Ten reasons why Iain Duncan Smith is right about child poverty

Glasgow Caledonian University’s John McKendrick writes about the new changes to how we measure child poverty…

On July 1st 2015, Iain Duncan Smith, the UK Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, gave notice of a “new and strengthened approach to tracking the life chances of Britain’s most disadvantaged children”. Having digested the DWP Press Release and the Oral Statement that was circulated by the Head of the Child Poverty Unit, here are ten reasons why Iain Duncan Smith is correct:

1. “The relative income measure of poverty is flawed”
Of course, it is … if this measure is misused and overstretched. Setting aside what might be argued as the flaw of estimating child poverty ‘before housing costs’, as opposed to ‘after housing costs’, the relative income measure of poverty is flawed if it used in isolation to understand child poverty. But, that is not what it is designed to do – it is one of a suite of four indicators in the Child Poverty Act 2010 that, taken together, help us better understand the realities of child poverty in the UK.

2. “It [the relative income measure of poverty] was driving Government policy on an unsustainable path”
Of course, it is … because that [driving policy] is what targets are meant to do. As for its sustainability, you will consider it unsustainable if you subscribe to the view that we cannot afford to tackle child poverty and that there are no long-term costs (financial and beyond) of perpetuating child poverty. How might we be expected to increase the relative share of income and wealth among the most affluent in the UK if we simultaneously work toward eradicating child poverty? Clearly, tackling child poverty is “an unsustainable path” on that count.

3. “Many poverty analysts are concerned that setting a simplistic poverty threshold has warped government priorities”
Of course, they are … if the poverty analysts we refer to are those who are working toward ensuring that children do NOT live in a household with an income that is so far below the typical household income, as to prevent them fully participating in society. Why would any poverty analyst want to achieve this “warped priority” …

4. “Asking Government to raise everyone above that set percentage (60% of median household income) led to unintended consequences. Most of all to poorly targeted spending, pumping money into the welfare system”
Of course, it did … if work doesn’t generate sufficient income to provide parents/carers with a living wage and if children live in households in which adults are not able to support themselves through work (and the tiny minority who may not be willing to work), then the only way to ensure that children do not suffer from growing up in poverty is through welfare. It’s generally accepted that this is the whole point of a welfare system … to protect the most vulnerable in times of need.

5. “Looking at welfare overall – spending increased by 60% in real terms under the last government. … Driven by the need to chase a moving line”
Of course it did … because that “moving line” is a contemporary measure of what is required by households to prevent them being too far behind typical household income. If that moving line is not “chased”, then living conditions worsen for the most vulnerable. Surely, that’s not what is being proposed … is it?

6. “Despite all this spending, by 2010 under the last Labour government: (i) The number of households where no member ever worked nearly doubled; (ii) In work poverty rose; and (iii) the Government missed their 2010 child poverty target by 600,000 children”
It most certainly did … so what’s the plan to make work pay a living wage and to tackle child poverty? Surely, the plan is more than a desire to make work pay relatively much more than welfare by reducing welfare … because relative measures of income are flawed are they not …

7. “This is because the present Act does nothing: (i) to focus Government action on improving a child’s future life chances; (ii) to acknowledge the key role education plays; or (iii) to recognize that work is the best route out of poverty”
Of course it didn’t … because the Act set targets, which were supposed to be underpinned by policy to achieve these goals. The problem was not the Act, but the ineffectual policies that were used to achieve its goals.

8. “Work, I believe, is the best route out of poverty”
Of course it is … if we are prepared to ignore the fact that the majority of children living in poverty in the UK are now living in households in which at least one of the adults is in paid employment.

9. “The educational attainment measures will focus on GCSE attainment for all pupils and for disadvantaged pupils”
Of course it should … if we believe that the educational attainment of children in Scotland (disadvantaged or otherwise) does not matter. Now, this may be construed as pedantry from a dissident Jock (and, if I’m honest it is!). Then again, this is a classic example of the limited horizons of those responsible for shaping social priorities in the UK.

10. “We will reform the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission to become the Social Mobility Commission”
Of course you should … because, why pretend you are serious about tackling child poverty in the UK when you are not?

This is not the UK that I want. What is proposed is unlikely to directly and adversely impact on my six year old daughter, or my first grandchild when s/he pops along in November. That’s not the point. I want better for their friends, neighbours and peers. In that sense, “we are all in it together”.

The half-truths of Iain Duncan Smith, the UK Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, need to be exposed.

John McKendrick, Glasgow School for Business and Society, GCU.


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