Number of children living in poverty rises

The government's child poverty targets lay in tatters today as new figures showed that 2.9 million children are officially living below the breadline in the UK – up 100,000 since 2005-06

The government's child poverty targets lay in tatters today as new figures showed that 2.9 million children are officially living below the breadline in the UK – up 100,000 since 2005-06.

The statistics, released by the Department for Work and Pensions, push the government even further from its target of halving child poverty by 2010.

It is the second successive year that the government has failed to make progress.

The figures also show that in 2006-07 there were 2.5m pensioners living in poverty, a rise of 300,000. This is the first increase in pensioner poverty since 1998.

The number of children and pensioners in poverty is even higher once housing costs such as rent and mortgages are taken into account.

Anti-poverty campaigners described the increases in child and pensioner poverty as "shameful" and a "disgrace" and urged the government to commit £3bn towards meetings its targets.

Tony Blair announced in 1999 the target of halving child poverty by 2010 and eliminating it by 2020. Nine years ago the figure stood at 3.4 million.

Ministers insist that the targets are not being ditched, although their struggle to meet them is proving deeply embarrassing.

Stephen Timms, the employment and welfare reform minister, acknowledged that the figures represented a slip.

He said: "We are committed to tackling poverty and providing opportunity for all and these figures confer with the very substantial progress over the last decade to large numbers of pensioners and children lifted out of poverty in relative and absolute terms.

"But we have heard that over the last year or two we have on some levels slipped back."

James Purnell, the work and pensions secretary, insisted that the government had made "significant progress" on reducing child and pensioner poverty.

He added: "Had the government done nothing other than simply uprate the tax and benefit system, we estimate there would have been 1.7 million more children and 1.5 million more pensioners in poverty today."

But Help the Aged said that the government ought to be "mortified" by the latest figures, which show an additional 822 pensioners a day in poverty.

Mervyn Kohler, the charity's special adviser, said: "When older people live on a fixed income it is virtually impossible for them to pull themselves out of poverty. Pensioners often have to cut back on essential household items, just to survive. This is a disgrace."

He added: "The government must take responsibility for the inequality so many older people face. Instead, each year the Treasury sits on more than £5bn of unclaimed benefits which should go to older people. While this figure may make the chancellor rub his hands together with glee, this daylight robbery of older people must not be allowed to continue."

Kohler said that benefits ought to be paid automatically to ensure older people got the benefits they were entitled to.

The Child Poverty Action Group said that failure to meet the 2010 target would be a result of "lack of moral leadership" and led calls for the government to commit an additional £3bn to meeting it.

The charity's chief executive, Kate Green, said: "We all know that the 2010 target can be met. We all know that even in tight budget years, funding for the most important needs can be found. Failure in 2010 would not be due to a lack of national wealth, but a lack of moral leadership.

"This year's pre-budget [report] will be a time for political courage from the chancellor for poor children."

She added: "Why should Britain's children suffer more than children in other wealthy countries? We can end our child-poverty shame and we must."

The charity said that generous changes to child tax credit and child benefit in budgets and pre-budget reports over the last two years had come too late to affect today's figures.

And the changes - which ministers believe will lift 550,000 children out of poverty - will still leave the government needing to help a further 550,000 in order to hit its target of 1.7 million.

Barnardo's said it was "shameful" that so many children in the UK – the world's fifth richest country – were living in poverty.

Martin Narey, the charity's chief executive, said: "This is not the time for warm words from the chancellor about hoping to meet the target. He should announce, now, exactly how it will be done. By using next year the £2.7bn found this year to sort out the 10p tax embarrassment he has almost all the money he needs to reach this astonishing goal."

The Institute for Public Policy Research also called on the government to put more money into eradicating poverty. The thinktank's Kate Stanley said: "It is crucial that there is substantial further investment."

She added: "The two key challenges for government, and all of us, are that too many children are still growing up in households where no one is in paid work, and too many working mums and dads don't earn enough to lift their families out of poverty. Addressing this must be made priorities".

Save the Children said it was "shocked" that the number of children in poverty had risen. Spokeswoman Phillipa Hunt said: "While the impact of the £1bn pledged by the government in the March budget isn't yet reflected in these figures, today's results demonstrate more action is urgently required. "

Labour MP Frank Field, who led the revolt against the abolition of the 10p tax band, which resulted in a compensation package for those affected, said that today's figures were as much of a disappointment to poor families as they were to the government.

He said: "Few nobler government ambitions can have been set than abolishing child poverty over 20 years. These latest figures, however, should lead to the most serious consideration of the government's tax credit strategy. Policy is, in effect, in a cul-de-sac where more of the same won't necessarily lead to an advance. It's back to the drawing board".

Despite early successes, the government missed its interim target of a quarter reduction by 2004-05, and last year numbers began rising again to 2.8 million.

Today's figures show that the number of adults in poverty has remained the same at 5.3m.


Jenny Percival and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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