There’s an urgent opportunity this week, to ask our MPs to insist that the Government continue measuring and tackling child poverty. Paul Morrison, Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church,explains why this is so important.
Please sign our e-action to ask your MP to ensure the Government continues to measure poverty.
Counting the number of families currently living in poverty will not cost the Government money (the Government has already promised to keep the Households Below Average Incomes survey, which gathers the necessary information). It will not prevent the Government from introducing its new ‘life chance measures’. It will not stop the Government tackling poverty in the way it sees fit.
It will simply ensure that we get a good estimate of how many families in the UK have trouble making ends meet.
In the next few weeks, MPs will be asked to vote to keep the existing child poverty measures. These measures look at family incomes, and what basic items families are unable to afford. It is hard to find anyone, lay or expert ,who does not think this is important information to have. It is illogical to think that you can claim to have successfully tackled poverty without reducing the number of such families – yet that is what the Government wants to be able to do. (I have blogged here on the importance of these measures and the widespread support they command.)
The Government’s arguments in favour of removing the child poverty measures simply do not hold water. The following assertions are taken from DWP minister Lord Freud’s speech during the Committee Stage of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill , but are representative of the Government’s overall position:
- The measurements “do not tackle the root causes of poverty”.
A child poverty measure can no more tackle the root causes of poverty than your bathroom scales can stop you gaining weight. A measure tells you how big a problem is and, over time, tells you if it is getting better or worse.
We desperately need to know if poverty is getting better or worse, so we know if policies are having a good or bad effect.
- Income measures incentivised previous Governments “to push people’s incomes £1 above the poverty line” and “to tackle the symptoms of poverty through expensive income transfers”.
This can be summed up as saying that the targets tempt the Government into doing things it does not want to do. There is a simpler and less damaging answer to these problems than stopping looking at the number of families in poverty – just resist the temptation!
Indeed, there is clear evidence that this is a temptation that is easy to resist. According to the widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), during the 2000s the child poverty targets had not tempted the Labour Government into a ‘poverty plus £1’ approach and there is no reason to believe the Coalition government adopted one either.
- “They do not reflect government action on raising attainment and improving life chances for disadvantaged children”.
Essentially, the poverty measures do not praise the Government’s current policies. Child poverty measures should praise the Government when there are fewer children in poverty, and in no other circumstances.
Government wants to “improve children’s life chances”, and asserts that GCSE results and parental employment are good measures of this. We all hope that Government’s attempts at improving children’s life chances succeed, but if parents are unable to make ends meet because their income is too low, the children are in poverty – irrespective of their qualifications or employment.
- “Income measures can provide only a partial reflection of a family’s economic well-being”.
The Government has put forward a huge range of technical criticisms. These are both valid and irrelevant. No family’s complete situation can be fully summed up by four facts – neither their financial status nor the more elusive ‘life chances’ of their children.
These measures are the best available and have proven themselves useful throughout the world. If we threw out measurements because they were less than perfect, the Government’s measures of economic growth, inflation and GDP would be placed on the pyre long before child poverty measures. (That is not to say they are bad or unhelpful economic measures – they are the best available, but measure really difficult things to capture in one number.)
Analysis by both the IFS and the Resolution Foundation indicates that poverty is set to rise massively as a direct result of changes to the benefits system. The Government disagrees, and says its policies will reduce child poverty. The Child Poverty Measures cost nothing, and for a Government confident of its predictions, there is absolutely no downside. It is hard not to be suspicious of the Government’s motivations.
We need to know how many children are growing up in families that are finding it difficult to make ends meet. We need to know if that number is getting bigger or smaller. Please use our e-action to ask your MP to ensure this happens.