Child Poverty Pledge ‘Needs Extra £3.8bn’

The Government must spend an extra £3.8bn if it is to reach its target of halving child poverty by 2010, a leading charity has warned.

A report by Barnardo’s, which was published yesterday, said that work to alleviate child poverty has stalled and there is little chance of Labour achieving its ambitious pledge unless more money is invested.

There are still 170,000 children in Wales who are living in poverty.

To ensure that child poverty is halved by 2010, Barnardo’s wants incoming Prime Minister Gordon Brown to commit an extra lump sum to the £1bn already earmarked for tax credits in the 2007 budget.

The charity also wants the next Welsh Assembly Government to take specific action to address child poverty, including giving families who qualify for free school meals compensation to cover school holidays.

Andy James, assistant director of Barnardo’s Cymru, said, “Poverty is a real blight on families’ and young people’s lives – it suppresses any hope and ambition.

“Halving child poverty was a key political pledge for the Government to make and with the right commitment and spending it is achievable.

“But in terms of the government’s current commitment, the target will not be met.”

Investing more money to raise tax credits will save 200,000 children in the UK from a lack of food, clothing and adequate living conditions, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, quoted in the Barnardo’s report It Doesn’t Happen Here – The Reality of Child Poverty in the UK.

But to remove a further 900,000 children from the 2.8 million in the UK living in poverty, more action is needed.

The IFS estimates that the target could be achieved by increasing the child element of child tax credit by a further £11 a week at 2007 prices and giving families an extra £20 per week for the third and subsequent children through the family element of the child tax credit.

To do so, the Government will have to spend £3.8bn more than planned.

Mr James said, “We are calling on the UK Government to invest £3.8bn – this is one fifth of 1% of the Government’s total expenditure or less than half what it intends to spend on the Olympics.”

And Martin Narey(corr), Barnardo’s chief executive and chairman of End Child Poverty, said, “Barnardo’s witnesses every day the impact on children and families of living in grinding poverty.

“Children missing out on what most would consider essentials – a good diet, a warm home, school trips, books, birthday treats. Children suffering bullying, isolation and a deep poverty of ambition.

“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.”

In addition to extra investment from the UK government, Barnardo’s Cymru believes that the next Welsh Assembly Government can make a significant difference if all government funding and programmes benefit the poorest children the most.

Other options include extending access to high-quality childcare by ensuring adequate funding to sustain childcare provision in disadvantaged communities and tackling financial hardship during the school holidays.

This would see families whose children get free school meals compensated for the loss of these during the school holidays, and ensuring that affordable and age-appropriate holiday activities and childcare is readily available for all children.

A further step would be to tackle fuel poverty by working with the private sector to make sure that all customers are on the cheapest tariffs for utilities and are not penalised if they cannot take advantage of payment schemes such as direct debit.