Poor children, poor definition

Poor children, poor definition

This will be my last blog as Child Poverty Co-ordinator, and it comes as Government announces its plan to change the definition of child poverty - shockingly without even the pretense of consultation before bringing forward legislation.

The Government is confused. Probably becuase trying to derive policy through heavily dirtorting ideological lenses is confusing.  It has criticised the current measure - children in households below 60% of median income - as not focusing on the 'causes'. The Government proposes scrapping this in favour of a measure of educational performance and whether parents are working. There are two areas of confusion here - one about the breadth of the measure, the other about 'relative' versus 'absolute' poverty.

In terms of breadth of the measure, while clearly a good education and working parents are valuable things for children, they are just not measures of poverty. It is not just the Government that is confused on this point.  Many other people say that the definition of poverty as a financial measure is 'too narrow'.  I disagree: while there are many aspects to disadvantage - such as poor health, poor access to services, cultural barriers and so on - these are not, for me, aspects of poverty, they are areas of disadvantage (in part caused by poverty) that can - and should - be measured and reported on.  But we need a measure of poverty that focuses on the distribution of wealth.      

By all means, measure (as we already do) levels of children in workless housseholds and try to make it easier for parents to get work. But don't try to kid us that a child's life improves if their parents start going out to work, while the amount of money coming in stays the same. By all means, measure (as we already do) children's educational attainment levels, and try to improve them especially for the poorest children.  But don't try to tell us that a good school can overcome all effects of growning up in poverty, when we know that poor health, bad and overcrowded housing, discrimination and many other aspects of poverty can hold even the brightest kids back.

So, yes measure wider aspects of disadvantage, but do this as well as, not instead of, measuring poverty in financial terms.  

The second area of confusion arises because the Government hates the idea of trying to reduce relative poverty (people below 60% of average income). This is because if income increases quickly for those at the top, even if income increases but more slowly for those at the bottom, poverty increases.  Which is exactly what tends to happen under the laissez faire economic policy favoured by this Government. So they prefer to focus on 'absolute' poverty - whether people's income at the bottom is increasing, regardless of how fast the income of those at the top is growing. There are arguments both ways. My view is that we should - as we do now - measure both, because both matter.

I note the press release also talks about developing "a range of other measures and indicators of root causes of poverty, including family breakdown, debt and addiction". Here was me thinking that the cause of poverty was not having enough money.  That family breakdown was largely caused by financial stress rather than the other way round.  That people get into debt because they don't have enough money, rather than not having enough money becuase they magically fall into debt!  Good grief.

Robin Beveridge


Work has to be a better route out of poverty. Most poor children have a working parent.

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Poverty leads to poor attainment.  Poor attainment leads to poverty.

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