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2.3 million deprived kids absent from UK poverty data – report

Published time: February 08, 2013 19:53
Edited time: February 08, 2013 23:57
A child plays behind railings in Poplar, East London (Reuters / Jas Lehal)

A child plays behind railings in Poplar, East London (Reuters / Jas Lehal)

Over 2 million kids in the UK are deprived of basic needs and are not included in official statistics, a new report has found. It says that current methods of calculating child poverty are too fixed on incomes.

Nearly 2.3 million children living “materially deprived lives” in the UK are not included in the government’s headline measurement of child poverty, the report by the think tank Policy Exchange estimates. According to official statistics for 2012 there were 3.6 million children living in poverty in the UK.

The study underlines that current government policy does not take into account factors such as the standard of education received by a child, whether he/she has been in the care system, the quality of housing a family lives in or if a child’s parents have a criminal conviction.

Other areas of a child’s life which the report thinks should be should be considered are if the child themselves is a parent and whether the family are experiencing an unsustainable level of debt, the report says.

Policy Exchange argues that in the past too much attention has been focused on material poverty, especially in relation to the average incomes of parents.

Its findings are likely to be viewed favorably by the work and pensions secretary Ian Duncan Smith, who has long argued that the scope on how child poverty is approached needs to be broadened.

“It is not just about money. Despite billions of pounds being paid out in tax credits in the past decade, the focus on income alone has not transformed people’s lives,” said Mr Duncan Smith, responding to the report, as cited by Sky News.

In real terms there has been significant extra money spent by the government in a bid to alleviate child poverty.

Since 1998/9 support for the poorest households in the UK has amounted to an average £4,000 ($6,321) a year increase. Between 2003/4 and 2010 the government spent an extra £170 ($268) billion trying to reduce child poverty. As a result Child Tax Credit (a benefit available to any parent regardless of whether they are working or not) rose by 63%, but Working Tax Credit (available to people on low incomes) rose by only 28%.

The report concludes that non-work contingent benefits rose disproportionately over work contingent ones and this has had a negative effect on child poverty.

“The extra cash is focused on tax credits, benefits which are not intrinsic to work and therefore will not tackle the root cause of child poverty, the household is relying on handouts,” Nick Faith, Director of communication at Policy Exchange, told RT.

Policy Exchange believes that serial unemployment in families is one of the main reasons behind child poverty and advises significant welfare reform to encourage more people with families back to work and reduce their dependence on benefits.

“Tackling worklessness is one of the most effective ways of reducing child poverty,” said Faith.

Ruth Woodgate is a mother of two who has to support her family on £209 ($330) a week and lives way below the poverty line.

“I think it’s a silly, silly mistake to make because it[the government] is not dealing with the issues. It’s just throwing money at the situation and that’s not always what is needs. I don’t need handouts, I need a job, people with alcohol and drug dependency issues don’t need money, they need help to get off it,” Ms Woodgate told Sky News.

The government is currently in consultation and is changing the criteria on how child poverty is measured.

The new measure when it is introduced will focus not just on family incomes but also on factors such as the quality of housing or the level of education a child receives and will likely increase the number of children in poverty.

“It [the new measure] would allow the government to focus policy solutions on improving outcomes both now and in the future for deprived children rather than simply masking the problem with state handouts that do nothing to get to the root of the poverty problem,” Matthew Oakley, head of economics and social policy at Policy Exchange, told the Guardian.

There have been some improvements in reducing the number of children living in poverty. Today 17.5% of all children live in households below the relative income poverty threshold, compared to over 25% in 1999.

But despite the progress the UK is still 7.5 percentage points away from meeting its 2020 target.

Part of the problem lies in the wider social problem that UK society has become less, not more socially mobile, iover the last 30 years.Indeed, social inequality is deemed higher than at any time in the post-war period, based on a 2010 report, An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK, which then Prime Minster Gordon Brown called “sobering”.

“We must level the playing field so that children from poor families have the same opportunities as children from richer ones,” Faith told RT.

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