Charities urge government not to soften child poverty stance

Campaigners have called on the government not to back down from its commitment to halve child poverty by 2010 ahead of the Child Poverty Bill.

The Bill, announced in last year’s Queen’s Speech, will place a legal requirement to reduce the incidence of child poverty in the UK to a defined level by 2020. A consultation Ending Child Poverty: making it happen, launched this week by ministers made no mention of the previous interim 2010 target to halve child poverty from the 1998-9 base line level.

The Department for Work and Pensions admitted last year that it was unlikely that the 2010 target could be achieved, with around 1.2 million children still living in relative poverty according to the latest figures.

Kate Green (right), director of the Campaign to End Child Poverty, urged the chancellor to make the funds available to meet the 2010 target. She added: “There is a pressing need for government to invest the £3bn necessary in this year’s budget to keep their promise of halving child poverty by 2010. The legislation’s focus on 2020 should not detract from this.”

But Tim Nichols, parliamentary liaison officer for the Child Poverty Action Group, said he did not expect anything on the 2010 target in the consultation. He said: “The omission does not mean the target for 2010 has been dropped. We are lobbying the Treasury for the investment through tax credits and benefits in the 2009 budget that will ensure the 2010 target is met.”

The government’s proposals on the 2020 target somewhat shifts the goalposts from the original vision set out by in 1999 by then prime minister Tony Blair to reduce the number of households with children living in relative poverty – defined as earning less than 60% of the median national income – to zero by 2020. Instead, the draft child poverty legislation defines ‘eradication’ as reducing the proportion of children in relative low income to 5-10%.

An extra target has been included to reduce the proportion of children in low-income households living in material deprivation to ‘a level approaching zero’.

The consultation also outlines plans to set up an expert commission to advise on the creation of new child poverty strategy, which will set out milestones to the 2020 target and monitor progress.

In addition it is proposed that councils be given a stronger role in tackling child poverty locally.

CPAG chief executive Kate Green warned: “The proposed commission will not be sufficient unless it is an independent scrutiny body sitting throughout the period up to 2020. It is vital that the milestones referred to are firm interim targets to ensure progress between 2010 and 2020.”

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