The government’s child poverty strategy needs to be more child-focused, more poverty-focused, and more strategic
This week, the official consultation closed on, potentially, the Coalition’s most important social policy objective– the new child poverty strategy.
Running from 2014-17, the draft strategy covers the critical period during which we’d expect to see a big push to meet the statutory target to end child poverty by 2020 – especially given Iain Duncan Smith’s recent reaffirmation that he both remains committed to the target, and expects it to be met.
The good news is the draft strategy does contain some real positives, such as universal free school meals for infant school children, and an increase in childcare support under universal credit to 85 per cent. It offers a useful framework for anti-poverty policy, through its three themes of families and work, improving living standards, and raising the educational attainment of poor children.
For all that, though, it is ultimately a disappointment. A successful child poverty strategy requires a coherent package of policies, and a structure within which to measure their impact, including interim milestones, targets, and estimates of impact. Rather than offering such a roadmap, however, the policies within the strategy too often form a scattergun approach, most of them a collection of pre-existing measures, not always especially poverty-related. Many of the proposals – cutting fuel duty, for example, or capping rail price rises – aren’t even targeted at children.
In other words, the child poverty strategy, as it currently stands, is neither sufficiently focused on children, sufficiently focused on poverty, nor sufficiently strategic.
No wonder, then, that child poverty is projected to rise by 900,000 by 2020 – meaning that not only are the Act’s overall targets likely to be missed by a considerable margin, but that past progress towards those targets is set to be reversed.
In our response, CPAG have outlined the areas a successful strategy needs to cover:
- We need a plan to tackle low pay – an issue which the government acknowledges but on which it offers very little. A focus on second earner employment will help to improve family incomes, by tapping into the skills and experience of some of the million missing women in the labour market.
- We need to see a stable settlement for the value of children’s benefits, given the international evidence which shows that family benefits are key to poverty reduction in even the countries with the most equal market outcomes .
- We need to promote take-up and tackle maladministration of existing benefits so that families receive the support to which they’re entitled.
- We need to protect local welfare assistance schemes, which replaced parts of the Social Fund. Local authorities must be funded to deliver on their duties.
All in all, if the government is as serious as it claims about fighting child poverty, it needs to up its game.