Child Poverty Figures Make 'Grim Reading' Despite Iain Duncan Smith Hailing Modest Fall As 'Vindication'

Parliament TV

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has hailed the number of children living in relative poverty in UK falling to its lowest level since the 1980s as a "vindication" of the Government's agenda - despite campaigners saying the numbers make "grim reading".

The figure stands at 2.3 million for 2013-14, down 100,000 on the previous year, which is seen as an "insignificant" change, according to the Department for Work and Pensions.

But the figures showed poverty, defined as 60% of median incomes, was higher than in the past under some measures.

The Child Poverty Action Group highlighted how the 4.1 million children in absolute poverty after housing costs is half-a-million higher than in 2010.

And in households in which at least one person has a disability, the number of individuals in absolute poverty after housing costs rose by 300,000 to 5.6 million - which was statistically "significant".

Against a forecast from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) that the total number of children in relative low income could soar to 2.5 million, the figures offer ministers the chance to change the definition, which was promised in the Conservative manifesto.

A Whitehall source confirmed to The Huffington Post UK the data would make it "easier" to alter the measure, while Mr Duncan Smith told MPs the current benchmark did not recognise the "range of actions needed to improve children’s life chances".

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, argued the Government is not going to meet its target of abolishing child poverty by 2020.

She also suggested £12bn of planned welfare cuts, likely to include the tax credits top-up payment to low-paid workers, would "deepen" the "crisis".

"You don't tackle child poverty by slashing targeted help for children in low income families and then claiming money doesn't matter," she said, going on to dismiss the Government's flagship plan to turn around "troubled families" as the solution.

She said: “The root causes of child poverty are not to be found in parents’ behaviour.

"It is low pay, the lack of adequate childcare, and cuts to children’s benefits we should look to for an explanation of child poverty and not to parents who struggle daily to protect their children against its worst effects."

Going on to call for a "triple lock" afforded to pensions to apply to cuts to child benefit, she concluded the figures make "grim reading for anyone looking for progress on child poverty".

The IFS also urged caution over any celebration, saying incomes have only "inched" towards the pre-recession levels and that there was "little or no change in poverty rates" for the population as a whole or pensioners, working-age adults and children in particular.

The think-tank warned too that headline figures were based on the "discredited" Retail Price Index measure of inflation.

The statistic the Government was most anxious to point to was the percentage of children in relative poverty before housing costs remaining flat at 17% - its lowest level since the 1980s.

In the House of Commons, Mr Duncan Smith this morning said: "Today's figures are a vindication of our approach.

"If you tackle the root causes of poverty, even under a measure of poverty that I have consistently described as flawed, you can still have an impact."

But Labour's Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie said the flat figures showed "progress has slowed to a snail's pace".

Frank Field, the Labour MP recently elected chairman of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, congratulated Mr Duncan Smith for "a PR success in winding up the media that they would be the worst figures ever".

David Cameron on Monday said the child poverty measure was "absurd", arguing a modest increase in the state pension would distort the numbers - the increase in income dragging more children into the poverty bracket.

The Huffington Post reported yesterday how the Government is considering replacing or amending the Child Poverty Act, brought in by Labour, to establish "new measures".