Government loses Lords vote on child poverty


Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister set out proposals to demolish some of the country's bleakest tower blocks as part of a set of proposals to tackle poverty.

Yesterday it was the government's strategy itself that encountered its first hurdle. Last night the House of Lords successfully opposed government plans to scrap the requirement to report on these four child poverty measures:

  • Relative income: Household income less than 60 per cent of current median income
  • Combined low income and material deprivation: Children who experience material deprivation and live in households with incomes less than 70 per cent of current median income

  • Absolute income: Household income less than 60 per cent of 2010/11 median income adjusted for prices

  • Persistent poverty: Household income less than 60 per cent of current median income for at least three out of the previous four years.

Turn2us Comments

We think that this is a good thing. Whilst it is likely that the House of Commons will overturn the decision, this delay will provide an opportunity for charities like us to explain why these statistics help us to identify and alleviate poverty, and why it is therefore so important that they are kept.

Poverty, however you wish to define it, is hard to identify than through proxy measures because people's lives are so complicated. But for a problem that is so effective at hiding itself behind closed doors, income can be a really good way of flagging where help is needed. We know that simply measuring things doesn’t of itself change anything, but the understanding that these four measures gives is invaluable. Especially for organisations like Turn2us that aim to target practical help where it is most needed.
Many a political point will be made about the government's approach to measuring child poverty, but I want to make a pragmatic one. The idea of broadening focus onto other 'lifestyle' factors that will more effectively identify poverty has merit. Things such as living in a workless household, living in poor housing or a troubled area, living in an unstable family environment or having parents who are in poor health are often strong indicators that all might not be well. And measuring these will no doubt be a good way of targeting support to individuals and families who really need it. But why not just include these rather than replace a set of income based measures with a totally different set of social indicators?

The government is partly correct that the comparative nature of median income makes it an unreliable yardstick for measuring poverty, but if the government thought that 60 per cent of median income was a totally irrelevant measure then it wouldn't be recommending that, from 2020, the Low Pay Commission fix the ‘National Living Wage’ to 60 per cent of median income. The issue we should be addressing is context, which is why it is a shame that the government wishes to miss the opportunity of using these measures cumulatively.
Poverty arises when social factors damage income, but the reverse is equally true. As a charity that has been fighting poverty for nearly 119 years, we are well aware that income tells only some of the story. But it is still one of the most vital measures that we have to target our support for those that need it.

Simon Hopkins
Turn2us Chief Executive