Inadequate support for vulnerable people and a lack of policy co-ordination across departments have been blamed for the government’s failure to meet its first milestone on eliminating child poverty in the UK.
The number of children living in relative poverty fell from 4.1 million in 1998-99 to 3.4 million in 2004-5, about 300,000 short of the government’s target to cut child poverty by a quarter, according to new figures.
Neera Sharma, principal policy officer at Barnardo’s, argued that the government’s strategy for tackling poverty had failed because it was “too work-focused.”
She said: “While the government promised work for those who can, and security for those who can’t, there has been no strategy for those unable to work. There needs to be more focus on supporting disabled people and those with mental health problems if the government’s next targets are going to be reached.”
Save the Children said it would be meeting with welfare reform minister Margaret Hodge soon to urge the government “to sort out the absurd mess” of 11 different departments working on child poverty “without proper co-ordination”.
Think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research estimated that the government would have to invest up to £2bn a year more in tax credits and mean-tested benefits to meet its other targets of halving child poverty by 2010 and eradicating it by 2020.
It also called for targeted help for families with disabled children and those living in London, given that half of children living in inner London are in relative poverty, compared to 27 per cent across Britain.
There was better news for Scotland as child poverty was cut by a quarter from 320,000 to 240,000 between 1998-9 and 2004-5. But most of the relevant policies such as tax credits were set by the UK government.
The Department for Work and Pensions figures show that between 1996-7 and 2004-5 the number living in relative poverty in Britain fell from 13.8 million to 11.4 million, and the number of pensioners in poverty from 2.8 million to 1.8 million.