The Government has been accused of “moral judgementalism” over its plans to include family breakdown in how it measures child poverty.
Councillor Ralph, who is responsible for children’s issues at Bradford Council, fears proposals to change the way child poverty is defined will deflect from the real problem of massive cuts to the benefit system and huge numbers of children already living below the breadline.
Ministers want to move away from the previous government’s focus on relative household income as an indicator of child poverty and use a “multi-dimensional” measure which takes into account factors such as unemployment, family stability and parents’ health and skills.
But the move has led to concern among some campaigners that the coalition is trying to duck commitments to abolish child poverty by 2020.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith denied that their proposals were about “massaging the figures”.
But Coun Berry said: “I am very concerned about the proposed changes. For a start we are working with figures that are two years old and we all know how bad things have been the past two years for families and those pressures are continuing.
“There is a huge number of people working who are in poverty and are paid less than the living wage. I am really puzzled by this idea of family instability. It is shifting away from reduced earnings and lower spending powers and loss of benefits, and it is becoming about moral judgementalism.”
Coun Berry said the Council was working to its own indicators and the issue was about more than if people are working.
“Getting people into work will not necessarily get them out of poverty,” he said. “My fear is this consultation is attempting to deflect from the upfront causes of poverty. I accept there are some complex discussions to be had, but we are all aware of how serious the problem is with the growing number of food banks and food parcels being handed out.”
A child is considered to be living in poverty if their household income is less than 60 per cent of average wages.
Last year that figure equated to £251 per week, which meant 2.3 million children were living in poverty.
Figures released earlier this year by The Campaign to End Child Poverty showed more than 35,000 children across the Bradford district are growing up in poverty.
Tong and Little Horton were the worst areas with 39 per cent of children living in poverty.
In the consultation announced to Parliament yesterday, family breakdown, drug addiction, debt and education results are among the factors that could be used to measure child poverty in future.
Mr Duncan Smith acknowledged that money matters but insisted it was not “absolutely representative of a child’s life chances”.
He said: “A fixation on the element of relative income or driving people over an arbitrary line does little to identify those entrenched in disadvantage or to transform their lives.
“The new measure would provide a much better indication of how many children are in poverty and to what degree.”
Eradicating child poverty by 2020 was one of the major aims of the Labour government, and the target was also adopted by the coalition.