Charities Welcome Plans For Child Poverty Unit

Children’s charities have welcomed the government’s plans for a cross-departmental child poverty unit but say more funding is needed to halve child poverty by 2010.

Ministers admitted today the government has fallen behind in its battle against child poverty but it is hoped the new unit – which includes officials from both the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Children, Schools and Families – will improve policy coordination across Whitehall.

The work and pensions secretary, Peter Hain, said measures to coax stay-at-home parents back to work, such as affordable childcare and flexible working, were key to breaking the cycle of poverty for many youngsters.
Official figures show that 600,000 children have been lifted out of poverty since 1997, but Labour MPs and independent experts have warned the government it must accelerate progress towards its goal of eradicating child poverty by 2020.

Save the Children’s UK child poverty campaigns manager, Phillipa Hunt, said: “Save the Children has long been lobbying for greater cross-government coordination to tackle the pressing issues surrounding child poverty, so setting up a child poverty unit is a great step forward.”

But she added that an additional investment of £4bn was needed for the government to halve child poverty by 2010.

“Next year’s budget will be its first big test for this new government unit,” she said.

Charities supporting families with disabled children were pleased with the announcement.

Marion Lowe, chief executive of the Family Fund, the country’s largest charitable grant giver to severely disabled children, said: “We welcome this joined-up approach and Peter Hain’s commitment that the circumstances of families with a disabled child will be taken into account.”

The TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, urged the government to raise taxes on super-rich non-domiciles to lift children out of poverty.

“However successful the new unit is, the government will not hit this target unless it commits to increasing tax credits and benefits for children by £4bn a year – a tougher tax regime for the non-domiciled super-rich could easily raise this sum.”

The shadow work and pensions secretary, Chris Grayling, dismissed the proposal as a headline-catching gimmick: “The trouble with this government is that you always have to read the small print behind an announcement like this to find out what is really going on.

“The truth is the number of children living in poverty is going up not down, and ministers are failing to get to grips with the issues that underlie child poverty, like the escalation of family breakdown.”

The Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman, Danny Alexander, said: “Less bureaucracy is needed to end child poverty, not more. At the current disgracefully slow pace, child poverty will not be abolished until 2049.

“Joined-up government means nothing if ministers aren’t prepared to change policy too.

“Complex and bureaucratic means-tested benefits are causing hardship and debt, and reducing incentives to work.

“We need an immediate increase in child benefit, combined with new resources for educating the most disadvantaged children, if we are to break the cycle of deprivation.”