Sixty Second Interview with Colette Marshall
By Amy Taylor
Colette Marshall is regional director of Save the Children UK which published a report last week claiming that the government has made little or no impact on the lives of the poorest children.
Your report states that although the government’s current policies on tackling child poverty have resulted in a general decline they appear to have made little impact on the poorest children. What do they need to do in order to reach this group?
The government needs to stop ignoring the poorest children. One in 10 children in Britain are living in severe poverty, yet they’re practically invisible. We’re calling on the government to adopt a strategy to include providing more help with the costs of childcare for families with young children, introducing policies that will prevent 16-19 year olds leaving the family home falling into severe poverty, and supporting larger families. The report found that these groups were at most risk of severe and long-term poverty.
Does the government need to create a dedicated strategy to tackle poverty amongst the poorest children and their families?
Yes, we’re calling on the government to do just that, so the needs of the poorest children can be addressed. Until it has a strategy to help the poorest, it will fail to meet its target of ending child poverty by 2020. Severe poverty means a family of four living on about £132 a week.
Your report calls on the government to measure severe poverty. Does this not happen at the moment and why is it required?
The government has so far refused to measure severe poverty. The current official poverty measure – 60% of median household income after housing costs – enables us to see how many children are living below the poverty threshold but it does not show the depth of poverty. If the government is not measuring severe poverty it cannot target its policies to those most in need, which risks the poorest children slipping through the net.
Do you believe that the current child tax credit system and child benefit levels could be improved to help poor families?
The government must make the benefits system work for the most vulnerable children and their families. This could include providing an addition for larger families in the Child Tax Credit system or setting Child Benefit at an equal rate to all children. UK Child Benefit pays more to the first than subsequent children, unlike most other industrialised countries, some of which – such as Belgium, France and Germany – pay more for third or subsequent children.
The research also calls for the government to establish an independent minimum income commission by the end of 2010. What would this involve?
As part of a wider strategy to eradicate childhood poverty by 2020, we believe the government should establish a minimum income commission which would recommend a minimum income standard, below which no family should fall.
What do you think about the government’s decision to measure child poverty on a before housing costs basis?
We are unhappy with the government’s decision. Save the Children believes that after housing costs presents a far more accurate picture of child poverty than before housing costs. The latest child poverty figures show that there were 3.5 million children living in poverty after housing costs and 2.6 million before housing costs. Measuring child poverty before housing costs is a much less challenging target. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that 700,000 children who are counted as poor under the old after housing measure will not be counted as poor under the new before housing costs measure.
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