This government’s absolute failure on Child Poverty


11:12 am - June 13th 2013

by Richard Exell    


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The End Child Poverty coalition has just released the results of an opinion poll that shows 82 per cent of British people think that tackling child poverty should be a government priority.

This includes:

  • 92 per cent of Labour voters
  • 80 per cent of those planning to vote for UKIP
  • 80 per cent of Liberal Democrats
  • 77 per cent of Conservatives

In other words, at a time when the government is unpopular, the people who still plan to vote for them think that tackling child poverty is a priority by a majority of more than three-to-one.

And 64 per cent of people think the government should be doing more.

These are important results (full disclosure: the TUC is an active member of End Child Poverty) because voters who take child poverty seriously are going to be very disillusioned by the government’s performance.

Last month, the Institute for Fiscal Studies forecast that:

In the UK, relative child poverty is projected to increase by 6.0ppts between 2010–11 and 2020–21, reversing all of the reductions between 2000–01 and 2010–11.

On the headline measure, the IFS forecasts that the number of children in relative poverty will increase by 1.1 million between 2010-11 and 2020–21. Without the government’s tax and benefit reforms child poverty “would actually have fallen.”

Remember this forecast when the Department for Work and Pensions publishes the 2011/12 Households Below Average Income statistics.

This is the government’s annual poverty publication, the source of the figures for the numbers of children and others in poverty.

It’s very likely that the number of children in relative poverty will be much the same or even a bit lower than in 2010-11.

This does not mean that austerity isn’t hurting children in poverty. These figures are for 2011-12, a period when the vast majority of benefit cuts had not yet been implemented.

Some truly awful reforms, like the benefit cap, the bedroom tax and the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill didn’t come into effect till this April. The HBAI for 2013 – 14 won’t be published till May or June 2015.

(Of course, the fact that this will be just after the next general election doesn’t have the slightest whiff of conspiracy.)

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About the author
Richard is an regular contributor. He is the TUC’s Senior Policy Officer covering social security, tax credits and labour market issues.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Equality

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Reader comments


The trouble is, many of the very same people who say tackling child poverty should be a priority are also squarely behind policies that have the effect of increasing it and bitterly opposed to policies that have the effect of decreasing it. Look at the benefits cap: hugely popular but having an increase in child poverty as an inevitable consequence. (It ought to be obvious, but somehow isn’t, that a family of eight with housing costs of £1,200 a month can be living in poverty even if they’re on the same ‘average’ income as a family of four with housing costs of £600 a month.)

So although there are some things that can be done about child poverty that would be politically acceptable to just about everyone (e.g. reducing unemployment), it would be naive to think that opposition to child poverty is going to translate into support for any policy that has the effect of reducing it (e.g. repealing the benefits cap).

2. Northern Worker

Child poverty is such a complex subject – all those ‘whys’ and ‘wherefors’. One thing that would make it less complex is how it’s measured. The article says ‘relative’. Is this referring to a measure which is always a certain percentage of an average or median? I’ve got a feeling it is.

So you are poor if you earn less than, say, fifty per cent of median wage. The problem with that is even if you close the gap between maximum and minimum, there will still be a number that is fifty per cent of the median. And someone is always poor in a relative sense. Only if everyone earns the same will there be no poverty by this kind of definition.

So, Richard, enlighten me, what do you mean by relative?

@ Northern Worker

“Only if everyone earns the same will there be no poverty by this kind of definition.”

This isn’t right. You could have wide disparity in incomes and still have no-one below the relative poverty line (60% of median income; the median income being the income of the person at the halfway point when everyone is lined up from poorest to richest).

I posted this in another recent thread to debunk a similar claim that it’s ‘mathematically impossible’ to lift everyone out of relative poverty:

“Imagine a mini-society of 100 people split into five quintiles thus:

1st quintile income: £10,000
2nd quintile income: £15,000
3rd quintile income: £20,000
4th quintile income: £30,000
5th quintile income: £50,000

The median income there is £20,000, 60% of which is £12,000. So those poorest 20 people are all living £2,000 below the line for relative poverty.

Now suppose we distribute that money differently:

1st quintile income: £13,000
2nd quintile income: £16,000
3rd quintile income: £20,000
4th quintile income: £29,000
5th quintile income: £47,000

The median income is still £20,000 and the poverty line is still £12,000, but relative poverty has been eliminated. And inequality is down any way you slice it, with the gaps between bottom and top, bottom and middle, and middle and top all having closed. Hurrah!”

I might add that even if we weren’t worried about inequality per se, and allowed incomes at the top to pull away from everyone else’s, it would *still* be mathematically possible to have no one living in relative poverty. Doubling the fifth quintile income in that distribution to £94,000, for instance, would have no effect on the median income and so on levels of relative poverty.

4. Northern Worker

GO

Good point. But then perhaps you should also consider the same distribution after tax and after tax credits and any other payments received like housing benefit. What does the distribution look like then?

@ Northern Worker

Well… they’re made-up distributions of incomes within a made-up mini-society, of course, but what they’re supposed to illustrate is the sort of impact redistribution via the tax and benefits system can have in terms of reducing relative poverty. You could take the two distributions, ranging from £10,000 to £50,000 and from £13,000 to £47,000, to be snapshots taken before and after the raising of taxes for higher earners to fund higher tax credits/benefits for lower earners.

6. Derek Hattons Tailor

“because voters who take child poverty seriously are going to be very disillusioned by the government’s performance”.

Not necessarily. Firstly, who is going to say they think children in poverty is a good thing. Secondly, opinions differ over what constitutes “poverty” and thirdly, you can be concerned about child poverty but not see the government as being responsible for solving it. For example how are the parents of the child in poverty spending their income.

@1 “It ought to be obvious, but somehow isn’t, that a family of eight with housing costs of £1,200 a month can be living in poverty even if they’re on the same ‘average’ income as a family of four with housing costs of £600 a month.”

The cost of raising children is not linear, any more than the cost of adults is. 2 people living in a flat does not cost twice as much as 1 living in it. A family of 4 do not need twice as much income as a family of 8. Even the benefits system does not make this assumption.

7. Derek Hattons Tailor

@ 3 You’re wrong. It was me you had the debate with and you still don’t understand statistical distribution or what “median” means. I cannot be bothered to explain it again suffice to say

The median of a range from 10-50 = 30 (because 30 is the same distance from 10 as it is from 50) it is not 20.

Similarly, the median of 13-47 is ((47-13)/2) + 13 = 30

The position of the median moves with the range, hence the only way you can eliminate relative poverty is if there is no range, i.e we all earn the same. Otherwise someone always has to be in the bottom x%. If you were saying “income should be more evenly distributed” meaning the range should be smaller, I would agree with you.

@ DHT:

“The cost of raising children is not linear, any more than the cost of adults is. 2 people living in a flat does not cost twice as much as 1 living in it. A family of 4 do not need [half] as much income as a family of 8. Even the benefits system does not make this assumption.”

And nor do I. Still, very large families with very high housing costs need substantially higher incomes than average families with average housing costs in order to stay above the poverty line.

“You’re wrong. It was me you had the debate with and you still don’t understand statistical distribution or what “median” means… The median of a range from 10-50 = 30 (because 30 is the same distance from 10 as it is from 50) it is not 20… The position of the median moves with the range, hence the only way you can eliminate relative poverty is if there is no range, i.e we all earn the same. Otherwise someone always has to be in the bottom x%.”

First of all, the fact that someone always has to be in the bottom x% has nothing to do with levels of relative poverty. Suppose you had 10% of people living on £15,000. 10% on £16,000, 10% on £17,000,…, 10% on £24,000. I think we’d both agree that the median income there would be £19,500 – me because that’s the mean income of the two people in the middle of the distribution (one on £19,000 and one on £20,000), you because it’s the midway point between the lowest and highest incomes in the range (£15,000 and £24,000). Yet no-one would be earning less than 60% of that median (£11,700) and so no-one would be in relative poverty.

As for the question of what ‘median’ means… you only have to look it up. I provided a link to a GCSE revision resource on the subject last time and I’ll paste some more links below.

But really, it ought to be pretty obvious that when people talk about the ‘median income’ in a society, they’re not talking about the income that’s midway between that of the lowest earner and that of the highest earner. Otherwise the median income in a real society like the UK would be somewhere in the tens or hundreds of millions of pounds in any given year and 99.9999% of people would be permanently living in relative poverty.

http://www.mathsisfun.com/definitions/median.html

http://www.purplemath.com/modules/meanmode.htm

http://www.investopedia.com/terms/m/median.asp

…etc., etc. Just Google it.

@ DHT again:

…you’re confusing the median with the *midrange*:

http://statistics.about.com/od/HelpandTutorials/a/Ways-To-Find-The-Average.htm


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