Leading article: Child poverty creeps back

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The Independent Online

Two separate reports concur that one of Gordon Brown's flagship policies, both as Chancellor and now as Prime Minister, has run into difficulties. Rather than falling, as hoped, the number of children defined as living in poverty has started to rise, after two years of negligible improvement.

It is too early to dismiss the policy as a complete failure. After all, the number of children defined as poor has fallen by 600,000 since 1999. What can be said is that the policy has stalled, and the levers employed have lost their potency.

Prime among those levers is the policy of tax credits, which was personally pioneered and defended by Mr Brown. Much criticised as a method of income redistribution for their complexity, they now seem not to be doing their job. Another criticism of the Government's approach may also be pertinent here. The definition of poverty was such that a relatively small transfer from the Exchequer would quickly place a relatively large number of children above the line. Once that first big improvement had been registered, though, further progress would be much more difficult.

The most disturbing aspect of the figures is the proportion of children in working families who remain poor. If, as it appears, persistently low pay is keeping these children in poverty and the efficacy of tax credits at the current level has reached its limit, then a more drastic redistribution of income is in order.

Either that, or the Government quietly lets its child poverty reduction target drop down the pecking order. This would not only be a travesty of policy hitherto, but store social problems for the future.