Child Poverty Increase ‘A Moral Disgrace’

The number of children in the UK living in relative poverty increased by 100,000 last year – a “moral disgrace” that leaves the Government’s policy objectives “in tatters”, campaigners said.

Official statistics showed the number of children living below the poverty threshold rose for the first time in almost a decade in 2005/06, up to 2.8 million from 2.7 million.

This figure increases to 3.8 million when housing costs – such as rent or mortgage payments – were factored in, an increase of 200,000 from comparable figures for the previous year.

Campaigners seized on the data as evidence that the Government was now destined to miss its key targets of halving child poverty by 2010 and eradicating it by 2020.

Save the Children called for urgent action and massive investment to get policy back on track, while political opponents called for a completely new approach to tackle the problem of poverty.

Since the benchmark year of 1998/99, 600,000 children have been lifted out of relative poverty – defined as households on less than 60 per cent of average income.

But to adhere to an expressed goal of halving child poverty by 2010, ministers will now have to help an additional 1.1 million children above the relative poverty line by the end of the decade, with the figure rising to 1.6 million after housing costs.

Colette Marshall, UK director of Save the Children, said: “The child poverty target, supposedly one of the Government’s chief priorities, is now in serious jeopardy.

“If the Government is genuinely committed to the target of halving child poverty by 2010 then urgent action and investment is needed, not just the piecemeal measures that have been announced so far.”

Barnardo’s chief executive Martin Narey called today’s figures a “moral disgrace”. Political opponents seized on the statistics as evidence of Government failure.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne called for a completely new approach to tackling poverty, based on social responsibility.

“Gordon Brown’s approach of simply throwing money at the problem has failed,” he added.

The Liberal Democrats’ work and pensions spokesman David Laws said: “These figures are dreadful for the Government – with child poverty rising to almost a third of all UK children.

“Poverty in Britain is increasing again, and social mobility seems to have been falling.

“The Government’s ambition to cut child poverty now looks in tatters – with Labour likely to miss its 2010 child poverty target by over 1 million children.”

The Government unveiled new measures to get its child poverty policy back on track following today’s disappointing figures.

A “refocusing” of £150 million would see the New Deal for Lone Parents scheme extended, while a New Deal for Families will be piloted.

The Government also pledged a widening of the in-work credit scheme while expressing initial support for proposals that would require lone parents to look for work once their youngest child reaches 12.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions John Hutton said: “The measures announced in the Budget and built on today will help take hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty in the years ahead and emphasise the importance of work as a sustainable route out of poverty for families in Britain.”