Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission responds to Government plans

“Not remotely realistic.” This is how chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission Alan Milburn described the Government’s plan for tackling child poverty last week. In a scathing response to the Government’s consultation, the Commission concludes that current plans fall well short of what is required to achieve it’s legal obligation to reduce the child poverty figures.

The Consultation on the Child Poverty Strategy 2014-17 was published in March and outlined its key objectives:

  • To support families into work and increase their earnings
  • To improve living standards
  • To prevent poor children becoming poor adults through raising their educational attainment.

The Child Poverty Act 2010 was brought into being when it was clear that the UK was missing targets set in 1999 by Tony Blair to eradicate child poverty by 2020. The Act’s purpose is to ‘define success in eradicating child poverty and create a framework to monitor progress at a national and local level’. As a result of the Act, governments are required to publish a strategy every three years and report annually on progress. The Act describes four targets that the UK must meet by 2020:

  1. To reduce the proportion of children who live in relative low income (in families with incomes below 60% of the median) to less than 10%
  2. To reduce the proportion of children who live in material deprivation and have a low income to less than 5%
  3. To reduce the proportion of children that experience long periods of relative poverty
  4. To reduce the proportion of children who live become an income threshold fixed in real terms to less than 5%

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s response to Government’s latest consultation is far reaching. The Commission believes that the Government has not taken the opportunity to revise plans and work towards meeting the 2020 targets, and failed to change any of the findings of the Commission’s State of the Nation report in 2013, which concluded that both absolute and relative poverty are set to increase significantly and the 2020 target will be missed by a long way.

They summarised the Government’s focus into two key areas: getting more parents into work and breaking the cycle of poverty through raising attainment of poor children. The second aim, they concede, has seen progress already – in 2005-06 only 19.6% of children eligible for Free School Meals achieved 5 good  GCSEs, in 2012-13 this was up to 38.9% – but the effects of this progress will not be seen until past 2020.

A recent report by the Commission found that the Government’s emphasis on “supporting families into work and increasing their earnings” was simply not enough by itself. It will take a massive effort to get enough parents into work to offset the falls in benefits and tax credits that low income families are facing. The problem with getting people into low paid jobs (and living below the poverty line) is that they often get stuck there – three quarters of people who were in low paid jobs in 2002 were still in low paid jobs in 2012 – that is not social mobility.

The key problems identified by the Commission were:

  • Lack of any clear measures
  • Absence of a step by step plan
  • Failure to engage with independent projection that poverty is still set to increase
  • Lack of new action on in-work poverty
  • Limited action to mobilise society-wide efforts to tackle poverty
  • Ignoring the impacts of additional welfare cuts of an expected £12 billion from 2015 onwards

On current projections, 3.5 million children will be in absolute poverty by 2020. “The farce of ministers proving unable to agree on how to measure poverty after rubbishing existing measures is particularly lamentable.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said, “Under this Government there are 300,000 fewer children living in relative income poverty and 100,000 less in workless poor families… But there is a lot more to do – and we are getting on with it.”

Helen Robinson