THE Government's plans to change the way in which
child poverty is measured are "fatally flawed", Churches have
A consultation on a "better measure" of child poverty
was launched in November, and ended last Friday. The Work and
Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, argues in a paper that the
current measures, adopted by the previous government, are
"simplistic", and fail to reflect "what it means to grow up
experiencing deep disadvantage".
The Child Poverty Act 2010 uses four measures:
relative income, combined low income and material deprivation,
absolute income, and persistent poverty. Since 2000, the number of
children living in relative poverty has fallen by 1.1 million.
Figures released in June showed that 300,000 fewer
children were in relative-income poverty than in the previous year.
This was largely because of a fall in the median income nationally,
however, and Mr Duncan Smith argues that "the children who were
moved out of poverty were no better off, nor saw any meaningful
improvement in their lives. . . It cannot be right that experiences
so vital to childhood, like seeing a parent go out to work or
growing up in a stable family, are not reflected in our
understanding of child poverty."
The Government has proposed a "multidimensional
measure of child poverty", and suggested eight potential
indicators: income and material deprivation, worklessness,
unmanageable debt, poor housing, parental skill level, access to
quality education, family stability, and parental health. There is
significant crossover with the measures proposed by the Centre for
Social Justice, the think tank founded by Mr Duncan Smith, in its
2012 paper Rethinking Child Poverty, which argued
that the relative-poverty measure "confuses poverty with income
In a response to the consultation, the Church of
England Mission and Public Affairs Council sought to "strongly
discourage" the Government from adopting a "conceptually flawed"
single multidimensional index that was "conflating the causes and
effects of poverty with poverty itself".
Family breakdown, for example, increased the risk of
low income, but it could also be a consequence of a low income. The
response argues that "child poverty is fundamentally about a lack
of access to the material resources needed to achieve an adequate
standard of living in the society in which we live."
The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of
Scotland, the Methodist Church, and the United Reformed Church
raised similar objections. The public-issues policy adviser for the
Methodist Church, Paul Morrison, said that the proposed measure was
"a confusion of targets, measures, and, most disturbingly, the
Government's beliefs about what causes poverty, backed by very
little solid evidence".
The Church Urban Fund warned that creating an index
"involves many subjective decisions that are then obscured from
view when the final number is published".
The charity Child Poverty Action Group also expressed
concern: "A composite indicator, through the selection and possible
weighting of its elements, encodes a view of poverty which is then
difficult to contest. Consequently, it closes down, rather than
opens up, critical discussions about poverty."
In an article for the magazine Children &
Young People Now, the charity's chief executive, Alison
Graham, said: "It makes sense . . . that the Government would want
to develop a measure that is less sensitive to social-security cuts
in order to obscure the effect that these are having on the lives
of vulnerable children."