Poverty target ‘lacks a vision’

Gordon Brown promised every child “the best possible start in
life” as he unveiled his Budget last week. Children’s campaigners
welcome the proposals but they also question how far they will help
the very poor.

Although organisations are confident that the government is “on
track” to meeting its target of cutting by a quarter the 4.4
million children in poverty in 2000 to 3.3 million this year, they
warn that the Budget’s pledges are “helpful”, but not enough.

The government wants the number of children in poverty halved from
the 2000 level by 2010 and abolished altogether by 2020 – a target
that will be missed without more investment to see it through,
campaigners say.

Brown’s Budget pledge to raise payments for children under the
child tax credit by 13 per cent over the next three years in line
with earnings were widely welcomed, but critics say benefits –
particularly child benefit – need a greater boost too.

The chancellor’s speech pointed to the rise of child benefit from
the 1997 level of £11 to £17 this April, but Kate Green,
chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, says a bigger
investment is needed over a longer period.

She says: “The lack of investment in child benefit shows a failure
to consider the most excluded families who are very far below the
median income, who need more support.”

Green highlights the additional needs of families with disabled
children who experience extra costs for specialist child care and
equipment, and children from ethnic minorities.

Neera Sharma, principal policy officer at Barnardo’s, says Brown
has “targeted middle England” to the detriment of poorer
Under the Budget’s proposals, families on the median income of
£23,400 a year will be £5 a week better off, but Sharma
warns that those on income support will still struggle.

She says: “The level of income support has gone up so little in
relative terms, rising by just 50p in April. The rise in child tax
credit could end up subsidising parents because their benefit
levels are so low.”

Sharma also predicts some parents may experience difficulties in
finding work that pays enough to “take advantage” of the child tax
credit rise. She adds: “Those from ethnic minority communities are
at risk of being excluded because they are more likely to live in
areas of high unemployment.”

In the Budget, Brown pledged to extend the £2,000 incentive to
return to work for lone parents in the first year to new areas, but
Sharma argues that some parents could end up in low-paid

“Lone parents should have a choice, rather than being forced into
poorly paid work because there is no other option,” she says.

“There is also the issue about the quality of children’s lives as
well as tackling poverty. If lone parents feel they can provide
better child care themselves, they should get the support they

Charity One Parent Families predicts that further child tax credit
increases will be “essential” if the government is to achieve its
2010 target.

But the Institute for Fiscal Studies believes the government may
not have much “spare” money to devote to further increases. A
spokesperson says: “Although the Budget benefits the poorest 3.6
million children, it has to be sustainable as the future is

Sharma points to the need for the government to draw up a financial
strategy for reducing child poverty. “While the target is clear,
there is no detailed vision on how to reach it,” she says. “The
positive proposals in the Budget could provide the building blocks
on how to take this forward.”

Brown’s Benefits 

  • Extension of the child trust fund from primary to secondary
    school years.
  • Rise in child element in child tax credit by 13 per cent over
    three years.
  • 3,500 children’s centres  by 2010.
  • 15 hours’ free nursery education from 2007.
  • One million new child  care places.
  • VAT refund for local councils on children’s centres and
    children’s services.

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