The government’s child poverty strategy falls short of the mark

The government's child poverty strategy is disappointingly short on new ideas.

Claudia Wood is deputy director of the think tank Demos

This morning the government launched its long-awaited Child Poverty Strategy.

It certainly ticks a few of the boxes on defining the causes of child poverty – but disappointingly it falls crucially short on new ideas.

The Strategy’s objectives are threefold. It focuses on income, costs of living and educational attainment.

It is a clear, focused and well-evidenced framework that walks the perilous path between two undesirable extremes. On the one hand moving on from the old, single income-based strategy (which DWP felt led to perverse attempts to boost income over an arbitrary line), while avoiding a too-broad, multidimensional approach that might fail to accord income any priority at all.

But the government has shot itself in the foot by failing to provide any indicators that could be used to measure its success. Indeed, it is difficult to tell from the strategy what the government thinks success would even look like.

Without indicators or relevant targets the government has absolved itself of any obligation to measure actual outcomes.

Instead, the government has reverse engineered its own policies to cobble together a definition of poverty that retrospectively justifies these policies they peddled in 2010.

The strategy presents Universal Credit as the solution to in-work poverty, and the Localism Act as the cure-all for neighbourhood deprivation. Coalition policies since 2010 emerge as the blueprint for the future. Quelle surprise!

What the strategy really, and critically, lacks is vision. The document is devoid of any new policy suggestions, and when future plans are mentioned they are bafflingly open-ended – ‘promoting competition across all areas’ is hardly a detailed formula for reducing living costs.

Demos research has confirmed the importance of complementing income-based measures with other everyday indicators like health, housing, debt and material deprivation in any definition of poverty.

The new Child Poverty Strategy indicates that the government is thinking along similar lines, but to really drive big ideas for the future, it needs to stop attempting to justify its own past.

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