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  • Author or Editor: Kitty Stewart x
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The number of children living in relative poverty in the UK increased dramatically over the two decades prior to 1997. As Table 7.1 shows, between one in three and one in four children lived in households with less than 60% of average income when Labour came to power, depending on whether income is measured before or after housing costs (BHC or AHC). This represented a much sharper rise in poverty among children than among the rest of the population. By the mid-1990s, child poverty in the UK was higher than in much of the rest of the industrialised world:UNICEF (2000) ranked the UK third bottom of 17 countries, ahead only of Italy and the US.

Table 7.1 also shows what happened to child poverty when measured against a fixed income poverty line (60% of average income in 1996/97). Measured AHC, nearly as high a share of children lived below the fixed line in 1997 as in 1979: after housing costs, real incomes for the poorest families with children had barely changed, despite substantial improvements in average living standards.

The rising level of household worklessness was one important factor behind this trend. One in five children lived in a household with no member in work in 1997, compared to just 8% in 1979 (Gregg and Wadsworth, 2001). This in turn was partly due to the fact that more children were living with a single parent – 22% in 1995/96, up from 10% in 1979 (Gregg et al, 1999, Table 1). In addition, the 1980s and 1990s had seen polarisation of work among two-parent households, with rising numbers of dual worker families on the one hand and no-worker families on the other (Gregg and Wadsworth, 2001).

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This chapter looks at the government’s efforts to improve living standards and opportunities for the poorest children. It assesses progress towards the child-poverty targets as well as the impact of early-years policies, intended to stop a class divide in child development from being established long before children reach school. Labour’s agenda for tackling poverty and disadvantage among children was serious and wide ranging, but with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that its policies did not match the scale of the challenge. The strategy began well and ambitiously, and by 2004 there were positive signs that it was succeeding in improving the daily reality and future prospects of poor children. However, it was noted in 2005 that this success should be considered just a start.

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The UK’s concern about levels of poverty and social exclusion in recent years is not unique. The Lisbon Summit of the European Council (23-24 March 2000) placed poverty and social exclusion at centre stage for EU countries, asking member states to take steps to “make a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty” (Lisbon Summit Conclusions, para 32). Countries have had to publish National Action Plans for Social Inclusion and a set of target indicators are now published: for the first time, Europe has a scorecard for poverty, inequality and exclusion alongside those for inflation and interest rates.

Prior to this, several member states had already begun to increase the priority given to tackling deprivation. In many cases this was triggered by the election of a left-of-centre government: by 1999, 11 of the 15 EU countries had such a government in power, all of them elected after 19931. For instance, the Netherlands has had an anti-poverty policy since 1996, which has included active labour market policies alongside measures to raise the incomes of the poorest. In Ireland, the National Anti-Poverty Stategy (NAPS) was adopted in 1997, leading to targets for persistent poverty and unemployment, and the introduction of the practice of ‘poverty-proofing’ all government policy from 1998. In France, a ‘law against exclusion’ was passed in 1998, followed by a series of initiatives including the 1999 Law on Universal Health Insurance Coverage, while Portugal introduced a guaranteed minimum income for the first time in 1996. The Social-Democrat/Liberal coalition elected in Belgium in 1999 was an important force behind the establishment of common European social indicators, having made this a major priority for the Belgian presidency of the EU in 2001.

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This chapter examines child poverty. It evaluates the evidence on child poverty under New Labour and during the recession of 2008–09. It illustrates the modest progress made by Labour governments in reducing child poverty during its time in office and points to the protective effect during the recession of Labour’s macroeconomic and benefits policies. It notes that the government’s anti-poverty strategy relies heavily on substantial job growth in the private sector. It concludes that children in low-income households have suffered a ‘treble blow’: the continuing impact of the recession, the need to reduce the structural deficit and the arrival of a new government committed to particularly steep cuts to public spending and placing a lower priority both on income poverty and on children.

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This chapter takes a wider cross-national perspective, asking whether a decade of Labour government has improved the UK’s international standing on indicators of poverty, inequality, and child well being. Despite various efforts, in 2007, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) published a report that placed the UK bottom of a child well being league. The first half of the chapter is dedicated to the material well-being domain. The second half examines relative progress in education, risks and behaviours, peer relationships, and subjective well being. At times, discussion is restricted to European Union (EU) member states because of the data available, but, where possible, information for other OECD countries is included.

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The European Union (EU) is expanding – over the next decade as many as 13 new members may be admitted, ten of them transition countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). In this chapter we consider measurable differences in the well-being of children between current club members, the EU member states, and the ten CEE applicants seeking admission1. Discussion of the suitability of applicants to join any club provides an opportunity to look in a mirror and consider the state of the existing membership. We therefore emphasise the differences among the current members as well as contrasting them as a group with the applicants. And we consider whether applicants have a comparative advantage over members in any dimension of well-being – a possibility that is completely overlooked in both media and academic focus on the relative economic strengths of the two groups of countries. To anticipate one result: Slovenia has an under-5 mortality rate that is below the EU average.

We first discuss (a) criteria for EU membership, emphasising the human rights dimension, and (b) the approach currently taken by the European Commission to measuring differences in living standards within the Union. In both cases we emphasise the need for a much broader view than is typically taken, and one that includes a comprehensive picture of the well-being of children – the 79 million in the current EU15 and the 25 million in the CEE applicants.

We then consider in turn three dimensions of well-being of European children; their economic welfare, their health, and their education.

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This chapter examines UK government policy towards young children in the aftermath of the 2007 financial crisis. It covers both the 2007-2010 Labour administration under Gordon Brown and the Coalition Government 2010-2015. It explores how policy decisions and spending cuts affected services for children under five during this period, and presents some preliminary outcome indicators, including measures of poverty, low birthweight and early child development. The chapter highlights a clear shift in policy direction when the Coalition Government took office, with families with young children shouldering a ‘double burden’ under austerity measures from 2010 onwards. Benefit reductions hit families with young children harder than any other group, while services for this group were heavily squeezed by cuts in local authority funding settlements. Child poverty started rising for families with a baby from 2010/11, and there were signs that previous progress in narrowing socio-economic gaps in early child health and cognitive development may have stalled.

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New Labour, poverty, inequality and exclusion
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This major new book provides, for the first time, a detailed evaluation of policies on poverty and social exclusion since 1997, and their effects. Bringing together leading experts in the field, it considers the challenges the government has faced, the policies chosen and the targets set in order to assess results. Drawing on research from the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, and on external evaluations, the book asks how children, older people, poor neighbourhoods, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups have fared under New Labour and seeks to assess the government both on its own terms - in meeting its own targets - and according to alternative views of social exclusion.

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