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Child poverty is being erased from the political agenda

Child poverty is being erased from the political agenda
3 min read

Baroness Lister challenges the Government’s position that 'work is the best route out of poverty', saying child poverty within working families is on the rise

We need to think of poverty in relative terms – the fact that some people lack those things which others in society take for granted. 

So I want this message to go out loud and clear: the Conservative Party recognises, will measure and will act on relative poverty' declared David Cameron back in 2006.  A decade later the Conservative Government attempts to rubbish the very idea of relative poverty.   Thus, the first step towards implementing the manifesto pledge to 'work to eliminate child poverty' will be the repeal of the Child Poverty Act 2010. 

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This Act, implemented with all-party support, set a statutory target to end child poverty by 2020 on the basis of a set of income and deprivation measures, which received strong academic endorsement when the Coalition Government consulted on a new measure.  The Act also established a Child Poverty Commission, subsequently re-branded the Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission. 

In place of the 2010 Act, there will be a statutory duty to report on measures of worklessness and educational attainment and further indicators will be developed to measure 'progress against the root causes of poverty', such as family breakdown, problem debt and drug and alcohol dependency.  

So, with one bound Government will be free of those pesky child poverty targets, which have been used to hold it to account, when the prospects of meeting them look increasingly grim. 

In the process it seems to be erasing the concept of child poverty from the political agenda. The Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission will become the Social Mobility Commission, without an explicit child poverty remit. 

In a piece of sophistry, straight out of Alice's Looking Glass world, the Work & Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, explained that it 'will ensure independent scrutiny and advocate for increased social mobility', thereby ensuring that 'tackling the root causes of child poverty' becomes 'central' to the 'business of a one nation government'.  

No one would quarrel with the need to tackle root causes.  But the 'root causes' identified are typically symptoms that relate to individual behaviour, while those that stem from the economic and social structure of society, such as low pay, are downplayed.  Indeed, Ministers constantly intone that 'work is the best route out of poverty' without acknowledging that there are now more children in poverty in families in work than out of work.  

Similarly, who would question the laudable aim of improving children's life chances? In fact, the Labour Government produced acres of statistics to measure them in its Opportunity for All series.  Yet Duncan Smith constantly distorts that Government's strategy by suggesting it focused simply on raising incomes just above an arbitrary line. 

What he overlooks too is that relative poverty – as defined by Cameron – blights both children's life chances and their chances of a flourishing childhood.  It also, as argued recently by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the UK Children's Commissioners, undermines their rights, enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  

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