Access to a quality education has been put forward by government as a possible measure of whether a child is living in poverty.
Currently, judging if a child lives in poverty or not is based on relative household income and whether it is more or less than 60 per cent of the UK median.
However, a consultation has now been launched in a bid to create a “new multi-dimensional measure” taking in a range of indicators ranging from family breakdown to education.
Making the announcement, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith called on charities and other organisations with expertise to respond in order to inform the debate.
It comes as the previous government’s target to halve child poverty to 1.7 million children by 2010 was not met – currently 2.3 million youngsters still live in poverty.
Mr Duncan Smith said that in 2010/11 there was a reduction of 300,000 children living in relative income poverty but only because of a significant drop in the UK’s median income.
He explained: “For the 300,000 children no longer in poverty according to the official statistics life was no different. A fixation on relative income, on moving people over an arbitrary line, does little to identify those most in need and entrenched in disadvantage, nor to transform their lives.”
Mr Duncan Smith admitted that no statistic would ever “perfectly reflect what it means for a child to live in poverty”, but suggested a number of new dimensions for consideration in addition to household income.
One of these potential indicators was “Access to quality education”. Mr Duncan Smith said: “When children don’t get the best start in life, it is often left to the education system to pick up the pieces. What’s more, how well a child does at school is another of the strongest determinants of how well they go on to do in adulthood.
“Quality early years education, followed by a school with good teachers, facilities and ethos can open the door to opportunities and achievement, whereas attending a failing school can crush ambition, pushing disadvantaged children still further into a cycle of poverty. Only through a better representation of this experience will we truly know how many children are living in poverty in the UK.”
Other factors suggested by the minister include having the money to meet basic needs, because a family with higher relative income could still be crippled by problem debts, and unemployment, as children in workless households are more likely to have challenging behaviour.
Measuring parental health and skills would also determine whether a family has the resilience to lift itself out of poverty, Mr Duncan Smith said, while he also pointed to a link between broken families and child poverty.
Schools minister David Laws said the consultation is not about massaging figures: “It is about recognising the many dimensions of child poverty and concentrating policy on longer term solutions and not on short-term fixes.”
Enver Solomon, chair of the End Child Poverty coalition, welcomed the consultation but warned that family income was still a key indicator: “There is no getting away from the fact that a child’s family income is fundamental to their future life chances. While a holistic approach to tackling child poverty is important, income will always be vital for ending child poverty.”
The consultation closes on February 15. Visit www.education.gov.uk/aboutdfe/departmentalinformation/consultations