Iain Duncan Smith: Child poverty approach 'set to fail'

Woman carrying a child Child poverty is predicted to rise by 100,000

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Iain Duncan Smith has said tackling child poverty by boosting family income through benefits is a narrow approach which "looks set to have failed".

The work and pensions secretary said there were problems with officially classifying child poverty as a family on 60% or less than the median income.

It created perverse incentives to lift people just over the mark, he said.

Official figures published on Tuesday suggest child poverty is set to swell by 100,000 over the next few years.

The previous Labour government introduced a Child Poverty Act, creating a legally binding requirement for the government to end child poverty by 2020.

Official figures suggest 2.8m children are living in poverty.


This week the Institute for Fiscal Studies said it remained "inconceivable" that the government would hit the 2020 target.

Mr Duncan Smith made his comments in a speech in central London, arguing that the way child poverty was measured and tackled had proved "hugely expensive" and looked likely to fail.

Start Quote

We need to maintain our vital focus on poverty, while establishing much more effective ways of delivering on it”

End Quote Iain Duncan Smith Work and Pensions Secretary

He said that while benefits would always play a "vital role" for some, such as people with serious disabilities, increased income did not always mean "increased wellbeing".

In some cases, families might be pushed further into welfare dependency, meaning their children were more likely to follow suit later in life.

"Income through benefits maintain people on a low income, whereas income gained through work can transform lives," he said.

He said measuring poverty through the 60% measure created a "poverty plus a pound" approach - where authorities did just enough to keep some families just above the 60% mark without really changing lives, while those at the very bottom could be left behind.


Mr Duncan Smith said policies like the pupil premium - designed to help the poorest school children - had "the potential to completely alter a child's future" but did not count towards the measure because the financial impact could not be measured yet.

He suggested new measures of wellbeing - taking into account factors like health, education, life chances and family security - rather than an approach "narrowly focused on income alone".

He said: "We need to maintain our vital focus on poverty, while establishing much more effective ways of delivering on it and making a real change to families' life chances."

Start Quote

Without these targets, the poorest families and children will fall further and further behind”

End Quote Rhian Beynon Family Action

Official figures published in May showed the number of children living in poverty in the UK fell during Labour's last year in power by 2% to 2.6m.

On ITV's This Morning, Prime Minister David Cameron was asked about figures indicating that child poverty was set to increase by 100,000 over the coming years.

He said it was "illogical" that child poverty was recorded relative to average income - because the state pension was going up by an unusually high £5.30 a week, he said, it meant some households with children were less wealthy in relation to pensioners.

"I think there is a real problem with the way we measure child poverty," he said.

"It is the right thing to do to increase the pension. It doesn't make any child in this country poorer because you are giving pensioners more money at a time when they need it."

'Targets matter'

Later, the prime minister's spokesman said the government had no plans to change its official poverty measures .

But he said there was a "debate to be had" about whether "income transfer" or deeper causes of child poverty and social mobility should be examined.

However, one campaign group described the government's direction on the issue as "another nail in the coffin of the life chances of a generation of children".

"Relative poverty counts - without these targets the poorest families and children will fall further and further behind," said Rhian Beynon, head of policy and campaigns at Family Action.

"Moving the goal posts on income poverty might help the government balance the books but it will send the life chances of children into the red."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    I'm torn by these comments:
    I force myself out of bed M2F to go to a rubbish job so I can afford things myself and the idea that some people enjoy the same stuff for doing nothing make me ... well a little bit mad.
    However some families work hard but just aren't paid a living wage. It's easy to say we'll have the wedding and kids when we can afford it not so easy in practice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    The state (taxpayer) rightly provides free education and health care for all children. It's the parents responsibility to feed, clothe a care for their own children, too many parents think it's someone else's responsibility.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Todays politicians don't understand poverty simply because they have never lived in poverty. All these Eton schoolboys don't have a clue what it's like to live of a household income that is less than 24K

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    A measurement of poverty based purely on income is inherently flawed. Children in a family with a large mortgage can be in greater poverty than those where housing costs are paid via benefits. Other factors should be taken into account. If only income is used as a measure, then at the very least it should be disposable income.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    With record unemployment and cuts in benefit of course child poverty is increasing. It is very convenient for Mr Duncan Smith to say income is not a measure of poverty when his government is making people worse off. Children can't vote and so they are low on this governments priorities. The young are the future of the country and this is a terrible time to be young.


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