Living below the poverty line: 3.5m children

 

The Government's target of eradicating child poverty by 2020 will be missed unless at least another £6.8bn is spent, campaigners said yesterday.

The Government's target of eradicating child poverty by 2020 will be missed unless at least another £6.8bn is spent, campaigners said yesterday.

The warning came as official figures showed that more than 3.5 million children were still living below the poverty line, despite a 200,000 drop in the number last year.

In the European Union, only Ireland, Italy, Spain and Portugal have a greater proportion of children classed as poor.

Charities and campaigners said the Government would not hit its target unless more than £8bn was spent on radical policies for lifting people above the poverty line.

The number of children in poverty fell last year from 3.8 million to 3.6 million, statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions showed.

Poverty is officially classed as people living in households with an income less than 60 per cent of "contemporary median income". A couple with two children living on £200 a week or less are therefore officially classed as poor. The total number of people living in poverty fell from 12.5 million in 2002 to 12.4 million last year.

A spokeswoman for the lobby group End Child Poverty said: "This is obviously good news and the Government has probably done enough to hit its short-term targets on poverty.

"It was always going to be easier at the beginning of the process of reducing poverty, because you start with the people who are closest to the poverty line - the least poor - who are easier to help."

She said the problem with hitting the 2020 target was that the people needing help were in long-term poverty and deprivation with many problems.

"We don't really see the Government as having a sense that the task is going to get harder, and that is worrying."

End Child Poverty estimates that the Government needs to invest £6.8bn in services if it is to close the income gap.

"That is affordable," said the spokeswoman."It is just one-tenth of the annual amount spent on the NHS and one sixth of that spent on defence." Ministers said the reduction in the number of poor showed that policies such as the New Deal for lone parents and child tax credits were working. The proportion of children in poverty has fallen from 34 per cent in 1997 when Labour came to power to 28 per cent last year.

Andrew Smith, the Work and Pensions minister, said: "We are determined to win the war on poverty and today's figures show we are doing just that. Our strategy is working. The statistics show solid progress.

"We know there is a long way to go and that it is a big challenge, but we really are being bold and radical in tackling this issue."

Mr Smith highlighted policies such as the Sure Start programme for families in deprived areas, improvements in education and efforts to persuade more lone parents to work. He said that the number of children in poverty had doubled between 1979 and 1997 under the Conservatives.

But David Willetts, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: "This report shows that the Government is failing to achieve its targets for tackling poverty."

Referring to the fact that measurements of poverty will change from next year, he added: "The Government's response to this clear evidence is to change the way they measure poverty - instead they should be changing their policies."

ONE MOTHER'S STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE

For single mother Ann the daily battle to feed and clothe her three children is made all the more difficult by the lack of child care which prevents her going to work full-time.

Outside the cramped two-bedroom council flat she shares with her three children (who are nine, three and one), the part-time administrator for Victim Support believes more could be done to relieve the poverty trap.

Having escaped the grinding poverty of Glasgow's East End housing schemes by moving to the more "up-market" Hyndland area in the West End of Glasgow, 29-year-old Ann feels she is lucky.

"A lot of people I used to know ended up using drugs and drink and have no hope," she said. "That's not for me and I certainly don't want it for my kids." .

With tax credits and the wage for the 16 hours a week she works, life can still be difficult. "There are times when I've run out of money for the electric meter and had to struggle to find the cash for light and heat, she said. "It's not easy bringing up three kids without the money to feed and clothe them properly but I manage because I am determined not to give in. Some people just sit at home and don't want to work but I'm not like that."

Glasgow has some of the worst areas for poverty in the UK. The life expectancy of youngsters in some areas of the city are 12 years less than those of children in other areas. "I know there are plans to bring in free school meals for every child in Glasgow and that would be a great idea.

"The council also provide £57 a year for school uniforms but it isn't really enough. It doesn't buy a decent pair of shoes for many children.

"If the Government is serious, they have to provide more money or better child care otherwise we'll end up in a vicious circle."

Paul Kelbie

Comments