House of Lords overturn Government plan to scrap child poverty target

Published on 2 February 2016

Keetie Roelen

IDS Honorary Associate

Last week the House of Lords voted against the plans to scrap the child poverty target with a clear majority of 92. This overturn is crucial for ensuring that the millions of children in the UK living in poor conditions remain visible and that the government can be held to account for its achievements towards improving children’s lives. Much credit goes out to the passionate and perseverant activities of anti-poverty campaigners, NGOs and wider public.

Last year in July Iain Duncan Smith announced that the child poverty target based on a family’s income status was to be scrapped. Tackling child poverty is not about raising incomes but rather about addressing the causes underlying low incomes, such was the reasoning. Indicators of child poverty should therefore focus on ‘life chances’ and consider worklessness, family breakdown and alcohol dependency rather than availability of cash.

Action from all corners

The announcement led to a public outcry on behalf of child poverty NGOs, activists, academics and the general public. The widespread indignation at the government’s attempt to make 3.7 million children ‘disappear’ galvanised action from all corners. A petition initiated by mother of two Rebecca on Change.org and strongly supported by the Child Poverty Action Group received more than 50,000 signatures. Lord Butler, Bishop of Durham spoke out strongly against the government’s plans ahead of this week’s vote in the House of Lords. While there is strong evidence and widespread acknowledgement that there is more to child poverty than money, money does matter. This holds in the UK as much as it does anywhere else in the world.

Setting an example in the fight against child poverty

Up until Iain Duncan Smith’s announcement last summer, the UK government’s efforts in the fight against child poverty have received much acclaim internationally and served as a positive example for similar action elsewhere, both in ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries. The inclusion of child poverty targets based on family income as outlined in the 2010 Child Poverty Act were considered a valuable tool for monitoring progress but most crucially for holding government to account.

These turn of events may prove to serve as yet another encouraging example for other countries that are in the process of establishing or revising their poverty and child poverty targets. While poverty measurement is often approached as a technical exercise, especially by us researchers, it is inherently political. The overturn of UK government’s plans illustrate how knowledge and evidence can go beyond the reports in which they are reported but be used to safeguard a crucial monitoring and accountability mechanism. More so they are a powerful example of how combined efforts of academics, lobbyists and activists can galvanise public support and create political momentum, serving as a hearty reminder for everyone working towards a better world for children.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IDS.

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