The United Kingdom’s Child Poverty Target: Lessons for the U.S.

Poverty & Family Economics

ThinkstockPhotos-76038183Despite signs of economic recovery, child poverty in the United States remains high, with 14.7 million (19.9 percent of children) living below the poverty line in 2013.

While children only represent 23 percent of the population, they continue to experience higher rates of poverty. 32 percent of people living in poverty are under the age of 18. Young children experience even higher rates of poverty, with 22 percent of children under 6 living in poverty in 2013.

Despite these high numbers, there remains a lack of awareness and government accountability to address the significant problem of child poverty, and proposed solutions are too often politicized and fall along partisan lines.

At First Focus, we have long been inspired by efforts in the United Kingdom to address child poverty. In 2000, the UK established a national child poverty target, which united the Tory and Labour parties behind a goal of halving child poverty in ten years. Through a mixture of investments for children, measures to make work pay, and efforts to increase financial support for families, the British government (using an absolute, or fixed, measure of poverty) halved child poverty by 2009.

We have released numerous resources about the national child poverty target over the years, and in 2011 co-led a trip of advocates to the UK to learn about their efforts firsthand.

We build upon this work with the release of our newest publication, A Look Back at the Child Poverty Target. Released with the Centre for Economic and Social InclusionUS, it provides an expert analysis of the implementation and impact of the target over the past 15 years, informed by interviews from top British government officials and leading advocates.


The brief portrays how the UK government coordinated with the equivalents of state and local governments and details the mix of policies implemented both to meet the immediate needs of families with children and to make families with children more economically resilient over the long term.

It also provides an update on the current status of the target. The UK is grappling with the reform of their welfare system, budgetary concerns, and an upcoming national election. Yet the target ensures that the reduction of child poverty remains an issue that receives national attention and debate, and the UK government is held accountable as to how new policies will affect the child poverty rate.

Finally, the brief provides lessons from the UK on how to structure an effective child poverty target, such as:

  • The value of a small, independent, cross-departmental analytical unit to manage the target;
  • Policy strategy for meeting the target should be a combination of “short-term” and “long-term” policies that purposefully focus on education, benefits programs, workforce development, health, etc;
  • The need for a cohesive and co-operative Federal, State, and Local partnership to implement the target.

There are some great ideas out there to reduce child poverty in the US – like the Children’s Defense Fund Ending Child Poverty Now report and Matt Bruenig’s proposal to create a child allowance. To achieve this common goal, we must first adopt a national vision to cut child poverty in half in ten years, and build a framework to consider and debate policies such as these to meet the target.

A national child poverty target provides such a framework, and creates a sense of accountability to take concrete steps to reduce child poverty. The UK sets an example from a country that is very similar to the United States regarding our poverty levels, parliamentary process, policy development, and overall economic performance.

Let’s work together to reduce child poverty. Additional information and updates on First Focus’s work to establish a national child poverty target can be found here.

The UK’s Child Poverty Target: Lessons for the U.S. v/ @First_Focus Voices for Kids Blog #TalkPoverty #InvestInKids
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Want to learn more? First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Learn more about our work on the child poverty target.

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