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Redefining Child Poverty Doesn't Tackle the Issue - The Government Must Show That All Kids Count

26/01/2016 12:37 GMT | Updated 26/01/2017 10:12 GMT

After some time on the back-foot, if not in headlong retreat, common sense won out last night in the latest stage of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill's passage through parliament.

Peers dismissed the Government's arguments and voted for an amendment which requires the Government to report to Parliament on child poverty (based on the existing measures). The Government's preferred approach of duties to report on attainment and worklessness would have meant it turning its back on the two thirds of children in poverty living in working households, and ignoring the simple fact that how much money families have has a huge influence on the life chances of children.

But by a huge majority of 290 to 197, peers voted to amend the bill so that government have to report annually on four measures looking at household income. This vote followed concerted campaigning from CPAG alongside a wide range of organisations and academics.

This included a petition started by Rebecca, calling on the government to maintain an income measure. Rebecca and her husband both work full time but struggle to make ends meet each month. Over 50,000 people signed her petition, people who understand that working families can still be poor, and kids still have to go without.

There is a wealth of evidence in support of an income measure.

Back in 2013, the government consulted on changing the child poverty measure. Iain Duncan Smith told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he wasn't moving the goalposts but that this was 'a consultation with all of the poverty specialists around the country'. So what did these experts say? 97% of respondents believed that all the current four measures (relative poverty, absolute poverty, poverty and material deprivation, and persistent poverty) should be retained. Only one respondent believed that income should not be included at all. The academic community is united behind an income measure. That's because income matters; study after study has documented how inadequate incomes hold back children's life chances by affecting their cognitive, social and emotional development, health and educational achievement.

In recent years, the UK has led the way internationally with unprecedented reductions in child poverty levels and in the Child Poverty Act (2010) forged a cross-party consensus on ending child poverty. Our measures have been adopted by the OECD and the World Bank. Whereas once we led the field, now we risk becoming an international embarrassment. Scrapping an income measure would make us the only European country who believed that poverty was not, in fact, about money.

Clearly poverty is multi-faceted with a wide range of causes and consequences. We would fully support initiatives and measures that help to increase the breadth and depth of our understanding of poverty and drive action to tackle this. We would therefore welcome additional measures of worklessness and educational attainment, as proposed by the government.

However, taking income out of the equation will do nothing to increase understanding or support meaningful action. The government argues that it wishes to measure 'the root causes' and not the symptoms of poverty, but low income is not merely a symptom of poverty, it is one of its defining characteristics.

So what happens next? The amended bill will go back to the House of Commons where MPs will decide whether or not to agree to the amendment made in the Lords. They can accept or reject the amendment, or make further changes. We are far from home and dry in our aim to ensure that children living in poverty are not forgotten.

CPAG will be calling on the government to see sense and support this amendment. We will be doing all we can to ensure that they take note of the evidence that shows the importance of income in determining children's life chances, and listen to the academic and voluntary sectors and to the 50,000 members of the public who have spoken out because they know that money matters for children.

Measuring child poverty does not require additional spending or a change of direction in government policy. But if you don't measure it, you can't tackle it. We are simply asking government to show that all kids count. Surely the time has come for us all to agree on that?