'OUR HISTORIC aim will be for ours to be the first generation to end child poverty forever, and it will take a generation. It is a 20-year mission, but I believe it can be done' (Tony Blair, March 1999).
The last three New Labour conferences trumpeted its commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020. Some people consoled themselves that, while the government might be acting like Tories in relation to everything else, at least they were showing some 'Old Labour' reforming zeal when it came to child poverty.
Of course the tax credits have made life a bit easier for some people working in low paid jobs (if they can navigate their way through the maze of forms). But the pledge to end child poverty was undermined at every turn by Labour's other policies-in particular its refusal to set a decent minimum wage and to increase benefit levels in line with earnings.
This became ever clearer as the tax credits and welfare to work policies failed to bring the expected reduction in child poverty. So, almost unnoticed by the press, on the Thursday before Christmas Andrew Smith, the Minister for Work and Pensions, sneaked out a report entitled 'Measuring Child Poverty'. Hidden in the small print of this fairly technical report was the decision to abandon the promises on child poverty.
The pledge to eradicate child poverty has been replaced by a commitment to 'having a material deprivation child poverty rate that approaches zero and being among the best in Europe on relative low income'. That would suggest a poverty rate of between 6 and 9 percent, or almost one in ten children living in poverty.
The decision to renege on the child poverty pledge has angered campaigners. The End Child Poverty Coalition, for example, says the new 'target rips to shreds the government's pledge to end child poverty by 2020'.
'Material deprivation' is fancy language for severe poverty. For some time, the UK has had one of the worst rates of child poverty in the industrialised world, with 3.8 million children-one in three-living in poverty. But research over recent years has shown that a layer of children-probably one and a half million-live in very deep poverty.
One in three poor children do not have three meals a day, miss out on toys, school trips and out-of-school activities and even lack adequate clothing, particularly shoes and winter coats. They never get a holiday, can never have friends round to stay, even to tea, don't get to go to the cinema or local leisure centres.
Few people thought the government would totally end child poverty, but in reaching for the stars there was some hope they might hit the top of the tree. Now they are reaching lower down, the fear is they will settle for even less. In addition there are now three criteria, not one, by which Labour wants its goal of abolishing child poverty by 2020 to be measured. The change in the way that relative income is to be defined could mean 800,000 children no longer being defined as poor. Abracadabra-poverty abolished!
So, over the coming months, socialists, trade unionists and community activists must pile on the pressure to make sure we get something from Labour's broken promises on child poverty.