Child poverty: Definition could include family breakdown


Iain Duncan Smith: "Understanding the nature of family life - debt, addiction, abuse - gives a better picture of whether a child is likely to be living in poverty"

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Family breakdown, drug addiction, debt and education results are among the factors that could be used to measure child poverty in future, ministers say.

Recent figures showed fewer children in poverty - but largely because falling wages have narrowed the gap between the poorest and average earners.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith says this income-based method of measuring poverty is too simple.

He is launching a consultation on how to include other factors.

But Labour suggested that the government was trying to "distract attention" from "rather bleak" trends in child poverty data.

'Sky-high' poverty

"The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that child poverty is going to rise by 400,000 over the course of this Parliament, and it's a result of the government's policies," shadow employment minister Stephen Timms told the BBC News channel.

"Under the last government, we saw a big reduction of over a million in the number of children below the poverty line - that number is now going up," Mr Timms added.

Start Quote

Measuring income alone does little to represent the experience of those in poverty”

End Quote Iain Duncan Smith Work and pensions secretary

Criticising the decision to freeze child benefit, the Labour MP warned that by 2020 the UK would be "back at the really sky-high levels of child poverty" that marred the mid-1990s unless the government changed tack.

A child is considered to be living in poverty if their household income is less than 60% of averages wages.

Last year that figure equated to £251 per week, which meant 2.3 million children were living in poverty.

That was 300,000 fewer children than the year before - but the reduction was due to average incomes falling rather than poorer families becoming better off.

Mr Duncan Smith says life is unchanged for these children and a broader definition of child poverty is needed.

This would be one that looks at joblessness, educational failure and family breakdown as well as income.

Child in Manchester back street Child poverty is not just about financial circumstances, ministers say

In a speech at Clyde Children's Centre in South-East London, Mr Duncan Smith said: "Across the UK, there are children living in circumstances that simply cannot be captured by assessing whether their household has more or less than 60% of the average income.

"There are many factors that impact on a child's wellbeing and ability to succeed in life... and measuring income alone does little to represent the experience of those in poverty.

"As we saw earlier this year - when the child poverty level dropped by 2% - a fall in the median income may lift a family out of poverty on paper.

"Yet at a closer look, real incomes did not rise and absolute poverty was unchanged. For the 300,000 children no longer in poverty according to the official statistics, life was no different."

Held to account

But Chris Wellings, from Save the Children, said any new method of assessing child poverty must not be too broad to gauge progress or lack of it on the problem.

"The previous measure was very sharp, it allowed us to hold the government to account," he said.

"Any new measure needs to retain income and needs to retain an ability for us to really hold the government to account for their action on child poverty."

The Child Poverty Action Group said almost two-thirds of children living in poverty were in households where someone was in employment.

Building more affordable homes and reducing childcare costs were the keys to reducing child poverty, the charity added.

Poverty: key stats

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  • rate this

    Comment number 900.

    While I believe child poverty is a problem in UK, I dont think it is on a prevelant on a large scale. I support any measures aimed at child welfare because children are the future. However we should be careful about how we approach this problem. Short and medium term measures like monetary handouts and food banks are not enough. We also need measures to eradicate the root causees of poverty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 896.

    We have good free education, NHS and free housing if you are on benefit, if your income is low on you can get housing benefit, why is it then we still have children in poverty. Working parents on low incomes are much worse off than non working parents, perhaps no one should pay income tax until their salary reaches £20.000 a year, this would lift most children out of poverty immediately

  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    . Poverty in the UK is NOT people who have nice mobile phones and holidays and day trips and hobbies, it is very real and there are so many families without a safe and secure home and who are struggling to provide food and warm clothes for their children. I recommend that those who think otherwise volunteer for a food bank or childrens charity and have your eyes opened a bit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 438.

    The long term effects to society of poverty should not be forgotten. Dad left & we spent our childhood with not enough food, a very cold house, & inadequate clothing. I swore I would never live like that again, got a degree & a good job.

    Now in my 40's I am retired on ill health due to a neurological illness & my sister & 2 brothers all struggle to work due to poor health.

    Bad luck or poverty?

  • rate this

    Comment number 436.

    People who poor are very good at managing to survive. The problem is, is that our poor are financially poor but provided with access to the trappings of wealth- contract iphones, sky tv etc- they purchase on the never-never but then get fleeced by the lender- the consequence= debt, trading in gadgets for cash but still no food to feed the kids. Clamp down on rip-off lending to put money in pockets


Comments 5 of 17


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