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Milburn warns on poverty

13 June 2014


A "YAWNING chasm" separates the Government's ambition to end child poverty by 2020, and the reality, which is that 3.5 million children will be in absolute poverty, Alan Milburn warned on Monday.

Mr Milburn chairs the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, which monitors the progress of the Government in meeting the 2020 target, inherited from the previous government.

This week, the Commission issued a stark assessment of the Government's new child-poverty strategy, which "falls far short of what is needed". The targets would be missed by a "considerable distance", it suggested. Ending child poverty mainly through getting more parents into work was not "remotely realistic".

Speaking on the Today programme on Radio 4 on Monday, Mr Milburn said: "There is a yawning chasm which seems to be growing every wider between the ambition of ending child poverty and the reality of it increasing." He spoke of "a failure to acknowledge that the nature of poverty in our country has changed quite dramatically over the last few decades.

"It is the working poor today, not the workless or the work- shy, who make up the vast majority of the poor in our country."

The report acknowledges that the Government has made progress in one of its approaches to tackling child poverty: poor children are getting better school results. Its second approach - enabling more parents to enter work and earn more - is singled out for criticism, however. Although there are more parents in employment than ever before, many remain in low-paid unemployment. Three-quarters of those in low-paid jobs in 2002 were still on low pay in 2012.

Meeting the current child-poverty targets within the current tax and benefit system would require almost 100 per cent of parents to be employed, in addition to big increases in their working hours, the report notes. This was "implausible, if not impossible", Mr Milburn said.

The Child Poverty Act 2010 commits the Government to ensuring that less than ten per cent of children live in relative poverty by 2020 (in households with income lower than 60 per cent of the median), and that less than five per cent live in absolute poverty (in households with income lower than 60 per cent of the median in 2010).In 2012, 17 per cent of children lived in relative poverty and 20 per cent in absolute poverty. The Commission's research suggests that, by 2020, this will rise to 21 per cent and 24 per cent respectively.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "Our strategy outlines plans to tackle the root causes of poverty, including worklessness . . . and educational failure. This approach is a better reflection of the reality of child poverty in the UK today. . .

"The commission's own research highlights the weaknesses of the current child-poverty measures - calculating poverty by income alone fails to address the issues which hold people back, and that's what we're tackling."

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