Washington – A report released today by the bipartisan children’s advocacy organization First Focus and the international policy analysis center InclusionUS recommends that the United States government implement a strategy modeled on an approach that successfully reduced child poverty in the United Kingdom. Measured in U.S. terms, the UK’s Child Poverty Target and resulting policy changes cut Britain’s child poverty rate by 50 percent during the effort’s first decade (1999-2009). By contrast, the U.S. child poverty rate increased by 23 percent, from 16.2 percent in 2000 to 19.9 percent in 2014.

“There’s one reason the last 15 years have been better for Britain’s children than for America’s – because the UK made a choice and a national commitment to reduce child poverty,” said First Focus president Bruce Lesley.

“Setting a national, long-term target to reduce child poverty will place the United States in modern alignment with its international neighbors. If designed with strong, evidence-based policies, a target that transcends political parties can contribute to our national economic strength and improve the lives of children from the early years onward,” said the report’s author, Natalie Branosky of InclusionUS.

The analysis, entitled A Look Back at the UK Child Poverty Target: Transferable Themes for the United States, reviews 14 years of British progress in reducing child poverty, beginning with the 2000 announcement of the Child Poverty Target as national policy. As the report details, the Child Poverty Target is a multi-partisan agreement to eliminate child poverty by a date certain, with benchmarks against which to measure progress, and backed by independent monitoring. It explains how the UK government coordinated with the equivalents of state and local governments. And it details how the UK government implemented a mix of policies aimed at meet the immediate needs of families with children and policies and policies designed to make families with children more economically resilient over the long term.

The UK tracks progress toward its Child Poverty Target using two principal poverty measures. A “relative” defines poverty at 60% of the UK median income. An “absolute” measure uses a fixed figure of about $33,400 (for a family of four) – which was 60% of UK median income for the year 2010. The absolute metric corresponds most closely to the “federal poverty level” set by the U.S. government, and it is also about 60 percent of U.S. median household income.

The report also offers lessons for U.S. policymakers for the development of an effective child poverty target in the U.S. In summary, these are to:

  1. Set the target first – this creates a sense of shared responsibility that facilitates compromise on the policies required to attain the goal;
  2. Build strong accountability systems – with concrete metrics and effective monitoring, independent governance that insulates the child poverty reduction effort from changes in political leadership, and accountability measures to ensure continued progress;
  3. Enlist state and local government – this proved critical in the UK, and the U.S.’ larger size and population likely make a coordinated effort even more important; and
  4. Integrate with economic policy – the policies resulting from the UK’s Child Poverty Target included wage standards, tax credits, and an array of other reforms with economic, as well as human impact, so progress requires integrating the child poverty target policy design and implementation efforts with those for economic policy.

“Set the target first is the most important lesson, because politics are the stumbling block. Yes, the policies ultimately mattered, but getting all the parties to agree on the shared goal of ending child poverty is what made political progress possible,” said Lesley.

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First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit firstfocus.org.