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Child Poverty Bill Overview

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					                              Child Poverty Bill: Overview


Commitment to end child poverty

In 1999, the Government made an historic commitment to eradicate child
poverty within a generation. At the time this pledge was made, child poverty
had doubled in the previous 20 years and the UK had the worst level of child
poverty in Europe.

In making this ambitious pledge, the Government set a progressive goal of
creating a society where as few children as possible have their lives scarred
by poverty and where every child has the chance to realise their potential, no
matter what their background. This means tackling the causes and
consequences of poverty – so all children have a good start in life, enjoy a
fulfilling childhood and have the capabilities and opportunities to flourish.

Tackling child poverty – the case for taking action

Child poverty blights the daily lives of many children, families and
communities. Many people believe there is very little child poverty in the UK
today, but this is not the case: just over a fifth of children are in relative
poverty (2.9 million children in 2007/08). Poverty damages childhoods: some
families cannot, for example, afford to keep their homes warm, or pay for
basic necessities and activities, such as school uniforms or social outings.
Children who grow up in poverty lack many of the experiences and
opportunities that others take for granted, and can be exposed to severe
hardship and social exclusion. Their childhood suffers as a result and this is
unacceptable.

The costs of child poverty on the economy are high, as much as £25 billion
per year according to recent research published by the Joseph Rowntree
Foundation. 1 These costs fall not just on children and families in poverty, but
on communities and the taxpayer. Poor children tend to have lower
educational attainment, for example, with only 36% of children eligible for free




1
    Estimating the Costs of Child Poverty, Donald Hirsch, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2008


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school meals achieving five good GCSEs compared to 63% of other children. 2
Poor educational attainment and low skills reduce the chances of getting into
or progressing in work. This in turn brings down economic productivity and
stunts economic growth, limiting the UK’s ability to compete in the global
economy.

Poorer outcomes for children and families place extra burdens and costs on
public services, such as health care and children’s services. For example,
children living in deprived areas are significantly more likely to be obese and it
is estimated that obese and overweight individuals cost the NHS £4.2 billion,
and that this will double by 2050. Communities also suffer through increased
deprivation and inequalities which reduce social cohesion and can increase
crime.

What we have done – huge progress, targeted and sustained investment

The Government believes that child poverty is unacceptable and is committed
to shaping a fairer society that will benefit everybody. Since 1999, significant
progress has been made on tackling child poverty by halting and then
reversing the upward trend – an historic effort and achievement. To date, this
Government has helped 500,000 children out of relative poverty and halved
the number of children in absolute poverty, from 3.4 million to 1.7 million. Had
the Government done nothing other than to simply uprated the tax and benefit
system, it is estimated that there would have been 2.1 million more children in
poverty than there are today. 3

Furthermore, it is estimated that significant investment made in – and since –
Budget 2007 could lift around an additional 500,000 children out of poverty by
2010/11. These achievements have not happened by accident, but as a result
of substantial investment, such as tax credits, which will deliver over £20
billion of support direct to families this year, and sustained and targeted
investment in public services.

The Government continues to invest in early years, childcare and family
2
  National Statistics First Release, National Curriculum Assessment, GCSE and Equivalent
Attainment and Post-16 Attainment by Pupil Characteristics in England, 2006/07; DCSF,
2007.
3
  HM Treasury analysis based on comparison of simulated child poverty levels under today’s
tax and benefit system and the 1997/98 system, indexed to today’s prices.


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services and has set out far-reaching aims to reduce inequalities and improve
outcomes for children and young people. The aspiration is that every child in
England, whatever their background, should achieve the five outcomes in
“Every Child Matters”: to be healthy, to stay safe, to enjoy and achieve, to
make a positive contribution, and to achieve economic well-being. 4 Further
progress on these goals is vital to tackling child poverty.

Tackling child poverty is a priority right across government. In 2008, the
Government set up the Child Poverty Unit to co-ordinate cross-government
working to develop a truly integrated approach – from financial support to
transport, housing to health, education to employment – that attacks the root
causes and consequences of poverty right across the board. The work of the
Unit focuses on taking forward the Government’s strategy to eradicate child
poverty for the long term. Work includes developing a range of child poverty
pilots to test and explore new approaches to tackling child poverty at local
levels across the country.

Where we are now – economic shock and the need for further action

Real progress has been made to tackle child poverty, but the Government is
not complacent. Where children end up still too often depends on the
circumstances into which they are born. The UK is currently feeling the effects
of the most severe global financial crisis for decades. Eradicating child
poverty requires a strong and stable economy that offers opportunity and
security for all. This economic shock is inevitably affecting families across the
country, with rising unemployment and credit constraints putting pressure on
household budgets. That is why the Government has acted quickly and
decisively, putting measures in place to support businesses and households,
to get the economy back on track and keep people in work.

But as well as helping families through the current economic downturn, a
focus must be maintained on the long-term to give families the opportunities
to break out of inter-generational cycles of deprivation.


4
  The Devolved Administrations have set themselves similar aspirations in Getting it Right for
Every Child in Scotland and Rights in Action in Wales. In Northern Ireland, the Executive has
recently adopted Lifetime Opportunities as its overarching strategy for tackling child poverty
and social exclusion by 2020.


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Child Poverty Bill – enshrining the 2020 commitment in law

In January 2009 the consultation document Ending Child Poverty: Making It
Happen 5 was published. This made the case to entrench in law the
commitment to end child poverty so that it is a priority for every future
government and a shared mission for our society. It also set out the
Government’s ‘2020 vision’ of tackling the root causes of poverty, by
prioritising co-ordinated and sustained action across all areas and levels of
government.

The Government is now introducing a Bill to end child poverty by 2020. Only
through legislation can it be assured that sustained action is taken by this and
future governments, the Devolved Administrations, and local government to
tackle the causes as well as the consequences of child poverty.

The key aspects of the Bill are to:

1. Provide a definition of success
For the Government to be confident that child poverty has been eradicated, a
number of targets are needed to capture the many facets of child poverty.
Clause 1 of the Bill requires the Government to meet the four challenging UK-
wide targets, set out in clauses 2 to 5, by 2020:


      •   Relative poverty – to reduce the proportion of children who live in
          relative low income to less than 10%. This target measures those
          families that are poor compared to the rest of society. The target is
          firmly in line with the best in Europe;


      •   Combined low income and material deprivation – to reduce the
          proportion of families who live in material deprivation and have low
          income to less than 5%. This target measures the living standards of
          families experiencing the effects of poverty more widely;


      •   Persistent poverty – to reduce the proportion of children that
          experience long periods of poverty. Research demonstrates that long

5
    Ending Child Poverty: Making It Happen, Child Poverty Unit, HM Government, 2009


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       periods of poverty have a damaging effect on a child’s life chances and
       that the risk of escaping poverty decreases the longer the period in
       poverty. The target will be set in secondary legislation when the
       required data is available. The Government expects that sufficient data
       will be available before 2015;


   •   Absolute poverty – to reduce the proportion of children who live in
       absolute low income to less than 5%. This target measures the income
       of families against a level held constant over time. Consultation
       responses indicated that it was important to include this target to
       provide an assessment of real terms growth in incomes, which can be
       particularly important in times of recession.


2. Ensure that targeted and sustained action is taken by everybody
Clause 8 of the Bill requires the Government to publish a UK-wide child
poverty strategy, which must be revised every three years until 2020. The
strategy will set out a clear vision of a society in 2020 where levels of child
poverty have been reduced to amongst the best in Europe and where children
are not adversely affected by economic and social deprivation. Child poverty
is about more than just low incomes; the strategy will therefore set out steps
that will improve children’s wider outcomes and well-being across a number of
policy areas. The strategy will also co-ordinate sustained action on child
poverty across government and beyond, so that activity has the best and
most sustainable effect.


Clause 9 places a requirement on the Government to consult local
authorities, the Devolved Administrations, and children when preparing
strategies. The Bill also requires the Government to take into account the
economic and fiscal circumstances when preparing strategies. This will
ensure that the proposed measures are realistic and sustainable (clause 15).


3. Boost accountability of Government
The Bill requires the Government to publish annual progress reports to
Parliament stating the progress made towards the targets and the measures


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set out in the child poverty strategy (clauses 13 and 14). Additionally, an
expert Commission will be established providing advice, which the
Government must have regard to when preparing its child poverty strategies
(clause 7). To further boost accountability, the Commission’s advice must be
published. The Commission must take into account the current economic and
fiscal circumstances when preparing its advice (clause 15).


4. Require specific action by the Devolved Administrations
Scotland and Northern Ireland are required to publish their own strategies
setting out action they propose to take to tackle child poverty and contribute
toward the UK-wide targets (clauses 10 and 11, respectively). Scotland and
Northern Ireland must request and take into account the Commission’s advice
in the preparation of these strategies (clause 12) and the resources that they
have available to them (clause 15). Wales is introducing its own legislation on
child poverty (the Children and Families (Wales) Measure). This will require
Welsh Ministers to publish their own child poverty strategies that will
contribute to the UK targets. Child poverty strategies prepared by the
Devolved Administrations must also be considered in future UK child poverty
strategies.


5. Require action at local levels
Many local partnerships have had considerable success in tackling child
poverty. But meeting the challenge of eradicating it across the country
requires additional effort from all local authorities and their delivery
partners to prioritise tackling child poverty and improve outcomes for
disadvantaged children and their families. Local authorities and their partners
to whom the duties apply are named in the Bill (clauses 18 and 19), and there
is a duty on these bodies to co-operate in tackling child poverty (clause 20).
Local authorities and their partners must conduct a local needs assessment
and produce a joint local child poverty strategy (clauses 21 and 22). Local
authorities will also need to take the duties under this Bill into account when
preparing their Sustainable Communities Strategies (clause 23).


6. Ensure that the targets continue to be met after 2020


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Schedule 2 of the Bill requires the Government to continue to meet the targets
after 2020. In the event that the targets have not been met by 2020, or any
later year, then the Government must set out in further secondary legislation
how it will meet them.

Next steps – child poverty strategy, guidance to local authorities, and
promoting local action to tackle child poverty

The Government is currently developing the child poverty strategy, which will
be published within 12 months of Royal Assent. In addition, it will be preparing
guidance for local authorities and their partners on the content of their needs
assessments and local child poverty strategies.

In the Budget 2008, the Government announced a series of pilots to look at
new ways in which local authorities and their partners could work together to
better support families. These pilots are running in a number counties, towns
and cities across England, testing how local authorities and their partners can
develop new ways of tackling child poverty. Evidence collected from the
comprehensive evaluation of the pilots will be used to support local delivery
and inform the strategy to eradicate child poverty by 2020.

Local services have a vital role in helping families access and understand the
benefits and tax credits to which they are entitled. In June 2009 the
independent Take Up Taskforce published ‘Take Up the Challenge’, setting
out simple practical steps that local services can take to help families to claim
their entitlements. The report also provided recommendations on how
Government can support local services to take the action in the report. The
Government has accepted the recommendations and urged all services to do
more.

In addition, the Government is working with partners including the
Improvement and Development Agency for Local Government (IDeA), Centre
for Excellence and Outcomes (C4EO) and Government Offices, to develop a
coordinated package of support for local services. This will help local partners
play their role in tackling child poverty and fulfil the new duties set out in the
bill.




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Description: Child Poverty Bill Overview