THE Government's plans to
change the way in which child poverty is measured are "fatally
flawed", Churches have warned.
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 inequality".
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
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."