One in three children 'lives in poverty'

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The Independent Online

The success of Tony Blair's crusade to reduce poverty will be called into question by three new reports highlighting the divide between rich and poor in Britain today and the problems facing pensioners.

The success of Tony Blair's crusade to reduce poverty will be called into question by three new reports highlighting the divide between rich and poor in Britain today and the problems facing pensioners.

The Government's annual audit of social exclusion will show that one in three children still live in poverty and one in five is growing up in households in which no one is in work. While the report will suggest that some progress has been made since 1997, ministers admit privately many of the deep-seated problems they inherited are taking longer to turn round than they expected.

The audit, to be published by the Department of Social Security in September, is bound to provoke fresh criticism of the Government's record.

A second report reveals a stark "poverty gap" between different regions. Officials in the House of Commons Library found that the North-east has the highest level of social exclusion in England. Although the South-east has the fewest problems, London is now the second worst poverty blackspot in the country.

The report said: "The dichotomy between London and the South-east is most apparent in the indicators relating to children... Twenty-seven per cent of London children live in workless households compared with 10 per cent of South-east children; 44 per cent live in households with relatively low incomes compared with 25 per cent in the South-east."

The gloomy findings on London will worry ministers because the capital's 74 Parliamentary seats make it a key general election battleground.

The study, which provides the first regional breakdown of the Government's poverty figures, found that adults of working age in the North-east are almost three times more likely to live in a "workless household" than those in the South-east. People in London are twice as likely to be long-term benefit claimants than those in the South-east.

However, the report said there was not "a simple north-south divide." While the North-east had the highest level of social exclusion in the country on eight of the 19 issues considered, London came second with six.

The North-east has the worst record on the proportion of working age adults and over-50s in jobs; the number living in workless households; employment levels among ethnic minorities and the disabled; the share of older people in low-income households and the number of adult cigarette smokers.

The North-east shared with London the lowest percentage of working age adults in low income households. The capital came bottom on the numeracy levels of 11-year-olds; children in workless and low income households; long-term adult unemployment; and lone parents in work.

In the third report, the Government will come under pressure to provide more help for the poorest pensioners by the Labour-dominated Commons Social Security Committee.

The MPs, whose report will be published on Wednesday, found widespread evidence of pensioner poverty in Britain and their report will fuel the criticism over the tiny 75p increase in the basic state pension, which rose to £67.50-a-week in April.

The MPs will criticise the low take-up in the Government's minimum income guarantee (MIG) for old people. Although it is worth £78.45 week, it is means-tested and many poor pensioners who would qualify refuse to apply for what they regard as a "hand-out."

Jeff Rooker, the Pensions minister, told the inquiry he could not afford to live on £78.45 a week and the MPs were impressed by evidence from Age Concern, which argued that old people need at least £90 a week for food, heating and other basic requirements.

Ministers will answer the growing criticism this autumn by unveiling plans for a new pensioners' credit. It is expected to be worth £80 a week for all pensioners, even if they have an income from savings or an occupational pension which prevents them receiving the MIG at present. But legislation to implement the new credit would not be introduced until after the general election.