Raising the bar on poverty

26th March 2004 at 00:00
It is five years last Thursday since Tony Blair made his famous pledge, echoed in Scotland, to eradicate child poverty within a generation. You can't fault the ambition of the undertaking, or even complain about lack of progress: the latest figures indicate that 1.4 million children have been helped to a better life. But, as the Fabian Society pointed out last week, the quarter of British children still living below the poverty line will be harder to reach by 2020, particularly when an estimated one in 56 births in Scotland is to a parent with a drug abuse problem (page four).

The society used the anniversary of the commitment to launch what it is billing as a "flagship" commission on life chances and child poverty.

Already the scale of its task is clear: as one of those on the commission admitted, most experts and academics are "extremely baffled" about how the Government is going to hit the halfway mark by 2010.

What will make the difference? Schools, for one thing. The Scottish Executive has been working with local authorities and others for some time in an attempt to drive forward "joined-up" services, not least the professionals who work disjointedly in them. Integrated community schools, early intervention and the early years Sure Start programme are other arrows in the quiver. The Children Bill is only now attempting to get to grips with this agenda south of the border.

There need not be a conflict between the caring agenda and the standards agenda. Only by raising the bar for all children will the various UK administrations reach their literacy and numeracy targets. But politicians must not become too hooked on targets: as one MP has pointed out, a generalised view of child poverty ignores the "diametrically different life chances" of children from families with low incomes but high expectations.

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