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Child Poverty in Britain

In: The Labour Market Under New Labour


  • Richard Dickens
  • David T. Ellwood


Relative child poverty rose sharply over the period 1979–97/98 and has since fallen by about half a million (4 percentage points). Absolute poverty changed little between 1979 and 1997/98 but has fallen sharply since then. Absolute poverty fell by 1.7 million between 1997/98 and 2001/02, with a half million fall in the last year alone. Changes in work patterns, wages and demographics all contributed to rising relative child poverty between 1979 and 1997/98. Demographics and work changes were responsible for the rise in absolute poverty. Benefit changes offset some of these increases. The absence of work was particularly severe on children in lone parent families. The Blair government’s welfare reforms raised work incentives and resulted in more work among low income families with children. These increases in work had modest effects in reducing child poverty and much of the reduction is attributable to benefit changes — work itself is not enough to pull many families over the poverty line. The Clinton administration introduced a range of welfare to work reforms in the US, increasing aid to those in work but cutting it to those out of work. Child poverty there has fallen but not as sharply. Increased work and demographic change have been the driving forces in poverty reductions. Median incomes, and hence the poverty line have increased rapidly and in conjunction further small increases in wage inequality and demographic shifts have meant that the government is making slower progress in reducing relative poverty than anticipated. While much progress has been made, current and planned policy reforms may not raise the incomes of the poor enough relative to median income to achieve the sort of poverty reductions needed to meet the stated poverty targets.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard Dickens & David T. Ellwood, 2003. "Child Poverty in Britain," Palgrave Macmillan Books, in: Richard Dickens & Paul Gregg & Jonathan Wadsworth (ed.), The Labour Market Under New Labour, chapter 19, pages 291-305, Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Handle: RePEc:pal:palchp:978-0-230-59845-4_20
    DOI: 10.1057/9780230598454_20

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    Cited by:

    1. Olivier Bargain & Olivier Donni, 2012. "Targeting and child poverty," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 39(4), pages 783-808, October.
    2. Laura Blow & Ian Walker & Yu Zhu, 2012. "Who Benefits From Child Benefit?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 50(1), pages 153-170, January.
    3. Kossi Agbeviade Djoke & Ayawo Djadou & Amélé d'Almeida & Rachidatou Ruffino, 2009. "Profil de la pauvreté infantile dans quatre pays de l'UEMOA: une analyse comparative basée sur l'approche multidimensionnelle de la pauvreté," Working Papers PMMA 2009-01, PEP-PMMA.
    4. Ive Marx & Brian Nolan & Javier Olivera, 2014. "The Welfare State and Anti-Poverty Policy in Rich Countries," Working Papers 1403, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
    5. Dickens & David T. Ellwood, 2004. "Whither Poverty in Great Britain and the United States? The Determinants of Changing Poverty and Whether Work Will Work," NBER Chapters, in: Seeking a Premier Economy: The Economic Effects of British Economic Reforms, 1980-2000, pages 313-370, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Olivier Bargain & Olivier Donni, 2007. "A Theory of Child Targeting," Working Papers 200710, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
    7. Gregg, Paul & Waldfogel, Jane & Washbrook, Elizabeth, 2006. "Family expenditures post-welfare reform in the UK: Are low-income families starting to catch up?," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(6), pages 721-746, December.
    8. Nolen, Patrick, 2013. "Unemployment and household values: Distribution sensitive measures of unemployment," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(C), pages 354-362.
    9. Sri Ranjith & Anil Rupasingha, 2012. "Social and Cultural Determinants of Child Poverty in the United States," Journal of Economic Issues, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 46(1), pages 119-142.
    10. repec:cep:sticas:/126 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Stuart Adam & Mike Brewer & Andrew Shephard, 2006. "Financial work incentives in Britain: comparisons over time and between family types," IFS Working Papers W06/20, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    12. James J. Heckman & Dimitriy V. Masterov, 2005. "Allander Series: Skill Policies for Scotland," NBER Working Papers 11032, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Alvaro Angeriz & Shanti Chakravarty, 2008. "A Decade of Changing Pattern of Poverty in Great Britain," Working Papers 19, Queen Mary, University of London, School of Business and Management, Centre for Globalisation Research.
    14. Jane Waldfogel, 2007. "Welfare Reforms and Child Well-Being in the US and UK," CASE Papers case126, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE.
    15. Paul Gregg & Jane Waldfogel & Elizabeth Washbrook, 2005. "Expenditure Patterns Post-Welfare Reform in the UK: Are Low-Income Families Starting to Catch Up?," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 05/119, The Centre for Market and Public Organisation, University of Bristol, UK.
    16. Olivier Bargain, 2009. "The distributional effects of tax-benefit policies under New Labour : a Shapley decomposition," Working Papers 200907, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
    17. Heckman, James J. & Masterov, Dimitriy V., 2004. "Skill Policies for Scotland," IZA Discussion Papers 1444, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    18. Sophie Moullin & Susan Harkness, 2021. "The Single Motherhood Penalty as a Gender Penalty," LIS Working papers 817, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.
    19. Iryna Kyzyma, 2020. "How Poor Are the Poor? Looking beyond the Binary Measure of Income Poverty," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 18(4), pages 525-549, December.
    20. Waldfogel, Jane, 2007. "Welfare reforms and child well-being in the US and UK," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 6208, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    21. Sunil Kumar Mishra & Swati Dutta, 2022. "Single Versus Multiple Deprivations Among Children in India," Indian Journal of Human Development, , vol. 16(1), pages 97-118, April.
    22. Brewer, Mike & Duncan, Alan & Shephard, Andrew & Suarez, Maria Jose, 2006. "Did working families' tax credit work? The impact of in-work support on labour supply in Great Britain," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(6), pages 699-720, December.
    23. Pamela Lenton & Paul Mosley, 2005. "Community development finance institutions and the ‘poverty trap’: social and fiscal impact," Working Papers 2005008, The University of Sheffield, Department of Economics, revised Jun 2005.


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