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Poverty soon to be a crime

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It's official: the government is today publishing a bill that will make child poverty illegal.

A surprise announcement from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) explains that the new child poverty bill will enshrine in law a duty to eradicate child poverty by 2020, "so that all children have the best start in life and have the opportunities to flourish".

The bill will contain a requirement for government to reduce poverty so families on low income do not get left behind. It will place a duty on local authorities, and partner organisations like the NHS and police, to work together to lift children out of poverty.

Finally, government will also be required to report to Parliament each year on progress, and to create a Child Poverty Commission to publish advice and encourage progress.

The announcement is accompanied by a raft of positive and optimistic comment from Ministers across government, including Work and Pensions Secretary, Yvette Cooper, Children’s Secretary, Ed Balls and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liam Byrne. The rhetoric focuses largely on the issue of what sort of society we wish to live in, and ensuring that every child is given a fair chance.

However, the government record on this front is patchy. Despite ambitious commitments to halving child poverty by 2010, the figures appear to have stalled, and a recent report suggested that there has been no improvement on the child poverty front since 2006.

Since a report to Parliament (pdf) in 2004 showeed the UK as having one of the highest rates of child poverty in Western Europe, there is still a long way to go.

Cynics might wonder whether a bill to eradicate poverty is nothing more than a political stunt in the run-up to the General Election. It uses the legal process to highlight a commitment that an incoming Tory government would find very difficult to get out of: however, although it is positioned as law, there are unlikely to be many real consequences for breaking it.

El Reg asked the DCSF what penalties, if any, would be applied should the government fail to adhere to its law on this subject: would the government have to send itself to prison?

A spokesman for DCSF said: "The Bill will include a duty to meet the targets by 2020 and maintain the target levels thereafter. If the targets are not met by 2020, or in subsequent years, the Bill contains a regulation making power exercisable by the Secretary of State to set out the steps he will take to meet them."

Meanwhile, keep your eyes open for similar Bills appearing over the next few months.

Readers should lookout for laws that guarantee world peace and an end to all disease. We would not be entirely surprised if, by this time next year, it has been made a crime to be unhappy. ®

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