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"

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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

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  • rate this

    Comment number 908.

    People can/will ONLY be pushed so far.

    So far the "we're all in it together" is evidently/factually FALSE, as since 2008 the wealthiest 5/10% have seen massive increases in wealth while the masses, the underling surfs of capitalist pyramid suffer .
    Last years criminal riots probably delayed JUSTIFIED civil disobedience, mark historical evidence, it WILL worryingly & sadly enevitably happen

  • rate this

    Comment number 907.

    I am long term unemployed with a wife and one child, but we are not poor. Benefits seem just about adequate to keep going.

  • rate this

    Comment number 906.

    many i know only have to have a child develop a 4 letter condition (gotta watch the mods)
    they then get an extra £100 a week, that helps lift the burden.

  • rate this

    Comment number 905.

    Everyone has thier own take on this subject but I tend to think its not benefit levels though Im the first to admit Jobseekers allowance is pitiful in todays situation, I rather tend to feel its our crippling cost of living, high rents, travel etc that does the REAL damage. This is where government has abdicated responsibility.

  • rate this

    Comment number 904.

    It is about disposable income, numerically the average salary is the same as 2004 while prices are 18% higher (10% since the pay freeze started).

    We all have less, its easier for an adult to cope with less and we understand what is happening. Deprivation affects growth, development and intelligence, susceptibility to illness and lifespan.

    The bankers and politicians did this, we let them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 903.

    Are Mafias charitable?

    What's the difference between the Mafia stealing 30% of a shopkeeper's earnings, giving "some" to the poor, or The local MP who does the same?

    The Mafia bloke is a criminal.
    The MP is "compassionate"

    Now the shopkeep has less £s to spend on his shop & employ a person. Less to spend in the local economy. Less £s to retire with. = more poverty :(

  • rate this

    Comment number 902.


    "Six-figure subsidies meant to help struggling farmers are being paid out to some of Britain's richest landowners, BBC Panorama has found.

    There is the reason why land is in short supply and the reason why.

  • rate this

    Comment number 901.

    "Can't say I have ever seen a child in the UK not clothed properly & without shoes"

    I dare say that if South Asia had our climate you wouldn't see many kids from there, (no matter their level of poverty) without certain clothing and footwear of some/any kind either! However, once again the issue is about the UK's child poverty not theirs!

  • rate this

    Comment number 900.

    While I believe child poverty is a problem in UK, I dont think it is on a prevelant on a large scale. I support any measures aimed at child welfare because children are the future. However we should be careful about how we approach this problem. Short and medium term measures like monetary handouts and food banks are not enough. We also need measures to eradicate the root causees of poverty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 899.

    877. Andrew Morton
    This, in practice, is what has driven house prices beyond the reach of many people"

    No it's not. What has driven up house prices is the lack of available building land, and higher than necessary building regulations. Remove restrictions on where you can build, and house prices would plummet.

    But we all want our pretty countryside, and ignore the huge cost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 898.

    Since when did child poverty = child cruelty?

    My parents struggled financially but were loving and always gave me what I needed. Plus they also gave me a good work ethic to achieve greater things.

    Some of my school friends had plenty of money from their parents but little time or love and underachieved in life.

    So who is the poorer? And when will the Left realise that money is not everything?

  • rate this

    Comment number 897.

    Anything to avoid giving anybody more money, be it for children or pensioners. These politicians do not know the real world. They have not had to struggle to pay rent, heat and feed.
    My eyes are open as to how our politicians are all greedy for themselves and those with money and are pushing everybody else down into the gutter. Never have I been more ashamed to be british.

  • rate this

    Comment number 896.

    We have good free education, NHS and free housing if you are on benefit, if your income is low on you can get housing benefit, why is it then we still have children in poverty. Working parents on low incomes are much worse off than non working parents, perhaps no one should pay income tax until their salary reaches £20.000 a year, this would lift most children out of poverty immediately

  • rate this

    Comment number 895.

    What's fantasy is the picture you have in your head of yourself as some socialist anti-capitalist anti-poverty warrior storming barricades and being a hero.


    I run my own business, parts of Labour/Libs/Torys/Capitalist, etc etc are ok but majority are not, 1 reason - sustainability is EXCLUDED in 99.9% of policy.

    ONLY way out of this is MORE planetry DESTRUCTION :(

  • rate this

    Comment number 894.

    i have known 5 people on benefits, and not one had the "sky TV", the "New Car", or indeed the "booze and fags" (though why being on benefits when there's no jobs around should mean you have to wear a hair shirt, i'm not sure).
    Yet fiddle your company taxes, and no one will think about changing the law

  • rate this

    Comment number 893.

    I don't live in South Asia , I live in the UK and it is the UK 's child poverty issues that are relevant ,not those of South Asia
    Can't say I have ever seen a child in the UK not clothed properly & without shoes
    Food banks & charity shops mean kids can get fed & clothed

    We are so lucky in comparison as people can be less well off but certainly not in poverty

  • rate this

    Comment number 892.

    Whilst I don't agree with everything he said I have worked in the city for many years. I still have many friends who do so. I have never heard such a huge overwhelming opinion that our society is broken and the wealth differential is out of control. I have heard many who predict massive public unrest in the future unless something is done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 891.

    850. Norman Brooke
    Lots of posters dont get it. In this life you can be lucky or unlucky, "

    I don't disagree.

    But, you can also be lazy. While the rich can be lazy as much as the poor, at least the rich lazy don't expect me to give them money for doing nothing.

    You can also affect your own luck to a degree. Or you can sit back and do nothing except moan about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 890.

    3 Minutes ago
    Socialists want what the Capitalists have, without having to do the work for it.
    It's that simple

    Really - you mean Capitalists are after a fair days work for a fair days pay - equality under the law and social justice? Where you livin'? Sounds cool.

  • rate this

    Comment number 889.

    As a matter of simple maths, the 'child poverty' figures aren't a measure of poverty at all, but a measure of inequality. Some - including me - think inequality is almost as bad poverty. But it does no harm to use the right words and generally get our facts straight.


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