Why the Lords’ defeat of the government’s attempt to redefine child poverty is important
The Government’s plans to redefine child poverty were derailed on Monday when the House of Lords overwhelmingly voted against plans to scrap income measures of child poverty. Peers voted 290-197 in favour of an amendment that will make sure that income continues to be reported on alongside the proposed new indicators. The attempt to redefine child poverty is now on the back foot with collective opposition from within the Lords, MPs, charities, academics and many people up and down the country.
The proposals to remove requirements under the Child Poverty Act to report on child poverty rates in the UK and a binding commitment to end child poverty by 2020 was part of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. The alternative approach would abolish income measures of poverty and focus rather on educational attainment at 16 and worklessness. Family and Childcare Trust, a member of the End Child Poverty Campaign, strongly believe this is an inadequate means to report on poverty. Income is at the heart of child poverty as it is a key influence on children’s development and opportunities.
Analysts at the LSE recently analysed responses to a Government consultation on Measuring Child Poverty held in 2012-13 to gauge the opinion of the respondents. Of the 230 responses analysed only one expressed the opinion that income should not be included as a measure of child poverty. The research concluded that “There is very strong support for the existing measures, and near universal support for keeping income poverty and material deprivation at the heart of poverty measurement.” The independent Child Poverty and Social Mobility Commission similarly expressed concerns in its 2015 State of the Nations Report questioning the credibility of the measures without the inclusion of an assessment of income.
There is however merit in the Government’s measures and if adopted alongside the existing measures of poverty, could have a constructive and valuable purpose. The new indicators would help us to garner a broader understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty and help create a more rounded and holistic approach to measuring poverty. By themselves, however, the new proposals are insufficient as a proxy of tracking current poverty and how prevalent this is within society. That is why it is so crucial that income measures are maintained.
The changes also raises concerns of accountability, as it would remove the facility for the Government to be held to account on how its policies impacts on levels of poverty. By removing the responsibility to report on poverty, you absolve the Government of its responsibility to tackle child poverty.
The response of the Lords is an important turn of events. And whatever happens, the Government will have to convince the public that this is not an attempt to side-step their commitment to end child poverty by 2020 or to mask the impact of cuts to work allowances in Universal Credit. With increased scrutiny that the Lords’ vote brings, they might well struggle.