Child poverty in the UK is way too high. It is at unacceptable levels and has been for too long. The government is united in taking child poverty seriously and we are determined – even in difficult times – to reduce child poverty and increase opportunities.
Traditionally we have defined poverty simply by relative income. We know now that this is not sufficient. A child’s experience of poverty is about more than whether their family income this week is low.
That is why we are consulting on a new measure of poverty. The new measure is not about abandoning the past. Nor is it about massaging the figures. It is instead about recognising the many dimensions of child poverty.
Income – or rather the lack of a decent income – is and will always be at the heart of what it means to be poor. We understand that. We know it to be true. And we are not running away from it.
But, as anyone who has ever experienced poverty will know, poverty has other dimensions. That is why, for example, we are consulting about including issues related to housing. It is legitimate to consider whether overcrowding, or the condition of a house or area should be included, over and above simple measures of income.
And then, most fundamentally, we need to think about the causes of poverty, and routes out of poverty. Good targets should incentivise good policy. We have to make sure that policy tackles the long term causes of poverty as well as looking at the short term effects of worklessness and low skills. We are therefore consulting about employment opportunities that are available.
And we are going further, and consulting about including educational standards in our measure of poverty. For sure, a good education does not reduce the extent or reality of poverty today. But it is equally the case that a good education is the strongest basis to avoid being poor as an adult. Those who get a high quality education and strong exam results are more likely to find good, stable employment later on in life. Good schools for everyone, irrespective of their background, lie at the heart of what this government is about. We are providing additional money for the most disadvantaged children through the Pupil Premium. We are insisting that all schools become good or outstanding schools. We are raising aspirations and expectations.
Today we are launching a genuine consultation – if you are passionate about this issue, we really do want to hear your views. Together, we will devise a better measure of child poverty. And then, together, we can put all the policies in place to deliver our shared ambition of our country in which we wipe away the scar of child poverty which currently defaces our nation.
You can respond to the consultation here.
* David Laws is Liberal Democrat Minister for Schools.