Iain Duncan Smith is to downgrade the present method of measuring child poverty, which he believes is based too much on income.
Child poverty is to be measured by how long children have two birth parents looking after them, the length of worklessness in households and school achievement under controversial new plans to be set out today.
A new range of indicators will be introduced including family stability, worklessness and educational achievement. Duncan Smith, in a joint move with the schools minister, David Laws, will say the new measures better reflect the reality of poverty today.
He will stress the most recent figures, showing that since the coalition was formed in 2010, 300,000 children had moved out of relative income poverty, the number of households living below the median income.
Duncan Smith will point out that this fall is due to a decline in the median income nationally, which pushed the poverty line down, and the children defined as moving out of poverty were no better off in absolute terms than before.
Poverty is currently measured by the number of households living at or below 60% of the median income. Labour set a target to reduce the number of children living in relative income poverty to 1.7 million by 2010-11. This was not met; in 2010-11, 2.3 million children were living in relative income poverty. It also vowed to abolish poverty by 2020 and set this goal in statute.
Duncan Smith will say:
A fixation on relative income, on moving people over an arbitrary line … does little to identify those most in need and entrenched in disadvantage, nor to transform their lives.
For families across the UK who are income-poor, but more than that, whose lives are blighted by worklessness, educational failure, family breakdown, problem debt and poor health, as well as other problems, giving them an extra pound – say through increased benefits – will not address the reason they find themselves in difficulty in the first place.
The Lib Dem schools minister, David Laws, will say:
Traditionally we have defined poverty simply by income. But this is not enough. The experience of child poverty is about more than whether their family income this week is low.
Chris Wellings, Save the Children’s head of poverty, said:
We agree that income is not the only way to measure poverty and that looking at a child’s opportunities is critical, but we should be careful not to ditch the internationally recognised measure.