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UK Government plans to change how child poverty is measured are an interesting mix, and owe more than a passing resemblance to the Welsh Government’s own measures – not that either party would like to admit it.
Ian Duncan Smith’s often-repeated statements about the inadequacies of the previous government’s income-based measure have, perhaps understandably, got poverty campaigners wound up. But a closer look at the consultation document rather than the rhetoric reveals a more thought-through, and in some places very welcome, change of approach.
They underlying message is that measuring only income doesn’t capture the reality of children’s lives, and so wider measures are needed. The intention is not to get rid of the income measure, but to add to it with measures of other aspects of children’s lives. We’re well used to this multi-dimensional approach to neighbourhoods, for example.
The argument then is about what factors should be included.
Debt, housing quality and access to decent education are all proposed and it is hard to see why campaigners would not want them included. Indeed the Welsh Government has previously included measures of housing stress (such as living in B&B accommodation or overcrowded conditions), the proportion of workless families and educational attainment in its own milestones and targets. It’s a brave Minister who increases what the government is to be held accountable for – yet Iain Duncan Smith appears to be doing precisely that.
Some of the other measures are more contentious. It’s a moot point whether family breakdown, lack of parental education and skills and parental ill-health necessarily mean a child is disadvantaged. And what, in any case, is the UK Government going to do about it – ban people without qualifications having a child? – take children of parents who are diagnosed with cancer into care? These indicators are much more problematic and, in my view, don’t have a place in measuring child poverty.
There are some measures of child poverty that are conspicuous by their absence from the consultation paper. The proportion of 16-18 year olds who are not in education, employment or training is surely one of the most important. A safe neighbourhood with places to play must surely be another. Neither of these feature. Nor does the incidence of violence or abuse against children or within the family.
Although the Welsh Government has its own child poverty strategy and some have said that the proposed changes to measuring poverty do not apply here, the consultation paper makes it very clear that they do:
The Child Poverty Act 2010 targets and measures apply across the United Kingdom. Any better measures of child poverty would also apply across the United Kingdom. (p.5)
Far from rejecting the proposals outright, those concerned with child poverty need to get behind the political rhetoric and recognize that, so long as income continues to be included, there is much to welcome.
Organisations and individuals in Wales have until 13th February 2013 to respond.
Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation