The Society has responded to a consultation by the Department of Work and Pensions which proposes to change the way in which poverty is measured. Rather than focusing on household income, the consultation proposes that a ‘multidimensional’ measure be used in order to ‘capture the reality of child poverty in the UK’. Proposed factors include worklessness, unmanageable debt, poor housing, parental skill level, access to quality education, family stability and parental health.
The RSS is concerned that rejecting household income as the basis for assessing poverty could effectively hinder comparison between children in the UK and those elsewhere in the European Union, from international league tables compiled by the OECD and by the United Nations. All use a definition of household income relative to the median.
The RSS says combining together parental skills, whether parents are married, children’s school attainment and a variety of other indicators are not only technically very difficult but could potentially conflate causes, symptoms, things associated with poverty, and things which do not seem to be related to poverty in any major way.
The Society also criticises the use of a Money Saving Expert poll quoted in support of the case for change, (on page 16 of the consultation paper), saying it is ‘meaningless, invites ridicule and risks damaging public trust’.
Hetan Shah, executive director of the RSS, said: ‘When the way critical public numbers are calculated is changed, political consensus is vital if trust in statistics is to be sustained. We are concerned that an apparently technical exercise may be being used to bring in changes that are political in nature.’
‘We are not convinced there is a need to change the official definition. It is highly unclear what the government’s objection to the current measure is, particularly as the government seemed to have accepted the definitions contained in the Child Poverty Act 2010.’