Select Committee on Work and Pensions Second Report


299. The Prime Minister's ambitious stated aspiration in 1999 to abolish child poverty in a generation was the right thing to do. It remains a formidable task, however it is defined, and is rendered all the more daunting by the fact that delivery of the reduction of child poverty, let alone its eradication, does not lie within the Government's control alone.

300. None-the-less, the Government's programme, founded on a welfare to work strategy and aided by a sustained period of economic growth, has clearly delivered considerable successes to date. Relative child poverty has been substantially reduced, starting from a very high rate, and it is now expected that the Government will meet its first important milestone target of reducing poverty by a quarter by the end of 2004.

301. However, the Government's programme will not by itself deliver the child poverty reductions necessary to reach the 2010 goal merely by doing more of the same. A clear focus is now necessary on those areas and those groups which present the greatest challenges to the achievement of the target.

302. The areas include public service improvements in health, education and transport - as well, crucially, as a step change in the availability of affordable, accessible, high quality childcare. The groups include families with disabilities, lone parents and minority ethnic parents who want to work in the labour market but still face greater than normal barriers to the labour market. Furthermore, there will always be other groups of people, such as those with especially severe disabilities, who are permanently beyond the reach of a welfare to work strategy. Increases in benefit and tax credit levels will thus play a part, for this latter group and for others, in ensuring that the Government's target is met and severe and persistent poverty reduced.

303. While it is important to measure ways in which the living standards of poorer people are raised, raising incomes and hitting targets is necessarily a mechanistic process. If child poverty really is to be abolished, the Government's anti-poverty programme must reach beyond raising incomes, and address the human dimension of poverty in a holistic way - increasing good parenting, aiding family stability, raising levels of educational attainment and healthcare and thus boosting children's life chances. Finally, the policies adopted by Ministers across all the legislatures and departments of the UK must be seamless to ensure that the maximum effect is achieved from the extra resources that will be required.

304. The Committee hopes that this report produced some signposts for a road map to 2010 and will shape Government thinking in the current Comprehensive Spending Review deliberations.

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