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US can learn from Britain's battle against child poverty

A new book from an academic at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) shows that Britain has been largely successful in its efforts to reduce child poverty and that the United States can learn from its example.

In 1999 one in four British children lived in poverty - the third highest child poverty rate among industrialised countries - yet five years later, the child poverty rate in the UK had almost halved in absolute terms. How did the British government achieve this and why were their policies more successful than those of the US? Furthermore, how can Britain get back on track with its aim to eradicate child poverty in the next ten years?

In 'Britain's War on Poverty' Jane Waldfogel, visiting professor at LSE's Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE), analyses the policies behind Britain's initial success, how this effort has stalled and how it compares with the approach of the US.

Using the government's standard relative measure, 500,000 children were lifted out of poverty in Britain between 1999-2007. However, in absolute terms, 1.6 million children were lifted out of poverty in just five years, with the proportion of children in poverty falling from 26% to 14%. This is compared to an absolute fall of just one third in the US over ten years.

Waldfogel, who is also a professor of social work and public affairs at Columbia University, argues that the New Labour reforms such as the New Deal, Working Tax Credits and expansions in programs for young children all contributed to the significant drop in child poverty. The three-pronged approach of promoting work, increasing financial support for families, and investing in the health and development of children differed significantly from the work-oriented US welfare reforms, which did not specifically target children.

Professor Waldfogel suggests that for the US to be more successful it should emulate the British model and addresses child poverty directly, along with the income inequality that helps create it.

Commenting on the launch of the book, Professor Waldfogel said:

jane waldfogel crop"Whichever way you look at it, Britain has made great strides in tackling child poverty and the US would do well to take note of their achievements. Their success shows that dramatic reductions in poverty are possible if the government makes a serious commitment and invests substantial resources. Although progress stalled after 2004, and the government fell short of its goal to halve relative child poverty by 2009, the British record over the past decade compares favourably both to the US and to the rest of Europe.

“However, to make further progress, the British government must address a number of key challenges, including raising working-family incomes and helping more single parents move into work.

“The aspiration to make further reductions in child poverty is now widely shared across the political spectrum in the UK. If this aspiration is translated into concrete steps perhaps the goal of ending child poverty in the next decade can be attained.”


Britain's War on Poverty is published by the Russell Sage Foundation.  An introduction and summary is available here: http://www.russellsage.org/publications/100106.273860/chapter1_pdf

If you would like a hard copy or PDF of the full publication then please contact the LSE press office on pressoffice@lse.ac.ukor 0207 9557417.

Professor Jane Waldfogel will be available for comment via jw205@columbia.eduand  00-212-851-2408, alternatively contact the LSE press office.