Experts warn massive reductions in UK child poverty may be reversed by Coalition

June 11, 2012

The child poverty approach pursued between 1998 and 2010 was broad-based, made a significant and long-lasting difference to families with children and reduced child poverty on a scale and at a pace unmatched by other industrial nations during the period.

This verdict comes from a group of leading national experts in a landmark report published today by Child Poverty Action Group, which marks the half-way point to ending child poverty by 2020. The report will be launched at a meeting in the House of Commons at 10am today.

Between 1998 and 2010, child poverty was reduced by around a million children with many other children’s lives being positively affected by the polices used; but the ambitious interim target for 2010, set by the last government, will have been missed. However, if the rate of poverty reduction observed over the past decade could be sustained, the 2020 target for eliminating child poverty in the UK would be achieved only seven years later in 2027.

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty action Group, said:

“The verdict is clear that prioritising child poverty across government improved the childhoods and life chances of millions of children and strengthened our economy; but even so, much more needed to be done given the size of the challenge.

“The warnings for the current government are crystal clear. Under current policies they risk wiping out all these hard-won gains. Unless their strategy improves, their legacy threatens to be the worst child poverty record of any government for a generation.

“Some critics of the targets to reduce child poverty say we should downsize our ambition and move the goalposts. But that would destroy the life chances of millions of children and force future governments and taxpayers to pick up the bill for the massive and miserable social and economic costs of poverty.

“As the Prime Minister has said, child poverty is a moral disgrace and an economic waste.  Other countries in Europe already have the low levels of child poverty we are targeting, so nobody should make excuses for why we can’t do better for British children.”

Kitty Stewart (London School of Economics) who contributed a section on the reduction in relative income poverty, said:

"Without Labour's changes to the tax-benefit system, there would have been around 1.8 million more children living in poverty today. Claims that money was thrown into tax credits with little measurable return are simply mistaken, as the evidence shows that the investment paid off, with future benefits still to come. In families most at risk of poverty, such as lone parent households, we observe higher self-esteem, less unhappiness and less risky behaviour among teenagers. That's not only a good thing for those young people today, but it should mean better life chances in the long-run too."

Mike Brewer (Professor Economics, University of Essex, and formerly Institute for Fiscal Studies), who contributed a chapter on financial support for children and families, said:

“It is not accurate to describe the successful reduction in child poverty as just 'poverty plus a pound'.  The extra investment on benefits and tax credits for families with children between 1997 and 2010 increased incomes amongst millions of families in the bottom half of the income distribution, not just those clustered around the poverty line, providing an unprecedented improvement to the material wellbeing of British families. As a result, child poverty looks to have fallen between 1997 and 2010 regardless of where precisely we set the relative poverty line.”


Notes to Editors

  • An embargoed copy of the report is attached with the email distribution of this release; and it can be obtained on request from Child Poverty Action Group.
  • In 2010 all the main parties signed up to the statutory targets for 2020 for ending UK child poverty. All parties included the commitment in their 2010 election manifestos; and the Coalition Agreement reaffirmed this commitment.
  • Further to the findings in our report, research by Jane Waldfogel, a visiting professor at the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, found that the UK’s ‘war on poverty’ was so successful that absolute child poverty was halved in 5 years and the UK’s progress at reducing child poverty was better than any other industrialised nation during the period from 1999. The successful three-pronged approach – (1) promote work and make work pay, (2) increase financial support for families with children, and (3) invest in the health, early-life development, and education of children – is examined in her book Britain’s War on Poverty ( 
  • Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that ending child poverty would strengthen the UK’s economic competitiveness, provide a £25 billion a year boost to the economy, and reduce public spending demands by £17 billion (
  • The most recent figures published by the government, for the year 2009/10, showed that child poverty had been reduced by 900,000 children since the baseline year of 1998 (on the headline measure of relative income poverty before housing costs). Official figures for the 2010/11 target year will be published on 14 June 2012 and are expected to show that, despite the economic situation, the rate did not worsen and may even have improved to a total reduction of a million children since 1998.
  • CPAG is the leading charity campaigning for the abolition of child poverty in the UK and for a better deal for low-income families and children.
  • CPAG is the host organisation for the Campaign to End Child Poverty, which has over 150 member organisations and is campaigning for public and political commitment to ensure the goal of ending child poverty by 2020 is met.

For further information please contact:

Tim Nichols

CPAG Press Officer

Tel. 020 7812 5216 or 07816 909302