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Scrap flawed child poverty targets, says the Centre for Social Justice

CSJ publishes new report analysing the measurement of child poverty

The Centre for Social Justice has condemned the existing official formula for measuring child poverty as arbitrary and faulty and says that it conveys almost nothing about the suffocating nature of genuine hardship.

The report follows the publication of Unicef's Report Card 10. The Unicef report examines progress made by the world's wealthiest countries in reducing child poverty and deprivation.

Unicef noted that the UK's success in reducing child poverty to date has been linked to the previous Government's focus on increasing household income. Tax credits, cash transfers and accessible public services played a key role in reducing child poverty in the UK and protecting children from deprivation. Even though the UK missed its own targets to reduce child poverty to 1.7 million children in 2010, the UK still had one of the largest reductions in child poverty after Government intervention.

CSJ Report
The current formula adopted by the UK, based mainly on income inequality targets, has, in the opinion of the CSJ, led to narrow and expensive policy responses, costing taxpayers at least £150 billion from 2004 to 2010.

In a new report entitled Rethinking Child Poverty, the CSJ calls for a complete overhaul of the system, in which the accent would be on measuring the underlying causes of blighted young lives, such as family breakdown, welfare dependency and educational failure, rather than the symptoms of low relative income.

The current system, enshrined in Labour's 2010 Child Poverty Act, classifies a child as poor if he or she is brought up in a family with an income below 60 per cent of median household income.

The CSJ believes that the 'relative' yardstick takes no account of the true, underlying causes of a deprived upbringing, for instance whether a child has the love and care of two parents, whether he or she has the role model of adults who go out to work for a living, or whether drug or alcohol addiction scars family life.

The CSJ suggests a new approach to computing poverty levels, taking into account a far wider range of variables, reflecting quality of life as well as quantity of income. These include sources of income because, in the CSJ's opinion, income earned through work promotes the self-reliance and self-respect of families.

Equally, it considers that family consumption rather than income might be a better indicator of poverty levels. Other factors it recommends should be taken into account include the ability to save, the quality of a child's parenting, family stability because children from broken homes are twice as likely to suffer behavioural problems than those from intact families, levels of worklessness in households because children tend to repeat the work habits of their parents, access to good schools, truancy rates, drug and alcohol addiction and levels of household debt.

To read the report, please click here.

The Children's Society
Meanwhile, Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children's Society, responded to the Unicef report, saying:

'While this report shows there was progress towards ending UK child poverty until 2009, we know that the subsequent raft of cuts to family support will take a heavy toll on struggling families. Many of the children who were lifted out of poverty may now be pushed back below the poverty line.

'Families on low incomes are struggling to provide their children with the basics such as decent clothes and a healthy diet.

'With cuts to financial support to new parents, to support for disabled children and to families needing help with housing costs, austerity measures could damage the life chances and overall well-being of our most vulnerable children and families.

'The commitment to end child poverty in the UK by 2020 was a watershed moment, but we are now on the verge of slipping backwards and breaking that promise. It would be a grave injustice if we allowed the burden of the current economic turmoil to fall on the shoulders of disadvantaged children. It's critical that all politicians join together to reaffirm their commitment to end the scandal of child poverty in the UK.'