Child poverty down as household income drops


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The number of children living in poverty in the UK fell by 300,000 last year as household incomes dropped, official figures have revealed.

In 2010-11, 18% of children (2.3 million) lived in households classed as below the poverty line - a 2% drop.

This was because the measure is based on median incomes which also went down.

The Children's Society welcomed "the lowest poverty level since the mid-1980s" but said that may be reversed by "drastic cuts to support and services".

The government, meanwhile, says drug addiction, homelessness and unemployment should be considered as well as income when defining child poverty.

UK income drop

The government's Households Below Average Income statistics define child poverty as children living in homes taking in less than 60% of the median UK income.

The median - the middle figure in a set of numbers - for 2010-2011 was £419 a week, down from £432 the year before.

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Tony Blair walked into No 10 in 1997 promising to eliminate child poverty by 2020. David Cameron walked into No 10 in 2010 promising his party was best placed to fight poverty in the UK”

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As a result, the level of household income which defines "in poverty" fell from £259, in 2009-2010, to £251 a week, the following year.

The BBC's Mark Easton said that explained why 300,000 fewer children were classed as living in poverty.

A fall in income throughout society in tough economic times has meant that thousands of families have been lifted above the poverty line without their circumstances changing at all.

The figures show ministers have a long way to go to meet a target set by the previous Labour government - and enshrined in the 2010 Child Poverty Act - to eliminate poverty by 2020.

And they mean a target set by Labour 10 years ago - when 3.4 million were living in poverty - to halve that figure by 2010/2011 was missed by about 600,000.

The Children's Society said that, while action since 2000 had "pulled 1.1 million children out of poverty", current levels were still "a scar on our national conscience".

Case study

Jessica May lives with her disabled husband and one-year-old son in a rented home in Coventry.

Despite struggling financially, she questions the current definition of poverty.

"Compared to where I grew up in South Africa, people here are ridiculously wealthy.

"In Africa if you do not work, you do not eat. It is normal to see children walking to school without shoes on and digging for food in the dustbins.

"Poverty there is also the fear that you are replaceable if you do not turn up for work. There is no protection.

"The British government want to change the way poverty is measured, but if you choose to buy alcohol or drugs, you choose to put yourself into poverty.

"The poverty we live under is mental poverty, not true poverty."

"It is shameful that over the coming decade this progress is likely to be reversed by the government's drastic cuts to support and services for the country's most vulnerable children and families," chief executive Matthew Reed said.

Save the Children chief executive Justin Forsyth said the government should focus "not on changing definitions but on policies that work, like the living wage, affordable child care and on early education programmes targeted at low-income families".

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said "breaking the crippling low pay, no pay cycle that keeps so many working families in poverty would be a welcome start".

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the government remained committed to the Child Poverty Act targets but that it was "increasingly clear that poverty is not about income alone".

Speaking at a community centre in London, he said it was "perverse" that "the simplest way of reducing child poverty is to collapse the economy".

He said a consultation later in the year would look at new ways of measuring child poverty taking into account problems like unemployment, family breakdown and addiction.

"Unless we find a way of properly measuring changes to children's life chances, rather than the present measurement of income alone, we risk repeating the failures of the past," he added.

He said Labour's strategy of putting "vast amounts of money" into benefits to try to push families above the poverty line had failed.

He pledged the government's universal credit - which will replace a series of benefits and tax credits - would pull the "vast majority" of young people out of poverty if at least one parent worked 35 hours a week at the minimum wage. The figure would be 24 hours for a lone parent.

Labour shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne, meanwhile, said: "Behind [Prime Minister David] Cameron's promises we learn today that those parents and their children will now be abandoned and told, 'you are on your own'."

Key poverty states

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  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    This seems a strange claim. I suspect the definition of child poverty was changed to improve some statistic or other.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    According to this ridiculous measure of child 'poverty' if the average income was a million pounds those on £600,000 would be living in poverty.

    Poverty is not having enough money to stay alive, not being unable to upgrade to Sky+

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Haha, what a terrible way of measuring poverty. It's gone down because the median income has gone down, seriously??? Having said that, it's fair to say many folk weren't on poverty before... just RELATIVE poverty. They could still afford their luxuries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    So this means that because everyone else is getting poorer, statistcally these kids are not in poverty anymore - even though they have as little money as before, - simply because there are more of us in the same boat???!!!
    Brilliant. Drinks and bonuses all round. Lets have more recession, less money for even more people and we will get rid of child poverty altogether.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    22. legalalien: "Doesn't the fact that the child poverty rate is relative to the mean income imply that any political party promising to cut child poverty is effectively promising to prevent the poorer part of the population from having children?"

    No - in fact, due to the income curve, if you removed those earning less than £251 per week, you'd actually increase the number in 'poverty'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Personally I feel that income inequality has too much importance.

    Wealth is redistributed to help the most in need and it's their absolute standard of living that should be the focus.

    Equality of opportunity is a different issue and should have greater importance.

    The one thing that today's figures do say is that the "the rich get richer whilst the poor get poorer" rhetoric is unfounded.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Don't be fooled by Govt spin on this. Most of the poor in question have jobs; they are poor because they are paid so badly, not because they take drugs/waste money. So, any changes are not about getting people back to work.
    The Govt. have deliberately clouded the issue, just as they did with their £26,000 benefit cap - a tiny number get this amount, mainly because they are overcharged on rent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    "The Children's Society welcomed "the lowest poverty level since the mid-1980s"
    Gifted - I hope they understand the issues, even if they can't grasp the statistics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    What do those Dickensian idiots in government know about ‘poverty’? They’ve just wasted millions sucking up to a pointless monarchy (know your place plebs!), they pumped even more public money into the Olympic fiasco, and they can’t even take responsibility for their OWN policies that don’t work for the MAJORITY in this country.

    Bleat on about the past tories... you have NO FUTURE,

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    In other words, according to this definition of "poverty", the headline should read "number of childless people living in poverty increases". There can be few more stupid concepts than that of relative poverty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    That's odd, when child poverty increases as per the current measurement I have never seen the BBC use the headline "Child poverty up as household income increases".

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    We do not live in poverty at all in this country and agree another word should be used.

    With supermarket basic brands and a Pound shop in most towns these days families should be able to get by.

    Trouble is many people tend to live above of their means

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    "Interesting how, the Prime Minister hasn't blamed Labour's policies on reducing child poverty!"

    & how opposition party blames current gov for all ills saying it would do better... the rhetoric is pointless, actions count by what goves do when in power and the legacy they leave for those that follow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    And once again the percentage symbol comes out to convince us of facts that simply don't measure up when you look at the data.

    Whilst British levels of poverty pale in comparison to those in many other countries, the number of people living in conditions that the average wage earner would quiver at is unacceptable.

    Bring back manufacturing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    200 years ago poverty was : 10 people living in a shoe box
    50 years ago : Having an outside toilet
    30 years ago : Not having central heating
    Now : Not having Sky Sports and an XBox.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I was the oldest of 4 children, lived in a council house both parents worked they struggled to provide us all with a good education. 1 pair of shoes which had to last usually had holes in before we got new. hand me down clothes no charity shops in those days just jumble sales. I can still feel the shame of being called Steptoe or 2nd hand rose. I'm okay now but I do feel for these children

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    By this method of calculation, child poverty is almost impossible to eliminate. How stupid can some people be???

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    @19 Chris
    Agreed. It would be interesting to see how child poverty is measured in these countries. I suspect it is not based on 60% average income.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Spin, spin, spin, spin.

    It's now getting really insulting. Do they think intelligence falls with household income as well?

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    4. Luther_Wesley-Baxter

    'If those children's parents didn't smoke, drink, gamble, and keep buying take-aways, then those children would no longer be in poverty.'

    Wow. Surely someone as knowledgeable as you about the daily lives of thousands of families can come up with a policy for making those parents as good as you are.


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