Child poverty: Definition could include family breakdown


Iain Duncan Smith: "Understanding the nature of family life - debt, addiction, abuse - gives a better picture of whether a child is likely to be living in poverty"

Related Stories

Family breakdown, drug addiction, debt and education results are among the factors that could be used to measure child poverty in future, ministers say.

Recent figures showed fewer children in poverty - but largely because falling wages have narrowed the gap between the poorest and average earners.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith says this income-based method of measuring poverty is too simple.

He is launching a consultation on how to include other factors.

But Labour suggested that the government was trying to "distract attention" from "rather bleak" trends in child poverty data.

'Sky-high' poverty

"The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that child poverty is going to rise by 400,000 over the course of this Parliament, and it's a result of the government's policies," shadow employment minister Stephen Timms told the BBC News channel.

"Under the last government, we saw a big reduction of over a million in the number of children below the poverty line - that number is now going up," Mr Timms added.

Start Quote

Measuring income alone does little to represent the experience of those in poverty”

End Quote Iain Duncan Smith Work and pensions secretary

Criticising the decision to freeze child benefit, the Labour MP warned that by 2020 the UK would be "back at the really sky-high levels of child poverty" that marred the mid-1990s unless the government changed tack.

A child is considered to be living in poverty if their household income is less than 60% of averages wages.

Last year that figure equated to £251 per week, which meant 2.3 million children were living in poverty.

That was 300,000 fewer children than the year before - but the reduction was due to average incomes falling rather than poorer families becoming better off.

Mr Duncan Smith says life is unchanged for these children and a broader definition of child poverty is needed.

This would be one that looks at joblessness, educational failure and family breakdown as well as income.

Child in Manchester back street Child poverty is not just about financial circumstances, ministers say

In a speech at Clyde Children's Centre in South-East London, Mr Duncan Smith said: "Across the UK, there are children living in circumstances that simply cannot be captured by assessing whether their household has more or less than 60% of the average income.

"There are many factors that impact on a child's wellbeing and ability to succeed in life... and measuring income alone does little to represent the experience of those in poverty.

"As we saw earlier this year - when the child poverty level dropped by 2% - a fall in the median income may lift a family out of poverty on paper.

"Yet at a closer look, real incomes did not rise and absolute poverty was unchanged. For the 300,000 children no longer in poverty according to the official statistics, life was no different."

Held to account

But Chris Wellings, from Save the Children, said any new method of assessing child poverty must not be too broad to gauge progress or lack of it on the problem.

"The previous measure was very sharp, it allowed us to hold the government to account," he said.

"Any new measure needs to retain income and needs to retain an ability for us to really hold the government to account for their action on child poverty."

The Child Poverty Action Group said almost two-thirds of children living in poverty were in households where someone was in employment.

Building more affordable homes and reducing childcare costs were the keys to reducing child poverty, the charity added.

Poverty: key stats

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 1128.

    Institute For Fiscal Studies on Welfare Reform proposals

    Welfare reform paper sets out sensible ideas for simplification, but ducks difficult decisions it is much weaker in facing up to the age-old trade-offs between redistribution, work incentives and affordability. It is difficult to strengthen work incentives without either spending more money or hurting the poor

  • rate this

    Comment number 1127.

    Having children is takes time, attention and money and good parents give up many things to nuture their child/ren. Yes, we can plan conception, but pregnancy may happen if contraception fails.

    If, however, your only plan in life is to have children - what plan do you have for your children? Yes, I do expect a lot of negatives on this post.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1126.

    1117. jjs
    "Seems to be a pie in the sky myth that one can help the poor without making sacrifices.
    The truth is something has to go !"
    Not necessarily. The law allows companies such as utility companies and what are effectively hire purchase ripoff firms to charge the poor more than the less poor pay.

    It's a great way to make profit and to help keep the poor poor.

    And we allow this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1125.

    The rich are greedy, the poor are needy and the remainder provide the money.

    The main political parties won't change this scenario so why does everyone keep voting for them?


  • rate this

    Comment number 1124.

    1068, repeated.

    If Theresa May or Damian Green blincked we would double the population in a week because it is so good here. Free medicine except for the rich (eftr), no council tax eftr, free army, navy and air force eftr, free education the eftr, free Police and legal services eftr, no tuition fees eftr and lots of jobs such that we have to suck in 1.35m quest workers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1123.


    ''...There's also cultural poverty. The kids are being dumbed down and fed rubbish through 'popular' culture...''

    Yes what a shame but back to Africa where children don't have clean water to drink or proper food to eat, education, healthcare, shelter or opportunities in life...never mind culture!

    I know where I would prefer my tax money to go.

    Get a grip

  • rate this

    Comment number 1122.

    I think I must be becoming a geek, I came across this and it actually made me choke when I saw some of the DWP salaries!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1121.

    IDS's has received a significant amount of civil service advice suggesting his benefit reforms cannot do what he claims they can.

    He's pressing on with these reforms regardless and is now suggesting we redefine poverty...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1120.

    1112 Largest cost to state is healthcare + pensions. Healthcare costs increase massively as we (all) age. This Thatcher ideal of a nuclear family is unsustainable - we'll have to return to 3 generation families, which would be beneficial for all. But we cannot carry on producing fewer tax payers.
    I will leave to your little, self-contained, bubble, ignoring the realities of the cycle of life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1119.

    To those posters who say today`s children will work to pay off the debt, and provide pensions in the future, that is not necessarily the case.
    There is nothing to stop those children from working and living abroad when they grow up, leaving the older generation to find their own pensions, and pay off their own debt.
    Just a thought.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1118.

    Maybe if councils were made to build new houses things would change a little, private renting costs twice as much money as council housing, low income families would have a cheaper way of life, those on benefits would only need 50 % of the housing benefit they get at the moment, win win situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1117.

    Seems to be a pie in the sky myth that one can help the poor without making sacrifices.

    The truth is something has to go !
    Maybe the 4 x 4, the fourth home, the jet ski? Do we really need this?

    It's like we want to help with coins on an invisible gut string. Coins we can give and then pull back out the pockets when the poor mother and child are not looking ... our 4x4 still in the driveway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1116.

    Well children are poor, but we have got a lot of new Police Commissioners.
    Could you make it up.
    Probably not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1115.

    1106 suspect your figures are coming from outliers, like HB in areas like London (Thatcher having removed the rental cap, while simultaneously removing individual assessments, leaving many, financially vulnerable, long-term reliant on state = Tory short-termism). If you are just looking at income tax then they should've been paid a *living* wage to start with! but poor pay more when inc. all tax

  • rate this

    Comment number 1114.

    The real question is: Does IDS even care about child poverty? This seems to be merely more spin with with greater benefit cuts looming, and even ideas about 'smart cards' for 'problem families' to purchase essentials at government designated outlets being floated.

  • Comment number 1113.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1112.

    1108.Al Gore

    LOL Investment - how so? I pay for your childrens education & health care, provide you with additional income/standard of living but get no pension at the end? How do you make that an investment? Taking money under false pretences seem closer to the mark.

    - time to call it a night I think,its getting silly

  • rate this

    Comment number 1111.


    What a trite comment !

    Well, I wonder what you'd think if you were a youngster down and out in London ! There is what is known as RELATIVE poverty, and don't forget that everything is relative !
    There's also cultural poverty. The kids are being dumbed down and fed rubbish through 'popular' culture.
    Opportunity poverty... the divide is growing.

    Definately time for DEEP CHANGE !

  • rate this

    Comment number 1110.

    As somebody who raised a family on benefits for a period..I have to say, that there has to be something wrong with the parents..there are sufficient funds to clothe and feed the children . No its not a fortune and strict budgeting is required... but something has to be be remiss with the parent if a child in the UK goes to bed cold or hungry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1109.

    105. Ferry_Arab
    Could your idea be expanded into areas such as bonuses?


Page 1 of 57


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.