Suffer The Children: Redefining Their Poverty Won’t Make It Go Away

We know that income differences create social distances. We also know that we are social creatures and we see ourselves largely through the eyes of others. For children, these processes of self-evaluation and comparison are particularly acute as they find their way in an increasingly competitive and image-conscious world.

It is in this context that government plans to redefine child poverty appear so wrong-headed and not a little hard-hearted. If you thought having little or no money was actually quite a good indication of poverty, you’re not alone. But the government doesn’t agree. Instead, what it wants to measure are ‘life chances’ indicators, such as parental working status and GCSE results. They are useful, but nowhere near as important as income which, for all but the very richest, is the overriding determinant of a family’s standard of living. And the other things the government wants to measure (e.g. family breakdown, debt and addiction) are results of inequality and poverty, not the cause of it.

The income measure tells us how many people are falling behind what is needed to live a decent and dignified family life – one that ensures children can thrive and hold their heads up among their peers and not be discriminated against for being visibly much poorer. At a stroke it tells us the extent of inequality in the UK.

Currently, thanks to the income measure, we know that 28 per cent of children in the UK live in poverty and are very much struggling to thrive. That’s more than 1 in 4. It’s 3.7 million children across the country, 2.4 million of them in working families. The new measure of ‘worklessness’ won’t capture these children, but their families will remain poor. Without the income measure we are at risk of slipping into “out of sight, out of mind” complacency about poverty and inequality. By abandoning the income measure we will also lose the ability to measure changes over time in a rigorous way and to make meaningful comparisons – it will be much harder to see if we are progressing or failing as a country.

You can lobby the House of Lords to try and force a government re-think on their proposed changes: the End Child Poverty alliance has a great campaign tool you can use. We know from recent experience that the government will listen when it becomes convinced they have something badly wrong. Please help convince them. Thank you.

Bill Kerry, Supporters & Local Groups Manager