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Churches warn of ‘fatal flaws’ in child-poverty plan

22 February 2013


'Care in art':  A piece of artwork that represents young people's views of living in care was unveiled in Rochdale last Friday. Supported by the Children's Society, the artists, aged from seven to 19, painted their response to questions about their experience. It will be displayed at the Touchstones Rochdale museum and Balderstone Library until 16 March.

'Care in art':  A piece of artwork that represents young people's views of living in care was unveiled in Rochdale last Friday. Su...

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 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."


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