June 9, 2014 12:16 am

One in five children to live in poverty, says official commission

The coalition’s flagship welfare reform programme is failing to restore momentum to the drive to tackle child poverty, according to a damning assessment by a government-appointed commission.

About one in five children, a total of 3.5m, will be living in poverty by 2020, the year the government had vowed to end it, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission says in a report published on Monday.

By making work pay for those on benefits, and requiring people in jobs to raise their working hours as a condition of receiving it, Universal Credit has been presented by ministers as a way of correcting a slippage on its targets to reduce child poverty.

However, the research suggests that achieving the 2020 targets within the current tax and benefit system would require an employment rate among parents of close to 100 per cent combined with greater increases in the working hours of families in poverty than those required under UC.

Even if the UK achieved “OECD-beating employment rates” the child poverty target would be missed, says the report which is based on research carried out by Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, and Landman Economics.

The commission, led by Alan Milburn, former Labour health secretary, with Lady Shephard, former Conservative education secretary as deputy chairman, says the £12bn of cuts to the welfare budget expected in the next parliament are “the elephant in the room in the draft [poverty] strategy”.

The commission’s research shows “that the gap between the objective of making child poverty history and the reality is becoming ever wider”, said Mr Milburn. “The farce of ministers proving unable to agree on how to measure poverty after rubbishing existing measures is particularly lamentable,” he added.

The DWP insisted it remained committed to its goal of ending child poverty by 2020. “Under this government there are 300,000 fewer children living in relative income poverty and 100,000 fewer children in workless poor families. We have just seen the largest rise in employment for over 40 years and unemployment is falling. But there is more to do – and we are getting on with that job,” it said.

The commission’s own research “highlights the weaknesses of the current child poverty measures – calculating poverty by income alone fails to address the issues which hold people back and that’s what we’re tackling,” added the department.

Mr Milburn said leaders of all political parties needed to come clean about what they plan to do to hit the targets, or what progress they could deliver if they expected to fall short.

A state of the nation report published by the commission last year called for a fairer intergenerational sharing of welfare cuts and a new role for the Office for Budget Responsibility in assessing the social mobility and child poverty impact of budgets and ensuring that cumulative impact assessments of future cuts were carried out.

It also urged action on in-work poverty, including clearer cross-government strategies to tackle low pay and pay progression.

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