In a report released on Wednesday by the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, MPs called for a cross-Government strategy to lift millions of children out of poverty.
But they said, up to now, there had been a lack of clear leadership and focus on the issue.
The report urges the Government to end its focus on only absolute poverty – less than 60% of the median income for 2010/11, adjusted for inflation – and expand the definition to include relative poverty – less than 60% of the median income for that financial year – and broader deprivation measures.
And Labour MP Stephen Timms MP, who is chairman of the committee, said the pandemic had only made things worse, but that Government statistics were published so slowly that they did not yet cover this period.
He said: “Ministers told us that they are focused on the absolute measure of poverty. But anyone who uses only one measure of poverty is missing out on the important information provided by the whole range of measures that DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) itself produces. We were concerned by the narrowness of their focus.
“The Government’s published statistics on families in low income are so slow to produce that they still don’t cover the pandemic – even though HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) and DWP hold a vast trove of real-time information about people’s incomes.
“The Government needs to make much greater use of the information it already has to publish a dashboard of child income-related poverty indicators that’s closer to real-time.”
He added: “At the moment, the Government has no strategy and no measurable objectives against which it can be held to account. How can it hope to reduce child poverty when it doesn’t have a plan?”
Now is the time for the Government to show that it will not turn its back on children in low-income families
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group
Meanwhile, experts have warned that child poverty is set to rise.
The Resolution Foundation has estimated that while child poverty fell by 2.2 percentage points in 2020/21, it expects it to rise by 2.7 percentage points – around 400,000 extra children – in 2021/22.
While the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said that the scrapping of the £20 Universal Credit uplift, combined with the winding down of the furlough scheme, will plunge 500,000 extra people – including 200,000 children – into poverty.
Chief executive of child poverty Action Group Alison Garnham said: “Warm words about levelling up are not enough when child poverty is climbing and will climb higher if universal credit is cut and the cost of living crisis bites.
“Now is the time for the Government to show that it will not turn its back on children in low-income families but will act to protect them from the toxic, lifelong effects of poverty.
“The committee is right to insist on a cross-departmental poverty-reduction plan with clear targets and championed from Number 10. Without that focus and commitment, rising poverty will prove to be a ticking time bomb for children and for our wider prosperity.”
A Government spokesperson said: “As part of the Government’s commitment to supporting the most vulnerable in society, we publish several statistics to assess poverty, and believe that absolute poverty is the best measure of living standards.
“We know that children in households where every adult is working are much less likely to be in poverty. That’s why our multi-billion pound Plan for Jobs is helping people across the country improve their skills and move forward in their working lives.”