There is more to poverty than income. But it still counts.

Posted by Dan Breslin / Monday 06 July 2015 / Inequality Cost of living

Child poverty has certainly not been far from the headlines in the last few weeks. The latest official child poverty statistics came hot on the heels of warnings from some think tanks that numbers are going to increase significantly by 2020. 

Less than a week later, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announced that the government are planning to make significant reforms to the Child Poverty Act 2010. This Act makes eradicating child poverty by 2020 a legal obligation for government and set targets for progress toward this goal. 

Coming so soon after the official stats showed little progress toward the 2020 targets, talk of changing child poverty measures couldn’t help but set alarm bells ringing. No sooner had the Secretary of State finished his statement to the House of Commons the phrase ‘moving the goalposts’ was awash on social media.

Are the current measures perfect? Perhaps not. Is there room for improving how we measure and tackle child poverty in a holistic manner? Most certainly. Poverty is complex and multifaceted. It is not easily understood or simple to address. We need to acknowledge this because everyone – politicians, academics, think tanks, children’s charities and the public - need to identify and agree on the main drivers of poverty. Drivers that we can all work together to address.

To achieve this we need a public debate. We can’t rush to conclusion or avoid difficult discussions. We won’t succeed in tackling child poverty if we turn a blind eye to topics we don’t want to hear about or avoid interrogating different proposals. 

For example, suggestions that unemployment should be included as a new measure pays little attention to the number of families in low paid work who are struggling to get by. Including family breakdown could easily stigmatise separating couples and yet fail to fully reflect the wider factors that push them into poverty.  

These are just a starting point. We need to think carefully before making sweeping changes to the Child Poverty Act 2010.

"We still experience poverty if we can’t afford things that society regard as essential"

David Cameron, 2006

We should be looking beyond just income measures if we really want to eradicate child poverty. But can we afford to lose a focus on income? Put simply, no. Downgrading income measures, or worryingly overlooking them entirely, doesn’t take into account the impact of not having enough money to cover day-to-day essentials. Our research shows that having enough money to put food on the table or pay rent are pressing concerns that have an enormous effect on children’s, young people and parents. When all is said and done, income still matters. 

It is hard to imagine anyone wanting children to have anything but a wonderful childhood. Whatever your view on how to measure poverty – and how to tackle it – at the heart is a belief that all children should have the best start in life. To do this we need to be applying as much focus to tackling the wider drivers or poverty as addressing its day-to-day reality.

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