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

Year 1 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Year 1 Primary Supply Teachers needed for...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: EY/KS1 Qualified Teaching Assistant J...

Qualified and unqualified nursery assistants

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified and unquali...

Primary Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: KS1 & KS2 Teaching Job in Plymouth an...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: Recall Bill, pangrams and buildings that never were

John Rentoul

i Editor's Letter: A huge step forward in medical science, but we're not all the way there yet

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album