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Poverty: Children

Volume 486: debated on Monday 19 January 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what definition his Department uses of child poverty; when this was last amended; what recent discussions he has had with Ministerial colleagues on the definition; what recent representations he has received on the definition; and if he will make a statement. (241164)

The Department uses three indicators to monitor levels of child poverty; they were established in 2003 following a lengthy period of consultation.

Absolute low income measures whether the poorest families are seeing their income rise in real terms. The threshold is fixed as equal to the relative low income threshold for the baseline year of 1998-99 expressed in today’s prices.

Relative low income measures whether the incomes of the poorest families are keeping pace with the growth of incomes in the economy as a whole. This indicator measures the number of children living in households below 60 per cent. of contemporary median equivalised income. This is the indicator which is used to measure performance against the public service agreement target to halve child poverty by 2010-11.

Material deprivation and low income combined provides a wider measure of people’s living standards. This indicator measures the number of children living in households that are both materially deprived and have an income below 70 per cent. of contemporary equivalised median income. More details can be found in the consultation conclusion document, Measuring Child Poverty, available in the Library.

Since 1998 progress has been made against all of the indicators. 600,000 children have been lifted out of relative low income between 1998-99 and 2006-07, a shift from 3.4 million children to 2.9 million children. The number of children living in absolute low income has halved from 3.4 million to 1.7 million. Between 2004-05, the first year data was available, and 2006-07 the number of children in the UK defined as poor using the combined indicator of relative low income and material deprivation fell by 200,000 from 2.2 million to 2.0 million on the particular material deprivation threshold that was chosen.

Low income is not the only dimension to poverty and a child’s quality of life, including access to health care, education and a safe environment, are critical. The three indicators are therefore underpinned by the broader Opportunity for all indicators. Opportunity for all is the Government’s report on poverty and social exclusion which includes a wide range of poverty and social exclusion indicators for children and young people (as well as working age adults, older people and communities) including health, education and housing. Details can be found on the Opportunity for all website at:

While we have made substantial progress in tackling child poverty we are not complacent. Despite the scale of the challenge the Government’s commitment is stronger than ever. The Prime Minister’s recent announcement of our intention to legislate on child poverty gives us renewed impetus.

The Secretary of State meets regularly with Cabinet colleagues and others on the issue of child poverty. The Child Poverty Unit was established at the end of 2007 to put a sharper focus on cross-Government working to develop a truly integrated approach to tackling child poverty. The Government are committed to working with stakeholders to develop a strategy and move forward with legislation.