BISHOPS welcomed the Government's restated commitment to
tackling child poverty, but said that "clear leadership" and
"cross-party consensus" were needed if ambitious targets were to be
The Government unveiled its new strategy last week, but a
consensus appeared unlikely at the outset, as even at its launch
there were accusations of squabbling by ministers, and the policy
was branded a "missed opportunity" by the Prime Minister's
social-mobility tsar, Alan Milburn.
The Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, wanted to
introduce a new measure of child poverty that takes into account
education and family issues, including parental ill health and
worklessness, but the Treasury is said to have blocked the
The strategy restates the Government's commitment to ending
child poverty by 2020, and lists a range of existing measures -
from free school meals to support for childcare - to help to
achieve that. Experts have warned, however, that child poverty is
likely to grow and not fall in the UK, owing to the Government's
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has predicted that by 2020
child poverty in the UK will have increased from 3.5 million to 4.7
million, and that the significant driver behind this increase will
be the tax and welfare changes introduced since 2010.
A joint statement from the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd
David Urquhart, and Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens,
said that "much more" needed to be done. It said: "The measures
announced are a step in the right direction, though much more will
need to be done to enable us to come close to achieving this very
ambitious target. As the economy recovers, we encourage the
Government to pursue policies to ensure that the proceeds of growth
will be shared by low income families with children, and by other
groups that have been most adversely affected by the
The chief executive of the Children's Society, Matthew Reed,
said that the strategy fell "far short of what is needed to prevent
a significant increase in the number of children living in poverty
"Too many of the strategy's measures will fail to end child
poverty. Some will make the problem worse. The inclusion of the
bedroom tax in this strategy is alarming. We know from our direct
work with families that this will only make children poorer, for
example by displacing more families.
"Much more is needed to help the millions of families across the
UK that every day face harsh choices between heating and eating.
Making free school meals available to all children in infant
schools is a significant step forward; yet 500,000 children over
the age of seven living on the breadline will still miss out."
The Methodist Church, United Reformed Church, and Baptist Union
issued a joint statement saying that the Government's plan was not
The policy adviser for the Joint Public Issues Team of the three
Churches, Paul Morrison, said: "Child poverty is set to increase
for the rest of the decade and beyond, and this strategy will not
"Perversely the strategy trumpets measures that will actually
increase child poverty. The Benefit Cap and the Bedroom Tax are
mentioned as poverty reduction strategies; yet we know that already
both measures are driving families into poverty.
"By 2020 one in three of our children is set to live in poverty.
But rather than addressing this fundamental problem, the strategy
restates old policies - some positive, some negative, but none
substantial enough to grasp the seriousness of the challenge ahead.
For families which can't afford to heat their homes, or feed and
clothe their children adequately, this strategy is a wasted
The RC Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said
on BBC TV's The Andrew Marr Show that welfare reforms were
"punitive" and forcing families into "destitution". The
social-action arm of the RC Church also said the Government needed
to do more and that many children in poverty already have working
Wilmslow inquiry. Churches in the Wilmslow
constituency of the Chancellor, George Osborne, held a meeting to
look at the reasons behind welfare reform and the impact that the
reforms were having in the area. They pledged to work across the
churches to stop the "negative ways" in which people talked about
those receiving welfare.