Report Card 10: The pursuit of austerity must not harm our poorest children

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Today saw the publication of UNICEF’s latest Report Card – part of a series that compares child poverty, inequality and well-being across the world’s richest nations, and highlights interesting evidence about what does and doesn’t work in protecting the most vulnerable children in the UK.

Report Card 10 uses two different ways of measuring child poverty – the relative income poverty measure, and a new child deprivation index constructed by UNICEF. These two measures together show that, in the period to 2009, the UK did better than many other rich countries in reducing child poverty and protecting children from deprivation.

This country managed to make a real difference for children. Through an unprecedented cross-party commitment to tackling child poverty, significant investment in services for children and families, and a focus on increasing the income of the poorest households through tax credits and cash transfers, we were seeing great results. Although we missed the target to halve child poverty by 2010, the UK’s comprehensive approach succeeded in achieving one of the largest reductions in child poverty across all the countries in the report.

But this progress has stalled. Sadly, the new UNICEF report warns we are in danger of allowing many more children to grow up in poverty.

The real power of the UNICEF Report Card series is this: it demonstrates – beyond all doubt – that policy choices can and do affect the lives of children.Thanks to this report, we know that there is much more that the UK Government can do to protect our most vulnerable children and families. A strong political commitment that will not allow children in (still) one of the most developed economies in the world to live in poverty is only the first step.

UNICEF UK is calling on Ministers to set out credible plans to end child poverty by 2020. This course must include an all-round approach to supporting families – one that includes action to increase household income through cash transfers and tax credits, and one that protects vital public services for children and families.

We must also take monitoring child poverty seriously, and attempt to do so quarterly (in the same way as is done for inflation and economic growth) in order to provide policy-makers with real-time evidence to make the best possible decisions.

Finally, we must recognise the value of the relative poverty measure to any country that aspires to put children first, and ensure that the impact of government policies on children is one of the first – not one of the last – considerations when acting to tackle the deficit.

Read the Report Card 10: Measuring child poverty

Sam Whyte is Domestic Policy and Parliamentary Manager at UNICEF UK

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