‘Risk of confusion’ over child poverty measurement

Coalition proposals to change the way child poverty is measured risk creating confusion, the independent Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has warned.

The government-appointed body was responding to a consultation document in which ministers proposed moving away from measuring child poverty purely by reference to income.

Key points

  • The Commission welcomes a multi-dimensional approach to child poverty, saying that it could give 'useful insights' into how problems accumulate in children's lives, and help identify different kinds of poverty.
  • But any new measure needs to supplement, not replace, the existing framework under the Child Poverty Act 2010 passed under the previous Labour government. Relative income measures are important for making international comparisons and allowing clear government accountability.
  • The government should therefore make a 'clear commitment' to maintain the centrality of income in measuring poverty.
  • In their initial form, the different 'dimensions' of child poverty set out in the consultation mix together the causes of poverty with the ways poverty is experienced – in a way that is potentially confusing.
  • The Commission instead recommends a three-pronged approach: (1) developing a new freestanding multi-dimensional measure looking at the causes or risks of poverty, such as worklessness and parental skills; (2) capturing a richer view of the 'current experience' of poverty to supplement income-based measures; and (3) broader improvements, including capturing depth of income poverty better, and developing a new measure looking at chronic disadvantage.

Commenting on the submission, Commission chair (Alan Milburn) said: 'Whatever the measure, the ultimate priority of course remains action to tackle child poverty. On any view, the commitment in the Child Poverty Act 2010 to end child poverty by 2020 remains extremely challenging'. Speaking subsequently to the Independent newspaper, he elaborated: 'I don’t think there is a cat in hell’s chance that the 2020 target will be hit'.

Response to 'Measuring Child Poverty: A Consultation on Better Measures of Child Poverty', Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission
LinksResponse | Commission press release | APPG press release | Labour Party press release | Independent report
NotesConsultation document (November 2012)