Labour Must Focus On Child Poverty, Says Minister

A cabinet-level policy review was told yesterday that Labour must end the current “soulless” discussion of child poverty and make its eradication the galvanising feature of the party’s fourth term.

The proposal was put to a Downing Street seminar by the welfare minister, Jim Murphy, and follows a previous cabinet-level seminar at which ministers were told they needed to do more to equalise skill and capital assets if underlying causes of poverty are to be attacked.

The chancellor, Gordon Brown, met child poverty campaigners on Tuesday. The activity will be seen by the Tories as a sign that the government is unsettled by David Cameron’s commitment to tackle relative poverty.

Ministers have admitted that social mobility has slowed under Labour, even if 700,000 children have been lifted out of poverty. The government measures poverty as the number of children living in households with less than 60% of median income, both before and after housing costs are taken into account.

The target gained a new notoriety when the Conservatives surprisingly announced they also supported reducing not just absolute but relative poverty. Some independent experts sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimate that the government can meet its goal of halving child poverty by spending an extra £4.3bn in 2010-11, largely by increasing the child element of the child tax credit by 31%.

The seminar, part of the Downing Street-Treasury policy review, heard Mr Murphy urge the setting up of a permanent interdepartmental panel to be chaired by the prime minister, with powers to monitor all potential legislation.

Mr Murphy said that if the proposed legislation failed to contribute to this goal, the relevant department would not be allowed to press ahead with the proposed bill unless the department proposed offsetting measures that would cut poverty.

Mr Murphy admits the government will not meets its target of halving child poverty by 2010 on current policy, let alone eradicating such poverty by 2020.

At the seminar, he argued: “Over 20 years, the charity of Live Aid in 1985 has been replaced by the self-dignity of Live 8 in 2005. However, there has not been a similar change in in vocabulary in the conversation about domestic poverty.

“In many ways, the discussion about UK poverty is often stuck in the non-aspirational and charitable era of the 1980s. There is also a democratic disconnection on domestic child poverty. Too often the debate is soulless and focused on government targets and not real people’s lives.”