Current policies ‘will not end child poverty’

The government would have to spend an additional £28 billion to meet its target of ending child poverty by 2020 under current plans, according to a new report.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation finds that the current policy of giving money directly to low income families in the form of means-tested tax credits would require a massive increase in investment to have the desired effect.

It says that at current levels of spending, child poverty is only likely to be reduced by 25 per cent on 1998 levels by 2020. This was the target for last year, but the government announced in March that it had only secured a reduction of 23 per cent.

The think tank says an extra £4 billion targeted at poorer households could see the number of children living below the breadline cut by half by 2010 but warns that only investment equivalent to 1.6 per cent of GDP could end it altogether by 2020.

As a result, it warns that the government’s attempts to tackle the problem, which affects up to 3.5 million children, must go beyond state distribution of wealth.

The government’s welfare to work programme is having an effect, the foundation says, but this would diminish over time. It calls for more effort in improving education among disadvantaged groups to ensure the parents of 2020 are equipped for the workforce.

It also recommends tougher action on reducing gender pay inequalities to cut the number of low-paid mothers, and the introduction of more family-friendly employment policies to help low-income couples get back to work.

“Our findings show that the bold ambition of ending child poverty is achievable, but a strong commitment needs to be sustained for a long period. These targets can not be met through benefits alone,” said report author Donald Hirsch.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) welcomed the report, saying it highlighted the “significant inroads” made in cutting the number of children in poverty by 600,000 since 1998.

“We know in order to meet our future child poverty targets there is much more to do. That is why we have said we are redoubling our efforts and examining our child poverty strategy in order that we can build on the progress we have made so far,” she said.

Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman David Laws urged the government to put greater emphasis on helping people into employment, tackling the skills shortage and addressing issues such as unfair council tax and lack of affordable housing.

And while the Conservatives also highlighted the importance of getting parents into work, shadow work and pensions secretary Philip Hammond noted that the problems at the Child Support Agency (CSA) were not helping the problem.

The agency, which organises maintenance payments for children of separated parents, has built up £3.5 billion of unpaid debt and has a backlog of 330,000 cases.

“Sorting out the chaos in the CSA and getting money flowing would help lone parents with care back into work and would have a big impact on the high levels of child poverty in single-parent families,” Mr Hammond said.