achievements. Jon Slater and Warwick Mansell report
THE Government's target of reducing child poverty by a quarter by 20045 risks making the most deprived children worse off, according to new research.
The Institute for Social and Economic Research study argues that pressure to meet the Government's target could lead to administrators "creaming" money or services from the poorest to help borderline families rise above the poverty line.
"By redistributing benefits or services away from the very poorest (who are so far below the poverty line they are likely to stay poor anyhow) to those just below the poverty line administrators can improve the poverty rate, even while deepening the deprivation of the worst off - which is surely not a socially desirable outcome," the report says.
The study is the latest blow to the Government's unprecedented drive to tackle child poverty.
A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development published last year showed that the UK has one of the strongest links between social deprivation and educational under-achievement.
In April, official figures showed that fewer than half a million children had been lifted out of poverty during the party's first four years in office. Chancellor Gordon Brown had repeatedly claimed that the figure was more than one million.
That leaves Labour with an uphill struggle if the party is to meet its target by 2005. Eradicating child poverty altogether, which ministers have promised to achieve by 2020, will prove even more difficult if it manages to remain in office that long.
Part of the problem is that poverty is measured on a relative rather than absolute basis.
Mike Brewer and Alissa Goodman of the Institute for Fiscal Studies point out that if average incomes had not risen since 1997, then Labour would be able to claim to have helped 1.3m children escape poverty.
But critics also claim that Gordon Brown has made life more difficult for himself by relying to a large extent on tax credits to allieviate poverty.
Graeme Brown of End Child Poverty, a coalition of pressure groups, argues that many of those who should benefit from Mr Brown's initiative have not done so because they do not understand the tax system or have not been made aware of the help on offer.
Peter Wilby, 21