From the TUC

To tackle child poverty we must also address inequality

25 Nov 2009, by in Society & Welfare

Britain is the sixth richest country in the world yet around 30% of our children (over 4 million) live in poverty; in a report released by UNICEF in 2007 Britain came 21st out of 21 of the world’s richest countries in terms of child wellbeing. If we are to take seriously the issues of child poverty and child wellbeing then we need to tackle the high levels of inequality in this country.

In a recent blog post for the Institute of Economic Affairs, Kristian Niemietz was critical of Child Poverty Action Group for an article in the Autumn 2008 edition of our membership journal “Poverty”. In it, Polly Toynbee argued that we should tax those who earn over £100,000 fifty pence on every pound they earn over that amount, to pay for improving services and reducing inequality.

“What [demands Niemietz] does any of this have to do with child poverty? What is the connection between the incomes of the richest 60,000 individuals in society, the overall size of the state apparatus, and the wellbeing of children.”

Although articles in “Poverty” do not necessarily represent our view as an organisation, in this case we totally agree with Polly that inequality and provision of services have everything to do with child poverty and the wellbeing of children.

Writing in the British Medical Journal Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson of the Equality Trust show that there is a negative correlation between levels of inequality and child wellbeing and argue that ‘Improvements in child wellbeing in rich societies may depend more on reductions in inequality than on further economic growth.’

There are two issues here. The first is the increasing evidence that inequality in itself has a negative effect on everyone in society, not just the poorest.  Indeed the work of the Equality Trust has found that the negative effects of inequality include poor health (both physical and mental), increase in teenage pregnancies, higher crime levels and negative outcomes in terms of child wellbeing. What’s more, countries with lower levels of inequality also have lower levels of child poverty, and poverty itself is associated with a whole host of poor child outcomes.

The second issue, and  doubtless the real source of Neimietz’s anguish,  is the question of who pays.

CPAG believes those with the broadest shoulders should bear most of the burden, yet currently  the poor see a higher proportion of their incomes given up to tax than do the rich. The British people largely agree with us: as polling by Compass has shown , 78% would like to see a tax system whereby the richest 10% at least pay the same percentage of their income in tax as the poorest 10%.

The forthcoming Pre Budget Report is a key opportunity for Government  to address issues of inequality and reduce child poverty. Child Poverty Action Group believes it must include measures that redirect funding to help struggling families and people on low incomes as matter of urgency.

GUEST POST: Kate Green is Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, the leading charity campaigning for the abolition of child poverty in the UK and for a better deal for low-income families and children. Previously, she was Director of One Parent Families, and has worked at the Home Office and Barclays Bank. Kate is chair of the London Child Poverty Commission which reports to the Mayor and councils on strategies for reducing the exceptionally high levels of child poverty in the capital; a trustee of Friends Provident Foundation, End Child Poverty, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies; and a member of the advisory board of the Resolution Foundation. She is a Magistrate in the City of London, and has been awarded an OBE. CPAG seeks to initiate or improve national policies on financial support for families through campaigning and lobbying and networking with other organisations. CPAG also provides an expert information and advocacy service on all aspects of social security and tax credits legislation.

4 Responses to To tackle child poverty we must also address inequality

  1. Gene
    Nov 26th 2009, 5:28 pm

    Ok, but one of the key issues is: Where is the money going?

    I think it is not right when the executives of a charity are imploring everyone to donate for the children and at the same time, taking enormous salaries.

    There must be more transparancy for this to work. The executives should be in it for the kids and NOT for the money:

  2. IEA Blog » Blog Archive » Two concepts of poverty, two approaches to tackle it
    Nov 27th 2009, 11:00 am

    […] Green, the Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, recently responded to an IEA blog piece in which I examined a CPAG article by Polly Toynbee. I had argued that the […]

  3. Tom Papworth
    Nov 27th 2009, 3:55 pm

    “The first is the increasing evidence that inequality in itself has a negative effect on everyone in society, not just the poorest”

    Interestingly, there is also increasing evidence that intervention in the economy by governments also has a negative impact on everyone, not just the richest.

    CPAG is one of a numbe of organisations that focusses on relative, rather than absolute, poverty. Yet countries where governments interfere to try to equalise outcomes tend also to have higher rates of absolute poverty. I would much rather live in a society where people were unequally rich than one where they were equally poor.

    The UNICEF report on wellbeing was therefore fundamentally flawed. It viewed inequality as inherently bad for a child’s welbeing. The UK was marked down for inequality, not for quality.

    This fundamental bias serves those whose own interest require that “Poverty will always be with us”, but it leads to policies that prevent the poor from escaping absolute poverty.

  4. Tim Worstall
    Nov 29th 2009, 12:19 pm

    “If we are to take seriously the issues of child poverty and child wellbeing then we need to tackle the high levels of inequality in this country.”

    Well of course. If you start by defining poverty in relative terms (that is, poverty is a measure of inequality) then the only way you can reduce poverty is by reducing inequality.

    This is a tautology.

    The much more important question is should we be measuring poverty in this relative rather than in an absolute manner?

    For example, inequality as measured by market incomes (ie, before tax and benefits) in the UK is now about the same as it was just before the Industrial Revolution (around the 0.5 mark both times).

    Using purely a relative measurement of poverty (ie, inequality) we would now have to assume that the poor are as badly off as they were 250 years ago.

    Which is, of course, arrant nonsense.