Child poverty

Yesterday in a masterly act of self parody, the government put forward its Child Poverty Bill. Let me share with you its first two clauses, which set the tone:

1. It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the following targets are met in relation to the UK in relation to the target year –
a) the relative low income target
b)the combined low income and material deprivation target
c) the absolute low income target
d) the persistent poverty target
The target year is the financial year beginning with 1 April 2020

2. The relative low income target is that less than 10% of children who live in qualifying households live in households that fall within the relevant income group
For the purposes of this section, a household falls within the relevant income group …if its equivalised net income …is less than 60% of median equivalised net household income…

So here we have it. The government legislates to ensure a future government abolishes poverty, something this government has singularly failed to achieve.

If an Act of Parliament with a few targets in it can remove poverty, why didn’t Labour do it years ago? This was just another political press release masquerading as an Act.

Mr Brown hoped the Conservatives would oppose it. Then he could claim they did not care about child poverty. If they accepted it, he or his successors could use it to criticise Ministers in ten years time for failing to hit the targets.

I trust it will be much criticised in committee. Yesterday Miss Cooper was in her best answer no questions mode, turning every request we made into an anti Tory soundbite. She made it clear this is legislation as political stunt.

As the Conservatives pointed out, the issue is parent poverty. The solutions are many and complex, revolving around a back to work culture.


  1. Pete
    July 21, 2009

    Surely the way forward on this issue is to define an absolute for ‘poverty’ – as they have done in the USA.
    To set it as 60% of median income is a) too high and b) a moving target which will never be reached.
    IMO 60% of median income is not being attained by many pensioners…

    1. Savale
      July 23, 2009

      Actually the government targets have been met.

      They’ve been met in Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands.

      A moving target can be reached. It is based on median income, not on mean income. Come on Pete, this is GCSE maths – shape up!

      The evidence now is overwhelming that the extreme levels of inequlity we see on the UK and the USA compared to other welathy countries are a major social and economic cost. Why should I , as a tax payer, have to put up with this combination of economic inefficiency and moral disregard for children?

      John, you were in parliament in the 1980s when child poverty doubled under Thatcher. Whatever good things she might have done for the country, that was a disgrace. How will you ensure this doesn’t happen under the tories again.

      1. Pete
        July 24, 2009

        Trouble is you’re conflating inequality with poverty – there has always been inequality, there always will be.

        How to measure relative poverty? Why not 70% of median income or 40%? (If we used 50% instead of 60%, ‘child poverty’ would halve in the UK!

        No, absolute poverty is easy to define, and that’s why we should ditch this relative poverty concept, which is much too slippery.

        1. Savale
          July 24, 2009

          You can argue over the definition of ‘poverty’ – dictionaries define poverty as both absolute and relative – but arguing over the definition of a word is not really the point. The more important ‘p’ word is not ‘poverty’, but it is ‘problem’. On the question of whether or not wide inequality gaps are a problem for wealthy countries, the evidence base now conclusively tells us ‘yes’.

          Yes there’s always been inequality and always will be to an extent. But the key question is: to how much of an extent?

          Inequality is significantly lower in wealthy nations with much better social and economic outcomes on many indicators. So just because some inequality will always be with us, it doesn’t mean that we can’t – or shouldn’t – take actions that will make the inqequality gap narrower than it is now.

          Why not 70% median income? Good question. The work of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests 70% median income is a more accurate proxy for where material deprivation becomes apparent in low income families.

          Why not 40%? Read the slating that the Institue of Fiscal Studies has given to the attempts made by the Conservatives to use this as a proxy for ‘severe poverty’.

          Absolute poverty is actually a relative concept anyway. The idea of where the benchmark for absolute poverty should be set would have been very different in 1709, 1809 or 1909 to what it is in 2009.

  2. Emil
    July 21, 2009

    Whilst any government deliberately implements, and maintains, a benefit system that actively penalises people for going back to work, instead of rewarding hard work and true social mobility, then levels of “poverty” will increase.

    Yet instead of learning their lesson we get further nonsense about people who work, and act responsibility, having to stump up £20K for their (and everyone else’s) old age, plus paying £20 to see a GP…

    I just hope that the next government starts listening to the likes of yourself and Frank Field, who are the only politicians who are seemingly not scared to speak out against this sort of nonsense, but I’m not holding my breath as all the party leaders seem to want to aim at the trendy metropolitan elite, and eco fascists, instead of the people who have to earn a living in the real world.

    1. jean baker
      July 21, 2009

      Today’s elderly paid throughout their working lives for healthcare, including old age needs.

      Taxpayers are charged for NHS provision, including local GP’s and won’t pay twice !

      Rising numbers on state benefits are not required to contribute but are entitled to free NHS treatment, including GPs.

  3. Javelin
    July 21, 2009

    I’ve never understood the relative income target. If 10% of poor people were pushed into the top 90% then they would still be in the bottom 10% – only the band of the bottom 10% just doubled in size. If you cut the bottom band in half, to crate a new bottom 10%, you have to raise their income – this evenutally leads to a situation where the bottom 11% have a equal income. Basically you can achieve the relative child poverty target by taking the income you want, finding where it falls (say £12k pa) then supplementing their income until it meets that level. Relative income is about absolute minimums. It’s a statement about wealth distribution not child poverty.

    Second observation. Let them eat chips. Poor people have a bad diet. More money means more chips and chocolate. It’s horrible to say but for many children parents comfort eat and they follow their parents (boys 6*, girls 10* more likely). Poverty is meaning less if the income is misdirected. Fruit + veg vouchers for British farmers or music or acting lessons, or clothes vouchers etc might be better for most kids. Simply giving uneducated parents money, has against our intuititions, turned out to be state sponsered child abuse.

    Finally, I’ll repeat what I said yesterday. That the over supply of labor means poor people are worthless in the job Market. They turn to the black economy, benefits and crime. Real pain on employers means they will work with the Government to help the poor become better educated. At the moment employers bitch and moan and expect the Government to provide a supply of employees. In the same way the the public expect the Government to do everything for them. Restrict the labour supply and be generous to the poor to help them back into better jobs.

    I’ll also say what I said yesterday.

    1. Bazman
      July 21, 2009

      Is this some mad socialist idea. The middle classes eating junk food because of the economic crisis and the poor because they are bone idle. Whatever next? Vouchers instead of wages. Employers having cheap labour supplied to them? This will in turn lead to lottery winners checked for righteousness to receive their money.

    2. Guy Herbert
      July 22, 2009

      Restrict the labour supply and be generous to the poor to help them back into better jobs.

      You just summaried the economic position of trades unions. It is rubbish. Workers are not standard commodities that are arbitrarily used up in production like some chemical reagent. (Even if they were, any excess is usually irrelevant to the reaction.)

      There are two conditions to be simultaneously satisfied that determine whether someone can get and keep a job:
      (1) They want it; and
      (2) The employer wants them.

      (1) is frequently undermined by cultural factors and by government action that makes it undesirable, and often irrational, to make yourself very little better off or actually worse off by working.

      (2) is where your economic misunderstanding comes in. An employer seeks to be better off, too. He therefore wants the gain from employing someone whose work will outweigh the cost of doing so. What’s critical to that is not the supply of workers but the productivity of the individual candidate. Even without a minimum wage or benefits to place a floor on the price of labour above starvation, there is a minimum administrative and supervisory and capital cost of employing someone: their productivity has to be sufficient that returns exceed the actual cost of employing them. Increasing the cost of labour means you need someone more productive, so decreasing the opportunities for the marginal, and putting the previously unemployable further beyond the pale.

      What competition there is is between the productive and the unproductive willing. Restricting the supply of the productive is of limited help to the unproductive willing provided they are still worth their hire, but none at all if they are not. And by decreasing the productivity of businesses, restricting the supply of the productive, makes everyone worse off on average, and makes it a bit more difficult to support the unemployed.

      1. Javelin
        July 23, 2009

        Let me look at what you said

        1) No that’s not the economic position of the trades unions. Their economic position is to threaten employers with strikes. Your irrelevant characterisation gets your argument off to a very bad start.

        2) I didn’t say workers are commodities – where did I say that? I didn’t. There a big element of demand and supply, but the point is people can improve themselves and their expectations. Where in your post do you say that people can improve themselves – I believe that you have a negative view of people by not making this a part of your position.

        3) Yes I agree that (a) culture and (b) Government effect employment opportunity cost. I believe the Government has got so many things wrong with benefits, tax, credits, immigration, globalisation, lack of national protection and employment. They treat too many people too weakly. I believe global competition is incredibly tough and that this Government have not even recognised that we’re in a fight.

        4) My economic understanding is very good thank you. The area of the bank I look after has been heaped in praise by the global press in the past year.

        5) When you talk about the “unproductive unwilling” – I think you’re really saying working class benefit scroungers – but don’t have the courage to say it. I’m not saying that unemployed people can suddenly do a hugely demanding job – but everybody could move up the employment scale. I think the bottom of the employment pile have been neglected since about 1945. Not neglected in terms of money, but neglected in terms of expectations and cultural attitude to not working and not bettering themselves. I think socialism has destroyed the very people it was supposed to help by being too soft with them.

        6) I believe in lower flatter taxes, but I also believe that the country has to shift everybody up the employment conveyor belt. There are 5 million unemployed. Faux-disabled people receive the same as genuine disabled. Graduates with high debts can’t get jobs. Mean while a million workers come from abroad to get jobs because people in the UK either don’t want them or can’t get them. It’s a mess because Governments don’t try and change culture and aren’t disciplined enough and tough enough with them.

  4. davidb
    July 21, 2009

    Its easy to eradicate poverty.All we need do is stop importing poor people from other countries.

    1. jean baker
      July 21, 2009

      Stand for parliament !


    2. ManicBeancounter
      July 21, 2009

      The poor are not entirely of migrants, nor the decendants of migrants. They probably do not make a majority. Further we do not important them – they come of their own volition.

      1. jean baker
        July 21, 2009

        Non working immigrants are supported by the welfare system.
        The poorest in society are Britain’s indigenous elderly; with escalating fuel costs many have to choose whether to ‘heat or eat’ throughout winter.

  5. marksany
    July 21, 2009

    “….a back to work culture”
    John is there any chance the next government will tackle this – the main issue be the very high level of benefit withdrawal rates?

  6. APL
    July 21, 2009

    I recall that nice Mr Blair and his sidekick someone called ‘Courage Brown, already had an target a decade ago to abolish Child poverty within ten years.

    How did that work out again?

    1. jean baker
      July 21, 2009

      They introduced ‘family credits’ for families with incomes below £50,000 – average income £23,000. Lump sum savings payment to new born children, talk of free computers/broadband for all children.

      A Southampton Council is offering free curries to parents to cut truancy rates.

  7. Mike Stallard
    July 21, 2009

    Out here in the Styx, several things are very obvious.
    First of all, some people (like me) are used to “poverty” we have been there all our lives. We always buy the cheapest, we go without, we try and save. There is always good reason for any purchase. We refuse to do jobs which pay well, but are utter purgatory. Poverty for us, of course, is relative. But it is also a career choice.
    Second, what children need is not money. It is the love of a stable Dad and a hard working, patient mother. Ask David Davis, if you get a moment. Or Alan Johnson. The government – all government? – seems to be utterly against this.
    Third, by supporting (both parties) Comprehensive Schools with over 1,500 pupils and a high staff turn over, the chances of anyone with average income breaking through to a professional job round here are, frankly, minimal.
    But – hey! – we all love New Labour for CARING.

    1. jean baker
      July 21, 2009

      Nulabor CARES only for the money it makes from society; care of the elderly and children is very lucrative.

  8. Brian Tomkinson
    July 21, 2009

    Who drafted this meaningless gibberish? It’s no wonder Miss Cooper didn’t answer any questions. Apart from the fact that no Labour minister ever does, she probably hasn’t a clue what it means. This may be legislation as a political stunt but it will still be badly drafted legislation which your party will have to repeal when you take office.

    1. michael mcgrath
      July 21, 2009

      Looks like the work of John Prescott

  9. anonymous
    July 21, 2009

    This has nothing to do with poverty!
    Ensuring that less than 10% of children fall live in households that have less than 60% median household income IS ONLY ABOUT narrowing the income distribution!

    If everyone had half as much money, but the distribution tightened THEY WOULD BE SUCCESSFUL BY THEIR MEASUREMENT, despite there being more poverty!

    If the cost of everything doubled, but the distribution tightened THEY WOULD BE SUCCESSFUL BY THEIR MEASUREMENT, despite there being more poverty!

    If on the other hand the cost of everything dropped significantly, making EVERYONE better off, unless the income distribution changed, there would be no change in these poverty statistics.

    Someone needs to call a stop on this BS.

  10. Josh
    July 21, 2009

    Mrs Balls is one of the most annoying of the New Labour Stalinista’s. When talking, she has the tone of a patronising school teacher, and she has perfectly mastered the art of turning everything into an opportunity to attack the Tories.

    Tony Blair has destroyed the House of Commons.

  11. Steve Cox
    July 21, 2009


    Is there any chance that somebody could lay down an EDM or something, proposing that the summer vacation for MP’s should be extended so that it lasts until until somewhere around 5th June 2010? We really don’t need any more of these – I’d like to say half-baked, but that would be being kind – asinine Labour laws, so let everyone take an extended break to recover from the catastrophic mess that the New Socialists have created during the last 12 years. 🙁

    Have a good break yourself, anyway. 🙂

  12. Adam Collyer
    July 21, 2009

    The headline on the BBC News this morning is that the professions are increasingly becoming the preserve of “people from affluent backgrounds” – by which they mean privately educated people. Instead of drawing the obvious conclusion that State schools are failing to match the education provided by the private sector, their solution is to force universities to discriminate in favour of State school pupils. So their soundbite was “education, education, education” but they have delivered a miserably failing education system and are trying to cover that up by manipulating university intake. These people are beyond parody.

    1. Chris H
      July 21, 2009

      Having a son who went through private education, we were worried about his chances of getting into his uni of choice (Bristol) because they were alleged to favour state school entrants. As it happened, he got in ok. His degree course is a particularly hard one and very challenging, even more so because of a learning difficulty. Having seen the standard of work he has to achieve, I’d challenge many of the dimwits that we churn out of state school to do the same. Universities should take the best students because of their ability and potential, not be forced to take them because they went to state school. That supposes that privately educated children shouldnt ever be allowed into university… that discrimination or what? Oh….and we’re not exactly “affluent” background either. Just moderate and reasonably comfortable.

    2. jean baker
      July 21, 2009

      True ‘socialists’ invariably loathe anyone from a more privileged background than themselves.

      Their war on class is confirmed by their recent action on the charitable status of private schools.

  13. Denis Cooper
    July 21, 2009

    How about treating it with the contempt it deserves, by just ignoring it? Then you couldn’t be accused of having opposed it, and even if it was passed then next year the Tory government could introduce a Bill with a single, simple clause:

    “The Child Poverty Act 2009 is repealed”.

    and then start again from scratch with some sensible proposals.

    1. A.T.
      July 21, 2009

      In the interests of speed and efficiency, can I suggest

      ““All legislation that was passed after 1/5/1997 is repealed”

      would be simpler.

  14. Its very Old Labour!
    July 21, 2009

    Given that the “median” is the “middle” value in the list of numbers, what on earth does “less than 60% of median equivalised net household income” mean?

    When you start jumbling terms like this in a real world situation,
    where there will always be a spread hosehold incomes what is the significance of some arbitrary threshold? Furthermore for the purposes of determining ‘net household income’ how does this take account of the various benefits given to the lower income families, e.g. housing benefit, council tax benefit, social housing, tax credits … (that apparently endless list of welfare benefits)?

    Then of course there is the blindingly obvious issue that eliminating ‘poverty’ for those on “less than 60% of median equivalised net household income” can never actually be achieve as there will always be a median value and as such there are likely to be people on less than 60% of the median forever – this is therefore an impossible piece of legislation to fulfil. In 2020 there will almost certainly be a population whose household income falls below this arbitrary threshold …

    An on this issue the Conservatives are absolutely right, its about parents – motivating them to make responsible decisions about household needs and means, and inspiring a work ethic and culture that removes their continuing dependency on state (welfare) handouts!

  15. Pete Chown
    July 21, 2009

    The other odd thing is that the Bill creates a legal duty which probably can’t be enforced in practice. Suppose the target is missed in 2020. A family which is then living in poverty might want to enforce the duty, by bringing judicial review proceedings in the name of one of their children. Unfortunately, I don’t see how this could work, because it isn’t clear how the duty was breached. Was the duty breached when benefits were reformed? When the minimum wage was left unchanged? When a car plant was allowed to go bust, putting employees on the dole? When a car plant was rescued, freezing out more productive investment?

    The courts can alter simple administrative decisions which are made in breach of statutory duty. They can’t make policy, and that is what they would have to do if they were to enforce this duty.

    Because of this, I agree that the Bill is hot air, and a waste of time that could be spent on more useful things.

    Talking of hot air, it seems to me that we have the same problem with the carbon dioxide emissions targets. The press talk about ‘legally binding’ commitments to cut emissions by 80% in 2050. However, in what sense are these commitments legally binding? They probably can’t be enforced, for the same reason that the child poverty targets can’t. Because of this, I think they can only be legally binding in some technical, weaselly sense that doesn’t actually mean much.

    1. backofanenvelope
      July 21, 2009

      No parliament may bind its successor.

  16. DennisA
    July 21, 2009

    Poverty is relative. A TV new clip a few nights ago purported to be showing a family in fuel poverty and started by showing the father playing with his son on several hundred pounds worth of “Wii” equipment.

    1. Emil
      July 21, 2009

      Nail hit squarely on head…

      Whilst there are people who have been betrayed by Labour, more than they supposedly ever were by the “evil Thatcher”, true poverty is something you find in the shanty towns of Africa, and not in the third generation youngsters who have been brought up to expect everyone bar themselves to pay for their mobile phones, playstations and plasma TVs.

      The whole bizarre social experiment where we pay our own young men not to work, whilst importing millions of workers from overseas who will do the unskilled work these young men would not get out of bed for is the biggest betrayal of the true working classes and their opportunity towards true social mobility. Shame on Labour, and shame on the opposition parties for not having the courage to think the unthinkable and start being cruel to be kind, which would truly be for the benefit of all in the long term.

  17. Neil Craig
    July 21, 2009

    The way to reduce poverty is to increase wealth. That means achieving the world average growth level of 5%, or even geting above average.

    This does not seem to form any part of “anti-poverty campaigners” agendas. Instead they have redefined poverty as a relative phenomena being below average incomes, rather than an actual one. The great advantage of this is that, even in North Korea where very few people are much below the average income (they have already starved) the “problem” of nobody being below average, can never be solved & we can have bureaucrats stamping their poverty reduction forms forever.

  18. Demetrius
    July 21, 2009

    In the meantime hundreds of thousands of the very old and inform in retirement flats are being forced into poverty by the rapacious and uncontrolled extortion through massive increases in service and a range of other charges. The profits are offshored and little or no tax is paid by those who benefit that might help either child poverty or anything else. However, modest sums find their way into Labour friendly enterprises.

  19. jean baker
    July 21, 2009


    Is Parliament being led to believe Nulabor’s vastly expensive ‘tax credit system’ has failed to assist those earning less than £50,000 p.a. threshold – or will taxpayers continue to support such earners PLUS any ‘quango’ set up under the proposed Child Poverty Bill ?

    The aim seems to be no more than taxpayer funded employment of yet more government ‘box tickers’ – creating a need when none exists !

    Fear of ending up in the ‘workhouse’ made my mother’s generation exactly what they were – extremely hard working and brilliant money managers. Nor did they want for work.

  20. Adrian Peirson
    July 21, 2009

    Print our own money instead of Borrowing it, if anyone thinks that the BofE is a State instititution, it is not, even Gordon Brown and Alistair darling are Private companies, Westminster is a Private company, in fact the entire UK is a Private company trading under Bankruptcy laws.

    It’s all an Illusion.

    If they wanted to end poverty they should never have trashed our fishing, our industries, our farming nor sold off our gold, my guess is that in true Orwellian Fashion they say they want to end Poverty but in actual fact, they wish us all to be in poverty, all the better to control us if we are on our knees and starving.

  21. no one
    July 21, 2009

    encouraging the poorest failures in society to breed in order to gain access to a whole bunch of benefits, while at the same time disincentivising the decent folk from having kids, is a sure fire way to child poverty, and thats the way labour (and to be fair conservative) administrations have led us

    im all for supporting the genuine hardworking folk who fall upon hard times, but supporting a permanent underclass which is subjected to terrible schools (and therefore cannot escape one generation to the next) with state handouts has gone too far

    here i am out of work with a pregnant wife not entitled to a single penny of state support and yet folk who have never worked are living in better houses than i am, now tell me how is that helping children as a whole?

    the only way ahead is massive improvement in the worst schools on the worst estates, and i mean a factor of 50 times better, it needs real radical action, this is the only way to fix it in a generation or two, handing out ever more money for doing no work is not the way ahead

    oh and dont allow thousands on 3rd world nationals to come here on inter company transfer visas, bringing their own poor kids, and forcing our own parents out of work, this is not good for children as a whole

    we need role models who have made it and escaped from council estates on the conservative front benches, we need roles models on the worst estates

    and we need men teaching in the schools, poor kids brought up by females and taught by females, will always end up off the rails, the adult males no longer have the authority to keep the local male youth in check for as soon as they do anything they are nicked, give the adults back some sensible powers

    etc etc etc

  22. alan jutson
    July 21, 2009

    Very simple answer to all of this.

    Pass a law to make all people be paid the same no matter what they do, work or no work.
    If they earn more than the maximum, then tax them more.

    Make sure they all live in state controlled housing.
    If you want a bigger house then tax them more

    Education to be provided only by the state with everyone getting a Degree at the end of term.
    If you want private education, then make them pay again.

    All savings to be held in a state controlled Bank.
    If you want higher interest, then Tax them more.

    Health care in a state controlled Hospital.
    If you want private healthcare, then make them pay again

    Yes its Gordon Browns Utopia land where everyone is equal no matter what their aspirations.

    Its all an absolute nonesense of a policy of course, written in absolute gobbledy gook which no one can understand, but then thats the point.
    If you cannot understand it you cannot pass judgement on it, or you can make up the answers, because you cannot prove it does not work.

    Its an absolute farce and its all Communist based (a system which has failed almost everywhere), but millions will still vote for him at the next general election, and that is the biggest worry of all.

  23. ManicBeancounter
    July 21, 2009

    For those that really care about helping the poorest, meeting a particular target is not the way to go about it. It is fairly easy (and relatively cheap) to get a large number just below the poverty to move just above it. But at the same time the government’s environmental policies are lowering living standards – by pushing up fuel bills in the future and food bills (through the competition from bio-fuels). The poor (who spend larger proportions of their incomes on these items) are seeing their living standards fall, even though their “real” incomes might be rising.

    However, there is something much worse. The more government determines the income of people, the less ability people have for influencing their own lives. In trying to eliminate material poverty, government will foster hopelessness. During the Euro-elections, Channel 4 did a survey of how people voted, concentrating on BNP voters. A distinguishing feature was that
    “Just 19 per cent of BNP voters are “confident that my family will have the opportunities to prosper in the years ahead”. This compares with 59 per cent of Labour voters, 47 per cent of Lib Dem and Green voters, and 42 per cent of Conservative voters.”

    More analysis can be found at

  24. […] Poison Pill? 2009 July 21 by manicbeancounter Yesterday the government put forward the Child Poverty Bill, with mandatory targets for reducing poverty.  It is utter […]

  25. adrian peirson
    July 23, 2009

    The Govt is at War with Britain and the British people, whilst dismantling our country, our liberty, our way of life, they are all the while whispering sweetness into our ears, we’re doing it to end child poverty, it’s foreign aid to help the poor overseas, kittens, fur seal pups, baby dolphins etc.

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