Eradicating child poverty by 2020:An aspirational target?Kathryn PotterThe current difficult economic and fiscal situation, coupled with the failure of the previous UKGovernment to reach its 2010-11 target of halving child poverty, could mean that the ambitioustarget of eradicating child poverty in the UK by 2020-21 remains an aspiration.The challenge of eradicating childpovertyThere has been broad cross party consensus formore than a decade about the need to end childpoverty. Since 1999, both the UK and WelshGovernments have brought forward a raft ofpolicies and strategies aimed at tackling theproblem, but the numbers of children living inpoverty remains stubbornly resistant to change.Binding legislative targets have now been placedon the UK Government to eradicate childpoverty by 2020.• more likely to have low earnings, and soreduce tax revenue; and• more likely to be offenders, creating coststo the criminal justice system and welfaremore widely.Comparative research into thewell-being of childrencontinues to show that othercountries do much better thanthe UKThe numbers of children livingin poverty remains stubbornlyresistant to changeChild poverty is something about which childrenthemselves can do little because they lackeconomic, social and political power. It is acomplex, multi-dimensional problem, impactingnot only on the day-to-day lives of children buton their life chances.The social and financial costs of child povertyoutlast childhood and cost not just theindividual, but society as a whole. Research fromthe Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found thatadults who have experienced childhood povertyare:The proportion of children living in poverty inWales has fluctuated from 36 per cent (in 1996-97 to 1998-99) to its lowest point of 28 per cent(in 2003-04 to 2005-06). Child poverty iscurrently on the rise with 32 per cent of childrenliving in poverty in Wales (approximately192,000-200,000 children). There are alsoconcerns about severe child poverty, withresearch commissioned and published by Savethe Children indicating that Wales has a higherproportion of children living in severe childpoverty (14 per cent) than England (13per cent),or Scotland or Northern Ireland (both 9per cent).Comparative research into the well-being ofchildren continues to show that other countriesdo much better than the UK.• less likely to work and so create moredemands on benefits and employmentservices;
Why are the UK Government targetsimportant for Wales?The UK Government recently put in placelegislation (Child Poverty Act 2010) which setslegally binding targets committing current andfuture UK governments to reducing relativechild poverty and absolute child poverty by2020-21. This kind of legislation setting legallybinding targets for governments is unusual andis a relatively recent phenomenon in the UK.Relative poverty – to reduce theproportion of children who live in familieswith income below 60per cent of themedian to less than 10 per cent.Absolute poverty – to reduce theproportion of children who live below anincome threshold fixed in real terms toless than 5 per cent.Can the targets be met?Whilst the targets are not zero, they are at a levelwhich would be comparable to the lowest inEurope and are therefore seen to be consistentwith the ‘eradication’ of child poverty. The lowestchild poverty recorded in any European countrywas 5 per cent. If the child poverty rate in the UKwere reduced to 5 per cent, around 600,000children would still be in poverty.According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS),meeting the targets in 2020–21 looks extremelydifficult, requiring the biggest fall in relative childpoverty after 2013–14 since at least 1961.Forecasting the impact on poverty of the UKGovernment tax and benefit reforms, the IFS hasfound:In 2011-12:• negligible impact on child poverty;In 2012-13:Whilst it is the duty of the Secretary of State toensure the targets are met in relation to the UK,they are important for Wales because they applyto the UK as a whole. The Welsh Government hassaid it recognises the importance of the UKtargets and will use the policy levers at itsdisposal to aim to eradicate child poverty by2020. The Act itself places duties on Scotlandand Northern Ireland to publish child povertystrategies setting out their contribution tomeeting the targets. The Act didn’t need toplace this duty on Wales because Wales hadenacted its own legislation prior to the ChildPoverty Act which already imposedcorresponding duties on Ministers in Wales.• increase absolute / relative child poverty byabout 200,000 / 100,000;In 2013-14:• increase absolute / relative poverty byabout 300,000 / 200,000 children.Unemployment is a root cause of child poverty,as is in-work poverty, and it remains the casethat the way out of poverty involves paid work.Forecasts of job losses from spending cuts, andthe high dependence Wales has on the publicsector, make the prospects of achievingincreased employment in the short termdifficult.
The road to 2020Child poverty will undoubtedly remain a highpolitical priority as the UK Government and thedevolved administrations work towards the 2020targets. But there are real concerns about thescale of the challenge; about how realistic thetargets are in the current economic climate; andabout the direction of policy. There could be arisk for example that politicians will favourpolicies which have an immediate impact onparental income over less predictable and longerterm responses which mitigate the impact ofpoverty on children, or improve poor children'swell-being. This is because income-basedmeasures and targets of child poverty have beenhighlighted over all other measures of child wellbeing.Balancing the need to show a reduction inthe number of children living in child poverty,with improving longer term outcomes and childwell-being will be a key challenge.Neither the UK nor the Welsh Government cantackle the problem alone so it will clearly requirea dual approach. Not having control of many ofthe key policy levers to address child poverty -specifically non-devolved areas of taxation andbenefits – means it may well be difficult toachieve income based targets within relativelyshort timescales in Wales. But Wales does haveconsiderable powers over social policy areaswhich affect children’s well-being such aseducation and health; it has a rights-basedapproach to children’s policy; and it has a strongfocus on mitigating the effects of child poverty.These elements could have a more effectivelonger term effect on the life chances of youngpeople in Wales.
Article taken fromResearch Service publicationKey Issuesfor theFourth AssemblyThis document has been specially prepared forAssembly Members by the Research Service. It sets outsome of the key issues likely to matter to Membersduring the Fourth Assembly.Key Issues for the Fourth AssemblyFor more publications from the Research Service, see our pages on the Assembly website:www.assemblywales.org/bus-assembly-publications-research.htmResearch ServiceNational Assembly for WalesCardiff BayCF99 1NAEmail: Research.Service@wales.gov.ukTwitter: @NAWResearch