Targets to eradicate child poverty must be tied in to a broader agenda on life chances for all children, Children’s Secretary Ed Balls told the Fabian New Year Conference.
Balls told the session ‘How to win the public argument on child poverty’: “It is important not just to have a goal to end child poverty but to have a target about opportunities for all young people…Every child should have the chance to grow up in a healthy and happy family and fulfil their potential.”
An approach that focused narrowly on child poverty would make it “easy for people to think that’s not for me”, he said.
He later strongly defended the use of targeted measures to help families in poverty, alongside universal benefits.
The Secretary of State was responding to a challenge from Peter Kellner, president of YouGov, who questioned Labour’s onus on securing a legally binding target to wipe-out child poverty by 2020.
He made the point that the problem “is not simply about money”. If the Government decided to plough around £6bn directly into the weekly budgets of the country’s poor families, spillover problems such as “an increase in dependency culture” would follow, he said.
“The Government should be taking a more holistic view of the problems faced by children; if you take a holistic view I think the Government has a bloody good record,” Kellner added, citing advances such as Sure Start, a decline in smoking and lower crime levels.
Anastasia de Waal, of Civitas, issued a strong call for Labour to talk more about the importance of family.
Child poverty is intertwined with adult poverty, she said, citing the situation of the NEETs who will be among the next generation of parents, plus low wages.
“We need free universal childcare and we need to put up the money for that,” said de Waal.
Kate Green of CPAG said: “We still have an urgent need to improve the incomes of the poorest families, including the families who are not in paid work.” She pointed to family illness and relationship breakdown as among the factors tipping families into poverty, with about 30 per cent of children still growing up in impoverished households after housing costs have been deducted. Persistent problems of discrimination and poor pay are also meaning families with employed parents are still locked in poverty, she added.