Labour drops commitment to ending child poverty

The number of children growing up in poverty fell under New Labour, but has increased under the coalition
The number of children growing up in poverty fell under New Labour, but has increased under the coalition
Alex Stevenson By

Labour's manifesto says it will "never forget" the importance of tackling child poverty - but is not extending the 2020 target.

Today's document stands in stark contrast to New Labour's commitment to eradicating child poverty for good by 2020.

The 13 years presided over by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown saw a "broad-based approach" that was "significant and long-lasting", the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) concluded back in 2012.

Child poverty was cut back at a scale and pace which was simply better than any other industrial nation during that period - even if Labour missed its 2010 interim target.


That didn't stop it sticking with the policy in its 2010 general election manifesto. It stated:

No child should have to grow up in poverty. The current pressures on the personal finances of families make the goal of ending child poverty more urgent than ever. So we will continue to make progress towards our historic goal of ending child poverty by 2020, building on the 2010 Child Poverty Act.

There might have been one or two hiccups along the way, the message went, but that wasn't going to stop ministers working hard to ensure that child poverty became a thing of the past. If the rate of poverty reduction had continued then that would finally have been achieved in 2027.

Fast-forward five years, and things have changed rather drastically. 'Better late than never' has been replaced with the following paragraph in today's manifesto:

As a result of this government's failures, the commitment to ending child poverty by 2020 is very unlikely to be met. However, we will never forget how important a decent basic income is to a child's prospects and wellbeing. That is why we will keep the child poverty targets, and ask the Office for Budget Responsibility to monitor and report on progress.

The targets are being retained, but there is no end-date in sight. Where the last Labour government was driving change in order to meet a specific deadline, that pressure is now lifted. The targets will continue to exist, but look like being an embarrassment rather than an incentive.

Without New Labour's changes to the tax-benefit system, there would have been around 1.8 million more children living in poverty today. Even if it looked like a political failure, this was a policy which changed people's lives for the better.

Now Labour is refusing to set itself a time-limit to complete the job. But it continues to matter: 3.5 million more children live in poverty now than did in 2010, and Barnardo's predicts another million will be added to that number by 2020.

"A goal for 2030 or perhaps 2025 is credible," Andrew Harrop of Progress suggested earlier this year. "Labour needs to rediscover its passion over poverty and commit to a radical but affordable agenda that can make poverty history."

If that passion does still exist, it's not in the party's manifesto.

UPDATE: CPAG responds

Chief executive Alison Garnham says there must be no 'let-up' in the drive to end child poverty. Here's her comment in full:

We must not accept that failing to meet the targets by 2020 means they can never be achieved. The next government will face  a child poverty crisis, with 700,000 more children set to be in relative poverty by 2020 than there were in 2010. There can be no let-up. All parties must produce a new timeframe with clear actions and milestones for achieving the eradication of child poverty and these need to be monitored by the OBR and at each Budget and Spending Review.  If they don’t, they will fail another generation of children.

Comments

Load in comments
Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.

Newsletter update
wa