Headlines: March 10th, 2006

The Government has been urged to reform the Council Tax system to lift more children out of poverty after new figures showed the Government had missed the first target in its pledge to eradicate child poverty by 2020.The report from the Department for Work and Pension showed the number of children in poverty has fallen by 700,000 since 1999, missing the target by 300,000. Responding to the figures the Local Government Association called on Ministers to reform the Council Tax system.

Its Vice Chairman, Sir Jeremy Beecham said although there had been a sizeable reduction in the number of children living below the poverty line, there was still much more to be done. At a time when households were facing increasing costs steps to enhance the take up of the Council Tax benefit by lower paid families would help to reduce child poverty further.

“The current system is too complicated and fails to provide an adequate safety net for many of the poorest families in the country. Ministers should embrace the opportunity to ensure that those most in need get the entitlements to help them out of poverty,” he said.

The figures show 2.4 million people had been lifted out of poverty since 1997 and the Work and Pensions Secretary, John Hutton, said the Government remained fully committed to its aim. “Now we must redouble our efforts to ensure we reach our goal, focussing on all the drivers of social exclusion that hold people back from achieving their true potential.”

Poverty campaigners, meanwhile, have urged further investment in benefits schemes to help lift more families above the official poverty threshold but the Shadow work and pensions secretary Philip Hammond said the latest figures proved the state alone could not eradicate child poverty. “We must employ the skills of the private, voluntary and social enterprise sectors to create opportunities for parents who are struggling to get back into work,” he added.