Leading article: Give them some credit rather than condemnation

Share

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: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Separate lives: Boston’s streets illustrate the divide between the town’s communities  

Migrants have far more to offer than hard work and wealth creation, yet too many exist in isolation from the rest of society

Emily Dugan
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 40 million copies  

Go Set a Watchman: Harper Lee’s new novel is more than just a literary event

Joseph Charlton
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate