Monday, December 10, 2007

Balls promises end to child poverty by 2020

from The Guardian

Anthea Lipsett
Monday December 10, 2007

Children's secretary Ed Balls today committed the government to wiping out child poverty by 2020.

In a speech to the End Child Poverty campaign conference, Balls said: "Addressing child poverty is a key focus of this department and - along with my colleagues in government - I am absolutely committed to eradicating child poverty completely by 2020."

He said a much broader, "all-encompassing" approach would be needed and it was vital to prevent today's primary schoolchildren from becoming "tomorrow's impoverished parents". The government's 'children's plan', due to be published tomorrow, will consider the services poorer families are provided with and set out what more can be done to narrow the gap in attainment between poor children and their peers.

Balls told delegates: "I'm acutely aware of how poverty - relative and absolute - can stunt children's opportunities in life. It limits their educational chances, it restricts their health and happiness, and it frequently curtails their aspirations."

He said the government had, in 1999, set one of the most ambitious economic and social policy objectives in the developed world - to eradicate child poverty within a generation - and since 1997 it managed to stem the long-term trend of rising child poverty.

"There are 600,000 fewer children living in relative poverty now than there were in 1998/99 - the biggest fall of any EU country over this period," Balls said.

And he cited reforms to the tax and benefit system (meaning that the poorest families will be an average of £4,000 better off in real terms by April 2009), the 1,500 Sure Start children's centres, and the national minimum wage of £5.52 since October as a reason behind the improvements. A rise in employment, with over 2.7 million more people now in work, including 335,000 more lone parents, had also helped, he said.

But Balls said he shared delegates' disappointment that last year's figures - for the first time since 1999 - showed an increase in the number of children living in poverty.

He said the new Department of Children, Schools and Families, the child poverty unit and simpler targets - for instance, to halve child poverty by 2010 - would drive more action on child poverty locally and, alongside the children's plan, would help the government meet its 2020 target.

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