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UK: progress in reducing child poverty must not be lost

On Thursday, the government’s latest child poverty figures will be released and are likely to show that in 2010 child poverty in the UK reached its lowest levels since the 1980s. This is vindication of efforts to reduce child poverty since 1999.

Almost 1 million children were lifted out of poverty between 1999 and 2010 – a fall of around 26%. This is in stark contrast to what happened in the UK prior to 2000 and to what has happened in other developed nations over the last decade.

Debate on progress

Despite this, there is a growing debate about both the way child poverty is measured and how it should be tackled.

Some have dismissed the successes of the last ten years as focusing solely on throwing money at low-income families just below the poverty line so they’re moved just above it. This is far too simplistic an explanation of what has happened and is simply wrong.

The government isn’t able to direct resources at low-income families in such a precise way. Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that those well below the poverty line benefitted from extra financial support for families, as well as those just below it.

However, those criticising recent approaches to poverty reduction say they want a greater emphasis on things like life chances and other long-term outcomes for children.

Save the Children, and the rest of the child poverty sector, has never solely focused on family finances.

A broad approach

Our current work in the UK – both across programmes and advocacy – reflects our broad approach to tackling child poverty.

We continue to support action to tackle child poverty across the broad range of areas (‘building blocks’) we advocated for inclusion in the Child Poverty Act 2010 (these included education, early years provision and childcare, health and family support, and housing and neighbourhoods).

It is unhelpful that, at a time when many families are becoming poorer, the debate about child poverty has become polarised between supporting family finances and taking steps to improve children’s life chances.

Social mobility and child poverty are two sides of the same coin. Government spending must not become an ‘either/or’ between spending on family incomes and life chances interventions.

Long-term outcomes for children are important but so is the present, everyday experience of poverty.

Tackling child poverty

Directly lifting children out of poverty, alleviating the financial strain on low-income households and improving the living standards of families in poverty must remain a key aim for policy makers.

The danger is that the current debate will lead to more support being taken away from families through further welfare cuts.

Child poverty is expected to rocket over the coming years, increasing by 400,000 by 2015.

Despite the target to reduce relative child poverty to 10% or less of all children and absolute child poverty to 5% or less of all children by 2020, current projections suggest it will reach 24.4% and 23.1% respectively.

The progress made since 1999 must not be thrown away.

Read our new report Ending Child Poverty: The importance of income in measuring and tackling child poverty

For more information, contact g.whitham@savethechildren.org.uk

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