Did child poverty go up under Labour?

7 July 2010
The coalition Government's approach to low income households has been contentious issue in the wake of claims over how 'fair' the emergency budget was.

But how successful were the last Labour Government when it came to issues such as tackling poverty?

Not very, according to Prime Minister David Cameron.

The Claim

Responding to concerns raised on the issue of child poverty at this afternoon's Prime Minister's Questions, David Cameron said that child poverty had gone up under Labour.

"This budget, in spite of all its difficulties, does not add a single family to child poverty in contrast to the last government that put up child poverty by 100,000," he said.  

"Check the figures," the Prime Minister added. So we did.


Full Fact contacted the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), who pointed us in the direction of the Department for Work and Pensions figures for Households Below Average Income (HBAI).

Looking at the figures the kind of rise suggested by the Prime Minister did take place, but it does not paint the full picture of the figures.

In 2004/5 the child poverty figures show that in 2004/5 there 2.7 million children living in poverty, while the most recent figures, for 2008/9 show that child poverty was 2.8 million — the rise of 100,000 Mr Cameron described, but down from 2.9 million the previous year.

So for the figures available for the last parliament, David Cameron's figures are accurate.

However, over the lifetime of the Labour Government the statistics tell a different story.

In the financial year for 1998/9 when Labour set its child poverty target, the number was 3.4 million, so by 2008/9 there had actually been a net reduction of 600,000 children in poverty.

So it appears that the debate centres around which year is taken as a baseline. As a CPAG spokesman explained: "David Cameron can only make the claim that child poverty went up by 100,000 if he chooses 2004/05 as the year back to which he is making his comparisons. 

"A fairer judgement of the Labour party's record and the efficacy of its policy approach is to look at the baseline figure of 1998/99, when they first made the commitment."

The other point about Mr Cameron's use of the figures is that they do not cover the entire period of the last Government there is another set of figures to be published for the final year of the last Government.

The CPAG spokesman told us that it was entirely possible that the next set of figures would continue the downward trend begun in 2008/9.

Though speculative, if such a reduction was shown in the figures it would further weaken the Prime Minister's claim.


David Cameron's figures are technically accurate. However the way they are used ignores important context in longer term trends in child poverty.

The despite a rise in numbers in the middle part of the last decade, measuring progress since the late 1990's shows a much more significant reduction in child poverty.

So while child poverty rose under the Government elected in 2005, this is significantly outweighed by the reductions seen over the entirety of Labour's term in office.  

by Patrick Casey

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