No support for abolishing the Child Poverty Act
The government can’t be accused of pussy-footing about. In this Parliament we’ve already had the most radical Budget for 20 years, an attack on trade unions that out-Tebbits Norman Tebbit and cuts to tax credits that will force thousands of low-paid workers and their children into poverty. And, with the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, we have the end of the bi-partisan commitment to ending child poverty. Statistics from the government’s own consultation reveal that next to no-one supports this revival of the ‘nasty party’.
Now, the Bill doesn’t actually repeal the Child Poverty Act 2010. Instead, it amends it so thoroughly that even it’s name is changed, to become the Life Chances Act and renames the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission as the Social Mobility Commission.
The Child Poverty Act was passed in 2010 with full Conservative support – and no humming or hawing about it: from David Cameron down, they insisted on their agreement with it. It requires the Commission to report on child poverty measured in four dimensions – relative, absolute, deprivation, and persistent. The Bill abolishes this duty; the Secretary of State will instead have to report annually on how many children are in workless households and their educational attainment.
There’s nothing wrong with reporting on these issues – everyone who cares about child poverty agrees they’re important – but they aren’t measures of poverty. The new Act and Commission will have nothing to say if poor families’ incomes fall or fail to keep up with the rest of society. (We have more to say about this in a new TUC briefing on the Bill.)
The evisceration of the Child Poverty Act has next to no support from individuals and organisations who care about child poverty. In 2012-13, the government carried out a consultation on “Measuring Child Poverty” on “how we might use other dimensions alongside income to develop better measures of child poverty”. The people who responded included academics, people from local authorities from child poverty organisations. In February 2014 the Child Poverty Unit (what’s their future, I wonder) published the results and concluded that there was a lot of support for a new measure, though they admitted that most people had said that “income matters and a measure of this should be included in any new measures.” Still, it seemed as if most people agreed with the government that the measure of child poverty needed reform.
Then earlier this year a Freedom of Information request (published on 6 May, the day before the election) revealed the results of the consultation. I’d urge you to follow the link and have a look at the results in full, because I only have space to mention some of them. The first question the consultation asked was whether the respondent agreed with the need for a new measure and 183 of the answers responded to this question:
- Yes, to replace current measures 14 (7.7%)
- Yes, but only in addition to current measures 83 (45.4%)
- Yes, but only in addition to relative income 11 (6.0%)
- No, keep the current measures as they are 75 (41.0%)
I take that as a majority against what the Bill is doing of 92 – 8. It’s true that there’s a majority for new measures, and most of us who hate what the government is doing in the Bill don’t have a problem with that – it’s abolishing the current measures we hate. If the government had decided only to add worklessness and educational results to the measures in the Child Poverty Act, most of us would say, there’s probably a case for that. It’s the way they’re effectively saying poverty isn’t about not having enough money that is problematic.
The consultation asked whether we should retain the targets in the Act and 104 respondents answered this question:
- Yes, retain all targets 101
- Just keep relative income 2
- Change the Act 1
I think that’s either 97.1 per cent or 99.0 per cent disagreeing with the government, depending on how you count the 2 who wanted just to keep relative income. And the respondents were just as emphatic about whether income should be included in a measure of poverty. 215 gave a reply that allowed the civil servants to infer a position:
- Income should be included in a measure of poverty 213 (99.1%)
- Should not be included 2 (0.9%)
What is more, of 202 who indicated how important a measure it is:
- Very important 153 (75.7%)
- Important 43 (21.3%)
- Slightly important 4 (2.0%)
- Not important 2 (1.0%)
If they weren’t going to pay any attention to the people who took the time and trouble to respond, why did they ask in the first place?