The Welfare Reform and Work Bill being presented to Parliament offers us a sticky confection of policies related to poverty and benefits. Most have been announced before, including the freeze in the level of most benefits, the denial of benefits to families with more than two children, the reduction in the benefit cap and the rather more important removal of distinct rates of benefit for people who are too sick to work. The removal of most measures relating to child poverty is particularly worth noting. The Explanatory Notes are helpfully explicit:
The specific parts of the Child Poverty Act 2010 that this Bill removes are:
a. The four UK wide targets along with the definitions of the related measures:
- Relative low income;
- Combined low income and material deprivation;
- Absolute low income; and
- Persistent poverty.
b. The duty upon the Secretary of State to meet these targets.
c. The continuing effects of the targets after the target year.
d. The provisions in sections 8-8C relating to the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.
e. The duty on the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a UK wide strategy.
f. The duty on Scottish Ministers to lay before the Scottish Parliament a Scottish strategy
g. The duty on the relevant Northern Ireland department to describe in its strategy the progress it intends to make to contribute to the meeting of the targets in para (a).
h. The duty on the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a statement in relation to the targets described in para (a).
i. The duty placed on local authorities to co-operate to reduce child poverty in their local area including the preparation of a joint child poverty strategy.
j. The duty placed on local authorities to prepare and publish an assessment of the needs of children living in poverty in their area.
It does at least, have the virtue of consistency. If there was any continuing responsibility to do anything at all to reduce child poverty, it would be rather difficult to justify most of the other measures in the Bill.