UK Government urged to set targets for tackling child poverty

The UK Government has been urged to follow Holyrood’s lead and set targets for reducing child poverty – despite MPs being told it was “very unlikely” that the 2023 targets in Scotland will be met.

Anne Longfield, who was children’s commissioner for England until earlier this year, said Westminster should set its own target.

Addressing MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee, she said: “There does need to be a national strategy in my view with targets.”

She added: “I think this is very doable, but it needs that determination and political will to make it happen.”

Without targets being in place for reducing child poverty in England, she said there was a “policy void”.

Ms Longfield continued: “Levelling up is clearly much discussed, but a child poverty strategy has to be at the heart of it if it is going to succeed.

“The pandemic we have had is an opportunity for a reset moment, and this really needs to be at the forefront of priorities.”

While the last Labour government had brought in legislation which included targets to tackle child poverty, the Welfare Reform and Work Act of 2016 abolished this.

But Bruce Adamson, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland, told the committee that setting targets in Scotland meant there had been “a significant change in terms of the approach to poverty”.

Legislation passed by Holyrood states that by 2030 less than 10% of youngsters should be living in relative poverty.

The same law also commits the Scottish Government to reducing relative child poverty to below 18% by 2023.

According to the Child Poverty Action Group, more than one in four children – 260,000 – are currently classed as living in poverty.

Mr Adamson said: “It’s really positive we have the targets in place, and the measurement framework in place, they help us track poverty over time. But there is still a lot more to be done.”

He added: “The interim targets that are set for 2023 now do look very unlikely to be met, given particularly the challenges of Covid.”

The pandemic has had a “really profound” impact in terms of children’s rights, Mr Adamson said.

He said: “We were making progress against the targets set, but the progress was slower than hoped.

“My real concern is we’re not doing enough and haven’t done enough over the last 15 months and we’re looking at significant increases in child poverty.”

The latest figures, setting out progress in Scotland against the targets, are due to be published next month, Mr Adamson told the committee.

But he added: “What we’re hearing at the moment from third sector organisations is a really major concern, that despite significant investment, the number of increases in applicants, the number of families who haven’t previously required support who now need support has increased significantly.”

Mr Adamson also stressed that while the Scottish Parliament does have “significant powers” in areas such as social security, many policies are still reserved to Westminster – saying there needed to be a “complementary approach” from the two governments.