Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the End Child Poverty Campaign (CP 11)


  Child poverty is not inevitable. It is the result of failures in public policy and of a failure to invest in our future social and economic well-being. It is the result of our collective failure to hear and see the poor and to act to ensure that no child is left behind.

  Twelve national children and family organisations launched End Child Poverty in April 2001 as a joint initiative. The founding members recognised that the scale and complexity of child poverty required unified action and a unique coalition of interests to join together in common purpose. We work:

    —  To inform the public about the causes and effects of child poverty.

    —  To forge a commitment between and across the public, private and voluntary sectors to end child poverty by 2020.

    —  To promote the case for ending child poverty by 2020 with this and every future Government.

  Today we have over 75 organisations in membership. We welcome the Prime Minister's pledge to eradicate child poverty in a generation and the Government's commitment to halve child poverty by 2010 and reduce it by a quarter by 2004-05. If and when these targets are met the result will be a major step forward for poor children across the UK.

  This pledge is a significant and demanding undertaking; in many people's view the most challenging in over 50 years since the creation of the National Health Service. It will require Government to ensure that the right policies are in place to tackle not just the symptoms of poverty but also its root causes. Above all, it will require Government to deliver visible results each year over successive Parliaments.

  There are four key issues which we wish the Committee to consider:

    —  The scale and nature of child poverty.

    —  The complexity of poverty.

    —  The measurement of poverty.

    —  The need for a child poverty strategy.


  The UK has one of the highest proportions of children living in low-income households among the member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).[144] This means that today one child in every three lives in poverty—more than double the level two decades ago.[145] The latest figures demonstrate that 3.8 million children in the UK are living in poverty.[146]

  There is overwhelming research evidence that childhood poverty has a dramatic and long term impact on individuals, communities and the society we live in. We know that children who grow up in poor families are more likely to leave home early, to do less well in school and are less likely to work when they reach adulthood. Adolescents who grew up poor believe that health is a matter of luck, play truant and expect to leave school at the age of 16.

  As recently as October 2002, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child delivered a powerful verdict on the UK's second progress report on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Committee said it remained concerned that the UK was not implementing the Convention to the "maximum extent of available resources" as stipulated in Article 4 of the Convention, and it recommended that the UK ensure transparent analysis of budgets to show the proportion spent on children. The Committee also noted the lack of an effective and coordinated poverty eradication strategy and urged the Government to undertake all necessary measures to accelerate the elimination of child poverty.


  Income poverty is central to any analysis of child poverty. However, child poverty is multi-faceted and requires concerted action across a number of areas by a range of sectors and key players. Poverty is certainly about not having enough money, but it is also about children growing up in safe neighbourhoods in affordable housing with play and leisure facilities.

  It means education services, which recognise the difficulties poor children face, and work with them to achieve their individual potential. It means that health services need to be accessible and an end to the obscenity of children who are born poor dying earlier in adult life. It means supporting families when they are experiencing problems. achievement


  In our response to the DWP consultation paper Measuring Child Poverty we highlighted the challenge to develop a technically robust package of measurement that will help to evaluate progress and the impact of policy and which at the same time can be readily communicated to the wider public.

  All key stakeholders have an interest in ensuring that whatever package of measurement is agreed upon, it must be able to be communicated to the general public in a meaningful way.

  The key issues in relation to the measurement of child poverty are:

    Lack of political credibility

  No official child poverty measure has ever been adopted by government. While the current govemment has acknowledged the problem of child poverty and committed itself to act, previous governments have challenged claims about the extent of poverty or have questioned whether poverty really exists. Govemments have not been bound by the existence of an official measure.

    Lack of public credibility

  There has been scepticism about claims that, for example, one in three children live in poverty. This figure does not fit with public or media perceptions about the extent of poverty in the UK. Some components of deprivation measures—for example, owning a home video recorder—have also been publicly criticised and ridiculed.

    Technical credibility

  No consensus exists about which measure is best. Most experts favour an income measure of some sort but acknowledge the limitations of existing measures of income poverty (see list on page 15 of the consultation document). A plethora of income and other measures now exist which means that the messages about child poverty are not consistent.

  Each of the credibility gaps needs to be addressed. This requires the adoption of an official measure that has resonance with public opinion and is technically robust.

  In our view a comprehensive measure will require significant extra resources to ensure that the data is collected, analysed and published in a timely fashion. This would enable key stakeholders to use the information to assess progress and the impact of policy. Given the scale of public funds required to meet the pledge to end child poverty we believe this investment is justified. We also suggest that consideration should be given to establishing an independent body that would be responsible for "auditing" the data and publication of both a headline indicator (we would suggest on a six monthly basis) and the full data sets annually.


  Whilst we welcome many of the recent policy initiatives in relation to poor children and families there is a real question as to what the government's strategy on child poverty is. In our view there is a need to set out the direction that the govemment intends to take. The purpose of a child poverty strategy would be to provide a route map describing how government intends to deliver on the Prime Minster's pledge to end child poverty by 2020. The purpose of the document would be:

  1.  To ensure that all relevant govemment departments are working towards the pledge to end child poverty with a systematic and strategic approach and with the explicit backing of the Cabinet, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister.

  2.  To bring together in one document, preventative and alleviative policies, across all government departments, which aim to improve outcomes for children living in poverty.

  3.  To outline the government's medium to long-term policies and key milestones in relation to the eradication of child poverty;

  4.  To identify the roles to be played by other agencies (for example, local government, social services) in ending child poverty;

Such a Strategy Would Address:

    —  What outcomes government would want to secure for children in poverty by 2020

    —  At what stage in the next 15 years key changes would need to be introduced, if the target is to be achieved;

    —  A forecast of the resources required between 2005-20 to tackle child poverty;

    —  Accountability for the strategy, clarification of the interface with other strategies and how it would fit into government structures.

    —  A combination of quantitative research evidence and qualitative evidence to ensure the strategy is technically robust but also incorporates feedback from children and families living in poverty;

    —  Commitment to key priorities and aims for 2010 as a major milestone;

    —  Consideration of the impact of policies on a number of different levels. For example, it would not be enough to look at tax credits without considering issues of accessibility and take-up;

    —  Focus on how to reach those children who are hard to reach, such as disabled children and homeless children, including those children who are at risk;

    —  A mechanism to ensure that policies devised by all government departments, whilst not necessarily working towards the strategy, do not work against the strategy or the target to end child poverty—"child poverty proofing";

    —  Consideration of the constitutional arrangements of the four nations of the UK and arrangements to ensure the strategy can be implemented in the devolved nations;

    —  A risk-assessment detailing potential obstacles to fulfilling the pledge and how different obstacles might be tackled.

  Consideration needs to be given to accountability for the strategy, which would address the following:

    —  The need for clear responsibility for the strategy in each government department;

    —  The feasibility of establishing an independent body with responsibility for monitoring the strategy's implementation.

  In conclusion, we welcome the Select Committee Enquiry, we recognise the complexity of child poverty and that whatever measure of child poverty is adopted it must resonate with the wider public. Finally we strongly believe that a clear and explicit strategy needs to be put in place and publicised. The current Treasury review of child poverty and the publication of the agreed measure of child poverty expected later this year is an opportunity to do so.

Graeme Brown

Development Director

10 September 2003

144   UNICEF Innocenti Report Card Issue No. 1.2000, A league table of child poverty in rich nations Back

145   Households Below Average Income 1994-5-1999/2000.2001, DWP, Corporate Document Services. Back

146   Households Below Average Income 1994-5-2001/02.2003, DWP, Corporate Document Services. Back

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