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15.11.12

Child poverty definition must be broadened

A better definition of child poverty is needed, ministers have stated, as a consultation into the calculation is launched. Simply focusing on income levels is too narrow an approach, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith will say in a speech.

The consultation comes after recent figures show fewer children living in poverty. However, this is largely due to falling wages narrowing the gap between the poorest and average earners, rather than more families moving out of poverty.

Child poverty currently applies to those whose household income is less than 60% of median wages. In 2011, this threshold was £251 per week, which meant 2.3 million children were living in poverty. Whilst this was 300,000 fewer than the year before, ministers believe this is down to falling average wages.

A broader definition of poverty should consider other factors, such as joblessness, educational failure and family breakdown as well as income, ministers believe.

Duncan Smith is expected to say: “Across the UK, there are children living in circumstances that simply cannot be captured by assessing whether their household has more or less than 60% of the average income.

“There are many factors that impact on a child's wellbeing and ability to succeed in life... and measuring income alone does little to represent the experience of those in poverty.

“As we saw earlier this year - when the child poverty level dropped by 2% - a fall in the median income may lift a family out of poverty on paper.

“Yet at a closer look, real incomes did not rise and absolute poverty was unchanged. For the 300,000 children no longer in poverty according to the official statistics, life was no different.”

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