Leading article: Give them some credit rather than condemnation


Any government that sets itself an unambiguous target deserves to be held to it. And any government that gives itself a target as ambitious as "eradicating child poverty within a generation" can expect to be hauled across the coals if it is not met. So yesterday's report from the Department for Work and Pensions, which admits the Government has fallen short of its interim target of reducing child poverty, should certainly cause a few alarm bells to sound in Westminster.

This report exposes some of the failings of Gordon Brown's tax credit system, the Government's primary instrument for alleviating poverty - for both children and adults - since 1997. Families with a disabled parent have been penalised because of the Chancellor's emphasis on welfare through work. Discrimination means they often cannot find jobs. And parents of severely disabled children suffer too under this regime. They often discover that caring for their offspring is a full-time job and that work is not a viable option. Lone parents with several children tend to come up against the same problem. There have also been technical problems with the tax-credit system. Last year, it was revealed that almost two million overpayments were made. On the other end of the scale, many poor families who are eligible to claim are discouraged by the fiendish complexity of the system.

The subtext to this report is the growing inequality in Britain. The gap between the incomes of the richest and poorest in our society is at its widest since the 1970s. If this trend continues, it will be ever more difficult for the Government to haul people out of poverty (a concept that has been measured relatively since the 1960s). All this should give pause for thought to the Government, and Mr Brown in particular, since he expects to inherit the New Labour crown when Tony Blair leaves office.

But none of this can obscure the achievements of the Government in eroding poverty levels since 1997. When Labour came to power, one in three children was growing up in poverty. Now hundreds of thousands have been given a better start in life. We can afford to be more relaxed about the Government missing this latest target because so much progress has already been made in the right direction. Around 2.4 million people have been lifted out of relative poverty since 1997, including one million pensioners. It is true that inequality in modern Britain is stark. But reducing the overall income gap is less important than reducing relative poverty levels. Thanks to a combination of Mr Brown's redistributive tax policies and Britain's growing economy, this is happening.

Yet celebration is premature. A substantial number of people remain mired in the most stubborn poverty, apparently beyond reach. Again this is a symptom of the fact that Mr Brown's anti-poverty policies have been so heavily geared towards helping the working poor. Very little has been done to target those who, for a variety of reasons, would rather live on benefits than work. This group, usually concentrated in sink estates and the inner cities, is characterised by educational failure and marital instability. It is plagued by drug and alcohol abuse. The children often end up engaging in antisocial behaviour and crime. Such social problems exist in all tiers of our society, not just among the poorest. But there is a clear link between these problems and entrenched welfare dependency. The Government must try harder to enable these people to play a full part in society.

New Labour deserves credit for boosting the incomes of those at the bottom end of our society. But that is only one part of the job. Poverty will never be eradicated unless the Government turns its full attention to Britain's increasingly entrenched underclass.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page


General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk