Coalition Accused Of 'Moving The Goalposts' On Child Poverty

What do you do if you are told you are not going to meet your target to reduce child poverty? Move the target. At least that is what a group of academics are accusing the government of doing.

Tomorrow marks the end of Iain Duncan Smith's consultation into new ways to measure child poverty, beyond simply how much money their family earns.

A child is currently counted as living in poverty if their family income is less than 60% of the average wage. But the work and pension secretary has argued that other factors should be taken into account, including whether the parents have drug or alcohol addictions.

In a letter to The Guardian today, a group of leading academics warned that changing the way child poverty was measured would "dilute" the importance of income at "precisely the time that its policies will be reducing the real incomes of poor families".

The academics write: "Several of us, fellows of the British Academy, with colleagues, have responded, pointing out the ways in which the proposals are confused and would meet neither the government's objectives nor international standards."

Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, who contributed to the Unicef's Child Well-Being report, told The Guardian he believed that the government was "trying to move the goalposts" because child poverty was increasing.

However writing on The Huffington Post UK today, Matthew Tinsley, of the think-tank Policy Exchange, said the current measure is inadequate.

"By focussing on income inequality, poverty seemed to fall sharply during the recession, leaving little opportunity to identify actual changes in the living standards of the most deprived children during the most difficult times," he said.

"It is clear that things other than finances matter. Education, health, infant mortality rates and aspirations are all worse for children in worse-off families. Hiding these issues by legislating for income measures means that we are unable to target resources effectively on them."

He added: "While income is undeniably important for the living standards that children experience, it is not an outcome in itself. As long as a headline income measure of child poverty holds this much power there is less incentive for government to focus on outcomes like early childhood development, narrowing the education gap and improving childhood health."

On Friday the National Children's Bureau (NCB) urged ministers to learn lessons from abroad to tacke the problem.

Enver Solomon, of the NCB said: "If the government's commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020 is to be met, it needs to think more creatively and examine initiatives in other countries.

"Government must focus less on how to measure poverty and act decisively to introduce robust mechanisms for ensuring that progress in the fight against child poverty is swift and permanent.

"Critical to this is making childcare affordable for low income families and overall taking a far more strategic cross government approach that is driven by a powerful ministerial board."