Government has changed the way child poverty is measured

The Conservative party’s 2015 general election manifesto said the government would “work to eliminate child poverty and introduce better measures to drive real change in children’s lives, by recognising the root causes of poverty: entrenched worklessness, family breakdown, problem debt, and drug and alcohol dependency”.

In July 2015, the British government announced a change in the target for child poverty in the UK, moving away from a measure based on income to focusing on the “root causes” of poverty such as unemployment and family breakdown.

While using income as the sole indicator does not draw a full picture about life outcomes for children, income is still a critical factor – particularly since it is low wage work rather than unemployment that affects two out of three children found to be in poverty.

The new figures based on the government’s revised measurements turn out to differ little from the old measurements: 2.3 million on relative poverty and 2.6 million found to be in absolute poverty .

The changes in measurement have given rise to considerable criticism and while there are real limitations to a purely income based measure, the new focus on ‘root causes’, particularly at the level of the family alone, is arguably worse by placing the burden of tackling poverty on parents and children themselves. As Keetie Roelen, from the Institute of Development Studies says “In a perfect world of child poverty targets and measurement, income measures would be complemented by non-income ones, and analysis of root causes would go beyond what happens within the family. Anything less risks turning poverty analysis into a blame game rather than a problem to be solved.”


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