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Eradicating child poverty – a public priority but an unlikely reality?

Posted on 08 December 2011 by Liz Clery, Research Director .
Tags: BSA, British Social Attitudes, child poverty, Children and young people, society, poverty, social and political attitudes

On Universal Children’s Day last month, the UK Children's Commissioners warned the government that cuts to children’s services could result in the number of children living in poverty increasing. This will make it even more unlikely that the government will meet its 2020 deadline for the eradication of child poverty, first set out by Tony Blair in 1999.

The latest British Social Attitudes reoprt reveals that the general public share in the the Children's Commissioners' pessimism. This is the first year that we’ve measured attitudes towards child poverty, and it provides a really helpful snapshot of the public’s views at the mid-point between the introduction of the child poverty target and its deadline.

Just 12% of the public think child poverty has decreased over the last decade, while 46% think it has increased. And the public’s view of prospects as we move towards 2020 is equally bleak; 51% think that levels of child poverty will increase over the next decade, while 29% think that levels will remain the same. Only 14% think that child poverty will decrease.

Despite this public pessimism about the eradication of child poverty, we find strong endorsement of the government’s 2020 target and its associated strategies. The majority of people (79%) think there is “quite a lot” or “some” child poverty in Britain. 82% regard reducing child poverty as “very important” and 79% view this task as one for central Government. Moreover, the coalition’s focus on getting those living in poverty off benefits and into work, as a way of reducing child poverty, reflects public understanding about the causes of child poverty. Although the public recognise that child poverty has a wide array of causes; 63% put it down to parents not wanting to work, while 50% see parents having been out of work for a long time as contributing to child poverty.

So, while the public are not optimistic about the likelihood of the government achieving its child poverty target, they clearly support the assumptions and strategies that underpin it. As we move towards 2020, it is inevitable that levels of child poverty in Britain will be closely monitored. At the same time, we’ll be using the British Social Attitudes report to track changes to public attitudes on this issue, especially in the light of Government policy and achievements.

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