbed to 11 million by March 2008, a rise of 300,000 since 2006.

The poorest have seen their incomes drop, with 200,000 working adults falling below the poverty line last year. The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) said inequality had risen to its highest level since 1961, warning that the situation would become even worse during the recession. Alastair Muriel, a research economist at the IFS, said: "If history is any guide, average income growth is likely to slow even further across the population." Meanwhile, pensioner poverty had also stalled, with 2.5 million living in relative poverty, the same amount as the previous year.

Michelle Mitchell, charity director for Age Concern and Help the Aged, criticised the Government for its lack of "concrete" progress in reaching poor pensioners. "Two million older people were in poverty before the recession even started," she said. "Now, after facing last year's rocketing inflation, pensioners on low incomes are still struggling with high food and fuel prices, while watching their income from savings evaporate."

Labour earned significant political capital in 1999 when it pledged to eradicate child poverty by 2020 and halve it by 2010, with Gordon Brown describing it as a "scar on Britain's soul". But around 2.9 million children were still living in poverty in 2007-08, the same as the previous year. Children defined as living in poverty are those in households earning less than 60 per cent of Britain's "median income".

Stephen Timms, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, conceded that the perilous state of the nation's finances meant that other concerns had to take priority over meeting the 2010 pledge. He said: "The short-term focus does have to be on maintaining and safeguarding employment."

Another measure suggested that child poverty was now on the rise. The number of children eligible for free school meals slightly increased this year in both primary and secondary schools – an extra 17,370 pupils qualify for free meals than did last year, as the effects of the recession begin to bite. Children are given free meals if their parents are on benefits or earn less than £15,575 per year.

The breaking of the promise over child poverty has angered senior figures within the Labour Party. John McFall, chairman of the Commons Treasury Committee, called on the Government to act urgently. "It is more important, not less, in these difficult economic times that the Government maintains its effort to eliminate child poverty," he said. "That action was missing in this year's Budget."

Earlier this year, the IFS calculated that the Government would have to target poor families with a £4.2bn bailout if it wanted to hit the 2010 commitment. It found that far from eradicating child poverty, it would be back up over the three million mark if no significant action was taken. But Mr McFall said that neither November's £20bn fiscal stimulus package, nor the Budget announced by the Chancellor two weeks ago, contained any significant measures to kick-start progress in reducing child poverty.

Ministers say they are now focusing their efforts on meeting the even more ambitious target to eradicate child poverty by 2020. Children's minister Beverley Hughes admitted that meeting the 2010 target would be "very difficult", but that the Government remained "absolutely committed" to wiping out child poverty by 2020.

The absence of measures to lower child poverty in the Budget meant the Government had "no hope" of hitting the 2010 target, said Carey Oppenheim, of the Institute for Public Policy Research. "These figures also pre-date the recession so the number of children in poverty today is likely to be higher," she said. "Many more children will be growing up in poverty, and at greater risk of underperforming in school or missing out on employment opportunities in later life. Turning this around requires greater financial support.

Theresa May, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said the promise to halve child poverty was one of many Mr Brown had failed to deliver. "It is a tragedy that the number of children falling into the poverty cycle is continuing to rise," she said. "The Government needs to wake up and get a grip of this problem. We must tackle the root causes of poverty, such as educational failure, family breakdown, drug abuse, indebtedness and crime."

Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman, said Labour was "losing the fight against poverty", adding: "What chance has it got of abolishing child poverty if it can't even get half way?"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick