Redefining Poverty Will Lead to Ridicule, Ministers Told

Article excerpt

TONY BLAIR'S pledge to eradicate child poverty in Britain by 2020 will be undermined if the Government tries to "manipulate" measures of low income, he has been warned.

Two influential think-tanks have told ministers that any redefinition of poverty that produces dramatic changes in the figures would erode public trust. The Social Market Foundation and the New Policy Institute say the Prime Minister's ambitious promise has left the Government with a huge problem because poverty is unlikely to be wiped out under current measurements. They fear that redrawing the statistical definition of poverty will produce the same kind of cynical reaction that the Tories had to deal with when changing measures of unemployment.

The Department for Work and Pensions is trying to find the best way to gauge poverty in Britain and has published a consultation paper suggesting radical changes.

One of the options being considered by ministers is to follow Ireland with a measure of poverty that combines relative and absolute indicators. The measurement of so-called consistent poverty ended the practice of defining the poor as those living on less than 60 per cent of median income. Once it was introduced in Ireland, the definition resulted in new statistics showing poverty in the country had been falling substantially.

But the think-tanks argue that such a definition is too crude and that copying it in Britain would invite ridicule. In a report to be published today, the Social Market Foundation argues that changing the measurement of poverty along the Irish model is "not to be recommended".

The report says: "Any attempt to adopt this measure would result in allegations that the Government is `manipulating' the figures. …