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By Peter Hoskin
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IDS

What’s
in a definition? An awful lot, particularly when it comes to child poverty in
this country. The last Labour government defined a poor child as one living in
a household earning less than 60 per cent of the national median income; and they
had a target to raise all such children out of poverty by 2020. But, in practice,
this just meant flushing cash—via benefits and tax credits—towards those just
below the boundary to take them just above it, while thousands were left languishing in more severe
poverty. A narrow definition, and the target that followed on from it, led to
narrow results.

Thankfully—urged
on my think-tanks such as the Centre
for Social Justice
and Policy
Exchange
—this Government is taking a broader approach to poverty and the
combatting of it. The report that they commissioned from Frank Field in 2010 is
a case
in point
. Its central proposal was that policymakers should focus on
improving opportunities for poorer children, particularly those between the
ages of 0 and 5. But its wider point was that it takes more than money to
alleviate poverty. Everything from schooling to breast-feeding
might be taken into consideration.


I
mention all this because Iain Duncan Smith—who has long advocated a more
holistic approach to child poverty—is giving a speech on the subject
today. When it comes to a new definition of child poverty, he’s expected to
say, “I believe that we need to focus on life change so that families are able
to sustain the improvement in their lives beyond government money.” And he will
go on to highlight the case of parents with drink and drug problems:

“For a poor
family where the parents are suffering from addiction, giving them an extra
pound in benefits might officially move them over the poverty line. But
increased income from welfare transfers will not address the reason they find
themselves in difficulty in the first place.

Worse still,
if it does little more than feed the parents’ addiction, it may leave the
family more dependent not less resulting in poor social outcomes and still
deeper entrenchment. What such a family needs is that we treat the cause of
their hardship – drug addiction itself.”

Hence
why the Government is preparing new back-to-work programmes to help those
struggling with addictions. Mr Duncan Smith may well talk more about these
today.

Campaigners
are already saying that IDS is missing the point; that only “7 per cent of those on benefits are problem drug users”
– but this charge seems to miss the point itself. The minister is arguing that,
when it comes to poverty, various factors should be taken into account. As the
Daily Mail’s write-up
of today’s speech
puts it, “he will suggest broader ways of calculating
child poverty – including whether or not parents are in work, educational
failure, family breakdown, problem debt, gambling and poor health”. All of
these things—and more—contribute towards poverty, not just any one of them.

This
is important ground for the Tories, but precarious too. IDS’s colleagues should
avoid tarnishing his moral mission with the sort of unforgiving
rhetoric
that predominated during the recent debate over benefit uprating.
Far better was David Cameron’s speech
to the party conference
in 2009. “It falls to us,” he said then, “to fight
for the poor who [Labour] have let down.” That fight is escalated today.

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