Education & Family

Child poverty plans due amid criticism of flouting law

Housing estate in Kingston upon Hull
Image caption Charities fear the government could take a backward step on child poverty

The government is publishing its strategy for tackling child poverty, amid claims it is failing to fulfil its legal duties.

The charity Child Poverty Action Group claims ministers have already flouted aspects of the law.

The charity is considering taking the government to judicial review over the strategy.

The Department for Work and Pensions said its strategy was based on reforms to education, tax and benefits system.

The latest figures on relative child poverty relate to 2008-09. They show that 2.8 million, or 22%, of children were living in relative poverty.

This is defined as children living in homes with an income of 60% less than the median UK income before housing costs

'Holistic approach'

The Child Poverty Act commits the government to cut this measure of poverty to 10% by 2020.

It is expected the child poverty strategy will point to measures already being taken rather than unveil new policies.

Such measures include the pupil premium, giving extra money to schools which take pupils from very poor backgrounds, and steps to get more deprived students into universities.

The government insists it is taking a holistic approach to tackling the issue.

This includes measures on early intervention to help families out of poverty as well as encouraging them back to work.

It is also tying its plans to a social mobility strategy also being launched on Tuesday and is expected to set up a new child poverty and social mobility commission.

A spokesman said its welfare reforms alone would take 350,000 children out of poverty over the four years of its implementation.

But the Institute of Fiscal Studies predicted back in December that the welfare shake-up would increase relative child poverty figures by 200,000 in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

Charities including the Child Poverty Action Group and Barnardo's say the government is in danger of taking a backward step in the fight to end child poverty.

The Child Poverty Action Group said the Child Poverty Act, which went through Parliament with cross-party backing in spring 2010, sets out a range of legal requirements.

These include setting up a commission of experts to advise on drawing up the strategy itself and detailing exactly how targets on reducing child poverty are to be met.

But this commission is only being launched on Tuesday as the strategy is published and therefore has had no role in advising on the plans.

The strategy also has to cover a range of areas, such as employment, financial support and advice for parents.

'Legal requirements'

A spokesman for the charity said: "The big questions are, is it lawful and will it make a difference?

"If when we see it we think it is not lawful - then we will have a very serious discussion with our lawyers."

Child Poverty Action Group's chief executive Alison Garnham said she was astonished to find the government flouting legal requirements set by Parliament.

She said these were supported by all the ministers responsible for the strategy when the legislation was passed.

She added: "The independent commission is crucial to ensuring ministerial accountability for an evidence-based and comprehensive child poverty strategy.

"One of the Prime Minister's great promises before he entered office was to 'make British poverty history'."

Barnardo's said it was extremely disappointed that the child poverty commission had not been set up in time for members to provide expert advice.

It is concerned that the government will be in breach of the Child Poverty Act 2010 and its statutory duty as a result.

'Remain steadfast'

Barnardo's chief executive Anne Marie Carrie said: "Families living on a low income have £13 per person per day to pay for food, electricity, gas, water, public travel, books, pens, usb sticks, school trips, uniforms and birthdays to name but a few.

"This is the reality of child poverty in the UK today.

"Children must be supported by sufficient family income in order to improve their lives, tackle inequality and address immediate material needs.

"Money matters, which is why we believe that income-based child poverty targets have an important role to play in measuring social mobility."

Helen Donohoe, director of public policy at charity Action for Children, said: "It is critical that the government maintains a focused and steadfast determination to sustainably end child poverty.

"We are concerned that the child poverty strategy will not have the teeth to do this.

"There needs to be a refocused child poverty commission to ensure that ministers are held accountable for the strategy to tackle child poverty."

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