Gordon Brown announces policy shift to combat child poverty

Gordon Brown promised to “unleash a new wave of social mobility” with a raft of initiatives to designed to tackle the long-term causes of child poverty.

The prime minister said the latest figures on child poverty showed the Labour government had not made enough progress on its pledge to halve child poverty by 2010 and eradicate it by 2020, .

Brown announced £12.75m to encourage parents to take up services in children’s centres, £17.6m to help parents to work, and more support for teenage mothers.

Earlier this month, the government announced child poverty had risen in 2006-7 to 2.9m, up 100,000 on 2005-6, leading to calls for urgent investment to help the poorest families.

“We will not deny or explain away those figures,” Brown told the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust in London yesterday. “We will take them as a spur to action, and a call to conscience.”

Where previously the government has attempted to lift families out of poverty through tax credits, the current strategy focuses on early learning and development.

For example, it champions free nursery places for two-year-olds in the most disadvantaged areas, because the “provision for under-fives is a new frontier of a changing welfare state”, according to Brown.

Parents will be given grants of £200 to take advantage of services in children’s centres if they had not previously done so. The £12.75m scheme will be piloted in 10 local authorities from 2009, to encourage parents to take a more active role in the health and development of their children.

Other initiatives aim to remove the barriers parents face in taking up employment.

A £10m scheme in London will help parents, particularly mothers, with childcare and transport costs, while £7.6m will be given to 30 children’s centres across ten local authorities for training and work experience.

A report by the four UK Children’s Commissioners to the United Nations, published earlier this month, criticised the Labour government for failing to reduce inequality among children. In the last 10 years, “poor families paid a bigger slice of their incomes in tax than rich families,” it said.

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