Child Poverty Target ‘Will Be Missed’

The government will fail to halve child poverty in Britain by 2010 unless it spends another £3.8bn, a children’s charity has warned. Barnardo’s said ministers were a long way from honouring the pledge Tony Blair made eight years ago. The charity’s research shows one million children who should have been lifted out of deprivation by the end of the decade will still be in poverty.

{mosimage}Ministers say they have made progress in reaching the target. Barnardo’s warns that while the number of children living in poor families fell slowly but steadily in the late 1990s, progress has now stalled. To meet the 2010 target, the charity says the government needs to invest a lump sum in addition to the £1bn already earmarked for tax credits in the 2007 budget.

The charity said the required figure was less than half the cost of staging the Olympics and represented less than half the £9bn paid in City bonuses last year. But the report did congratulate Mr Blair for his original “historic and ambitious” target of halving child poverty from 3.4 million to 1.7 million by the end of the decade.

Some 600,000 children have so far been lifted out of deprivation since the pledge was made, the charity says. Martin Narey, Barnardo’s chief executive and chairman of End Child Poverty, said the future prime minister, Gordon Brown, still had a chance to continue the battle against child poverty started by Mr Blair.

“He has a unique opportunity,” he said. “His actions as prime minister could make the United Kingdom a better place for our children.” He said poverty caused children to miss out on what “most would consider essentials”. He added: “These effects can last a lifetime – children growing up in poverty have worse health, worse exam results and, very frequently, will end their adult lives still in poverty.”

Save the Children said the report’s conclusion showed the government was “dangerously off-track” in hitting its own target. Colette Marshall, the charity’s UK director, said: “At this rate, they will miss it by miles.”

And Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman David Laws said the study showed the government was “running out of ideas” on poverty.

In the report, It Doesn’t Happen Here – The Reality of Child Poverty in the UK, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimated that the 2010 target could be reached if the child element of child tax credit was increased by £11 a week at 2007 prices.

In addition, families would also require an extra £20 a week for their third and all subsequent children through the family element of the child tax credit, the IFS said. This would mean the government spending £3.8bn more than it had planned for.

Other problems faced by low-income families highlighted in the report were a lack of skills for employment, poor childcare facilities and funding, rising utility bills and debts.

Barnardo’s called for a UK commission on ending child poverty, more funding for childcare and schemes to prevent low-income families being penalised by private utilities companies if they cannot take advantage of payment schemes such as direct debit.