In government Labour set the nation a bold challenge to eradicate child poverty by 2020. As leader of the opposition David Cameron pledged his full support saying he wanted to make poverty history and there was cross party agreement when it was enshrined in law in the Child Poverty Act. In government, however, the target is proving to be something of a distant dream. Indeed, the government appointed interim review of Child Poverty and Social Mobility has declared that a "heavy dose of realism" is needed warning that although Child Poverty is unacceptable in a modern civilised country like Britain, the belief that it will be eradicated by 2020 is now a "fantasy".
This is undeniably a bleak message, but in the face of IFS analysis setting out that by 2020, far from being eradicated, child poverty will have risen by 800,000 many may consider it difficult to disagree. Certainly it would require an earth shaking shift in poverty policy - a greater shift than has ever been achieved since the foundation of the welfare state.
In his first speech on child poverty, hosted by the Children's Society on Tuesday, Alan Milburn argued that we need to end the "all or nothing" approach to child poverty. Even if the targets are unlikely to be met, we can do something, but we need to be realistic, and we need to set priorities.
Not all agree.
The counter argument is that to accept that the child poverty targets are lost, less than two years since they were enshrined in law, is less a message of realism, than a license to ignore Child Poverty in the UK. We simply cannot afford for this to happen. As Alan Milburn himself accepted, progress on Child Poverty has stalled and has almost certainly started to reverse. The targets set out in the Child Poverty Act are a key stick with which to beat the government - give up on these and child poverty could become a whole lot worse.
There is a clear tension here between the practical power of realism, and the emotive force of idealism. The hovering question is whether there is some way of recognising that it is unlikely that the child poverty targets will be met, without giving up on child poverty altogether.
For this, what is needed more than anything is a clear plan. Despite the government producing both Child Poverty and Social Mobility strategies, there is no step-by-step clear and coherent approach which will lead to the Government meeting, or even approaching, the targets set out in the Child Poverty Act. Nothing in these "strategies" sets out what we can expect to see happen to Child Poverty over the next ten years. This amounts not to a genuine Child Poverty Strategy so much as a Child Poverty "wait and see".
Alan Milburn is right to be realistic. He is right to point out that there is little hope of meeting the targets set out in the Child Poverty Act. But if this is not to be a counsel of despair, this needs to be something which we can all get behind - it needs to be an overarching plan of concerted action on child poverty. It needs to set out the actions, with time frames, that need to be taken to stop the floundering, and start to make headway on child poverty again.
We very much hope that Alan Milburn, and the Child Poverty and Social Mobility Commission once it is established, will put it to the government that they need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan which, even if it won't end child poverty by 2020, will prevent current projections becoming reality, and start working towards that goal once again.