Intended for healthcare professionals


Government abolishes child poverty target

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 03 July 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h3643
  1. Ingrid Torjesen
  1. 1London

The UK government has abolished its current target for assessing child poverty, a measure of material disadvantage that is based on family income, and is replacing it with a range of measures to track the life chances of disadvantaged children.

In March 1999 the then prime minister Tony Blair committed to halving child poverty by 2010 and eradicating it by 2020. Child poverty was assessed as the proportion of family households with an income below 60% of median income, which is the measure used by the European Union and many other countries to assess poverty. The 2010 target was missed.

The measure will continue to be published as a government statistic but will no longer be seen as a target.

The downgrading of the target comes just days after official figures showed that the number of children living below the poverty line (according to average income measure) remained unchanged between 2011-12 and 2013-14 at around 2.3 million (almost one in six children).1 And next week the government is expected to outline further curbs to welfare spending in its budget on 8 July that could bring more families below the poverty line.

The Department for Work and Pensions claims that the average income measure is “deeply flawed and a poor test of whether children’s lives are genuinely improving.” For example, the number of children in poverty fell significantly as the economy shrank during the recent recession, but in reality there was little change to the lives of the children who were deemed to be no longer in poverty.

Instead the government will bring forward legislation that will require the assessment of levels of work within a family and improvements in education attainment, which it considers two key areas in terms of improving social mobility. The new legislation to replace the Child Poverty Act 2010 will require assessment of the proportion of children living in workless household and long term workless households and the educational attainment of all pupils and the most disadvantaged pupils at age 16.

The secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, said, “The measures announced today are the foundation of a new, comprehensive way of addressing poverty and reflect our conviction that work is the best route out of poverty. Our new approach will drive effective government action by focusing attention on making meaningful change to children’s life chances.”

The government will also develop a range of other measures and indicators of root causes of poverty, including family breakdown, debt, and addiction, and will set these out in a children’s life chances strategy.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h3643


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