The Church of England has questioned the Government’s proposals to redefine the way child poverty is measured in the UK, as the End Child Poverty campaign reveals that almost half of children in one parliamentary constituency are living in poverty. Such an approach would take the focus of the child poverty strategy away from its core objective of improving the living standards of the poorest families.
In response to an open consultation, the Church’s Mission and Public Affairs Council suggests that poverty is fundamentally about people lacking the material resources to meet minimum needs by society’s standards. Poverty, as currently measured, has been shown to have damaging effects on children’s lives and future life chances.
The Departments for Education and Work and Pensions are proposing a new multi-dimensional measure of child poverty that also looks at whether children have access to a good education, a decent home, stable family, and parents who are working and in good health. These are vitally important to children’s lives - and key priorities in their own right - but the church’s response argues that combining all this information into a single index confuses the causes and effects of poverty, with poverty itself, and would be difficult to explain or interpret.
The consultation paper argues that a multi-dimensional measure of poverty would encourage a focus on the root causes of poverty, as opposed to cash transfers aimed at lifting households above a particular level of income. However, The Rt Reverend Tim Stevens, the Bishop of Leicester, notes that, “The real issue is committing to, and resourcing, an effective long-term strategy to tackle child poverty, rather than finding alternative ways of measuring it.”
Along with its partners in the End Child Poverty Coalition, the Mission and Public Affairs Council believes that the existing set of child poverty measures is the best available, and intends to continue using these measures to assess the Government’s progress in this area.
Bishop Tim is seeking greater clarity on the status of the existing child poverty measures in a series of written questions to the House of Lords: “It would be worrying if the Government were intending to replace or downplay the legally binding targets for reducing child poverty by 2020. With the recent cuts in welfare, it is especially important to be able to monitor the impact on the numbers of children growing up in poverty.”
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Steve Jenkins tel 020 7898 1326
Notes to editors:
The response to the consultation can be read at http://www.churchofengland.org/media/1669722/measuringchildpovertyresp.pdf
End Child Poverty research http://www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/news/news/new-local-child-poverty-figures-published/23/193 .
1. The Child Poverty Act 2010 sets out four measures of child poverty: a relative poverty (or low-income) measure; a combined low income and material deprivation measure; an absolute poverty (or low income) measure; and a persistent poverty measure. Of these, the first is the most commonly cited measure, and defines a household as being in poverty if its net income is less than 60 per cent of the median household income, after adjusting for differences in household composition. In 2010/11 (the latest data available), 18 per cent of children were living in poverty by this measure; the target is to reduce this to less than 10 per cent by 2020.
2. The Government’s report, “Measuring Child Poverty: A Consultation on Better Measures of Child Poverty” was launched on 15 November 2012 with a deadline for responses on 15 February 2013. The paper sets out outline proposals for a single multi-dimensional measure of child poverty, combining information on eight dimensions: income and material deprivation; worklessness; unmanageable debt; poor housing; parental skill level; access to quality education; family stability; and parental health.
3. The Mission and Public Affairs Council of the Church of England is the body responsible for overseeing research and comment on social and political issues on behalf of the Church. The Council comprises a representative group of bishops, clergy and lay people with interest and expertise in the relevant areas, and reports to the General Synod through the Archbishops’ Council.
4. The Mission and Public Affairs Council is also a member of the End Child Poverty Coalition (ECPC), which brings together 150 children’s charities, welfare organisations, faith groups and trade unions, united in our vision of a UK free of child poverty.
5. The response to this consultation is informed by a roundtable event hosted in Church House on the 15 January with a group of 30 academics and children’s charities.
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