Child poverty down as household income drops


BBC Radio 5 live spoke to a mother living below the poverty line

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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.

Iain Duncan Smith: "Life change" important in measuring poverty

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 65.

    There is a common thread running through all current Government inspired pronouncements:
    If you're poor, ill, unemployed, homeless or otherwise impoverished - IT'S YOUR OWN FAULT!!!
    There is no way the present Coalition are going to redistribute any wealth, so stop whinging AND PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER!

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Measuring poverty in that way is totally inacurate. It doesn't take into consideration how many people the household income has to support, or costs of rent, which is much higher for larger families.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    So places with slums have poverty and not having the latest smartphone isnt poverty.
    So that excludes wealthy India then.

    Uk has slums or are they just "old" buildings that people live in"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    "Only Tories could agree with a calculation such as this.. "

    Apart from the last government who used exactly the same basis.

    Obviously it's a farcical measure, but I wonder it the same people would be discrediting it, had the number in poverty gone up instead of down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    What a ridiculous way to measure poverty. IDS has my backing for not claiming credit for this statistical anomaly. It is valid however in any measurement of poverty that some account be taken of society at large - we may not have children dying of starvation but we do have the elderly dying of cold because they can't afford heating - disgraceful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    So the % is down, is it? If this Govt. measures it then what does that mean?
    Does it mean the same as when they say inflation has fallen? When we suspect it hasn't.
    Does it mean the same as when they say unemployment has fallen? When we suspect it hasn't.
    Does it mean the same as when they say they are not fiddling the figures? When we suspect they are.
    Surely not???

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    You can express your tabloid prejudices in line with the government propaganda to help ease your capitalist consciences. The reality is that capitalist self-justifying ‘I’m all right Jack’ arrogance will bring this country to its very bloody end.

    Put people in a position where they have ‘nothing left to lose’ and they will naturally target those that have. The poor will bite back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    "It is shameful that over the coming decade this progress is likely to be reversed by the government's drastic cuts" Its not likely, its a certain. Redefining anything in political terms, means massaging the figures to what the government of the day finds acceptable. Forget the opinions of people that are actually poor.. you know the real world! They did something similar with the dole in the 80s

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    It's not measuring poverty. You want to see poverty then go to a country with slums.

    Being without the latest generation games console or not having a decent smartphone is not poverty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    with the government proposals it is becoming clearer that they want a return to a dickensian society where if you dont work it will be left to your relatives to look after you or it will be the poor house. we are supposed to be a rich nation. but the poor are being treated as though they are the scum of the earth

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    45. The Ace Face

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


    The current relative poverty definition was introduced in the 1960s because absolute poverty, based on a "basket of goods" measurement, was eradicated in the UK with the introduction of the welfare state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Im sure this wont make the slightest bit of difference to those people having to go to food banks and choosing to eat rather than heat their homes this winter. Meanwhile the cowboys in charge live it up at our expense on their lowly 60K + incomes and expenses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Poverty is relative to the conditions in the particular country. People in this country who are lucky enough to have a job and their own home want to see poverty as abject poverty. In other words, anyone who is unemployed, disabled, retired with no private pension should live in a tent with only the basic food to live on. That may be viable in Ethiopia, but not in the UK. Despicable hypocrites.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    With the amount of benefit, tax credit, etc. etc. thrown at people with children, I find it hard to believe there are any living in poverty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    'All we ask is xxxx per month'.

    When these words are spoken over a film showing the UK, then that's poverty.

    In the meantime, let's be grateful we as a nation don't live in a state of such appalling deprivation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Only Tories could agree with a calculation such as this.. we are all getting paid less so collectively we are better off compared to one another!

    Do they think people are that stupid?

    Unless of course you are a banker or a CEO of a company performing poorly for their shareholders...

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    No one has been "lifted" out of child poverty! The definitions changed and the poverty line lowered. Still, with this government's attack on ordinary people's incomes, we'll all be out of poverty by Christmas :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Tracy - when you talk about sending someone "back to school", that means that that Person will have to go back to Eton.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.


    Nope, the number in poverty would decrease. Think it through properly before posting please!

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Fodd, clothing, housing. Acess to free education and health care.

    If you have those, you are not living in poverty.

    No-one in the UK is living in poverty.


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