Child poverty gains at risk, says study
Reductions in child poverty may be reversed by changes to UK welfare policy, a report claims.
The authors say the last government cut child poverty at a scale and pace unmatched by other industrial nations - although it did miss targets.
The Child Poverty Action Group suggests coalition changes to tax and benefits may hit low income families hardest.
The Department for Work and Pensions said the Labour government "failed to address the root causes of poverty".
A spokesman said it had introduced measures to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
The report, Ending Child Poverty by 2020, draws on the views of national experts to evaluate progress towards the target set by the Labour government in 1999.
The authors highlight figures produced last year by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) which show that the number of children living in poverty went down by 900,000 between 1999 and 2010 and that an additional 900,000 were prevented from falling into poverty.
But the report also notes that the ambitious interim target set by the Labour government, to reduce by half the number of children living in poverty by 2010, was missed.
In fact, the proportion in poverty fell by just over a quarter from 27% in 1996-7 to 20% in 2009-10.
The report says that although the rate of poverty reduction was lagging behind the original target "if the rate of poverty reduction observed over the past decade could be sustained, the 2020 target for eliminating child poverty in the UK would be achieved only seven years later in 2027".
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said the previous government had "poured over £150bn into the benefits system - much of it aimed at lifting families just above the poverty line.
"This approach has failed with the UK likely to miss its own 2010 child poverty targets and five million people now trapped on out-of-work benefits.
"We know that work is the best route out of poverty which is why this government is driving forward with our radical welfare reforms which will improve the life outcomes for disadvantaged children.
"Universal Credit will replace a complex mess of benefits and tax credits and will lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty."
The report comes ahead of new government figures for families living on below-average income to be published on Thursday, the first since Budget changes came into play.
It quotes further figures from the IFS which predict annual increases in relative child poverty between 2010-11 and 2013-14.
'Unfair and short sighted'
Report contributor, Kitty Stewart from the London School of Economics, suggests the coalition's changes in the rules for claiming child tax credit, reductions in the childcare element of working tax credit, caps on overall benefits and changes to the local housing allowance have combined to hit low-income families hardest.
"This is both unfair and short sighted, and the government should be encouraged to rethink its strategy and to see spending on children as an investment in the future," writes Dr Stewart.
Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, commented: "The verdict is clear that prioritising child poverty across government improved the childhoods and life chances of millions of children and strengthened our economy but even so much more needed to be done given the size of the challenge.
"The warnings for the current government are crystal clear. Under current policies they risk wiping out all these hard-won gains.
"Unless their strategy improves, their legacy threatens to be the worst child poverty record of any government for a generation."