Children's charities, in particular, largely welcomed the measures aimed at alleviating child poverty. Environmental groups welcomed the suspension of stamp duty for many carbon-neutral houses, but called for more action to tackle carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. Homelessness charities applauded support for education and job-seekers, but said that getting long-term unemployed people back to work might take time.
Direct help for the poorest children will go up by more than 25 per cent to £75 a week. The Chancellor says this will lift 200,000 children out of poverty.
Gordon Brown also pledged to invest £1bn a year in raising the value of working tax credits for the poorest families, and to expand child tax credits so that the point at which a family with two children starts paying income tax will rise to £24,250 by 2009. He also pledged to provide "additional resources" to the NSPCC for its ChildLine service.
Child Poverty Action Group chief executive Kate Green called these measures "an important step towards the target of halving child poverty by 2010". She also welcomed the rise in child benefit for first-born children, which will reach £20 by 2010, although she worried about its effect on larger families. "Future investment must focus on the younger children in families, who currently receive £6 less than oldest children," she said. She added that this must be addressed in the Comprehensive Spending Review.
Extended and free childcare will be offered to unemployed parents undertaking training, and the £40 in-work bonus paid to lone parents for their first 12 months in work will be extended. Green said: "Many lone parents want to work, so the renewed commitment to give them £40 a week back-to-work credit is an important incentive to help them make that step."
She also applauded the Chancellor's announcement that he had set aside funds for building more children's centres and for expanding the amount of free nursery education for every three and four-year-old to 15 hours a week. This will help more lone parents take advantage of work opportunities," she said.
Daycare Trust also supported many of the Chancellor's measures. Alison Garnham, the national childcare charity's joint chief executive, said: "Daycare Trust welcomes this significant underlining of the Government's ongoing commitment to the National Childcare Strategy, and we are delighted that the Chancellor has guaranteed free places for more children, including, for the first time, help for parents undertaking training.
"Daycare Trust has campaigned for free childcare places for students, and the new commitment of 50,000 places is fantastic news for parents wanting to improve their skills and get better jobs."
She also welcomed the working-tax credit run-on, which means people between jobs will still be able to claim. "This is tremendous news for parents who would otherwise lose all childcare help when seeking new jobs," she said.
Another announcement in the Budget was extra funding for Parentline Plus and the NSPCC's ChildLine.
Parentline Plus chief executive Dorit Braun said: "This is a terrific endorsement of the valuable work we do, and will enable us to reach even more parents than ever before."
NSPCC director and chief executive Dame Mary Marsh said: "Every day 4,500 children and young people call ChildLine, but counsellors are only able to answer 2,500 of these calls. The extra funding announced today will help us answer many more of these calls."
Every Disabled Child Matters campaign manager Steve Broach said he welcomed the Chancellor's commitment to alleviating child poverty but worried that the measures Brown announced would not be enough to reach the 2010 target of halving child poverty. He called on supporters to lobby their MPs ahead of the disabled children's review, which Brown said is nearing completion.
"The Chancellor needs to hear that the measures announced today are only part of the solution for child poverty and that families with disabled children need and expect much more from the CSR," Broach said.
The National Children's Bureau tempered its enthusiasm with similar concerns, though it welcomed the Chancellor's announcement that the education budget will rise by 2.5 per cent next year. Chief executive Paul Ennals said: "The increased schools spending is a welcome down-payment. The main payments are still awaited, if the most vulnerable children in our society are not to be let down."
NCH was even more lukewarm. Chief executive Clare Tickell said: "Today's Budget may lift 200,000 children out of poverty, but this is a drop in the ocean for the 3.4 million youngsters affected."
She added: "The spending targets for tackling poverty seem to focus on the tax credits system, a very complicated method that many people don't understand. The risk is that this money will not make it to the families that are most in need, and it is their children who will suffer."
Friends of the Earth Scotland welcomed the various environmental measures in the Budget, such as the suspension until 2012 of stamp duty for carbon-neutral houses valued at less than £500,000 and the rise in vehicle duty for the most polluting cars to £400. However, it said that much more was needed.
Chief executive Duncan McLaren said: "Today's Budget contains some welcome steps toward a greener economy, but falls short of the measures required to really tackle climate change. With the threat of climate chaos growing daily, now is the time for bold leadership, not half measures."
Christian Aid lamented the fact that Brown had not set an annual budget for UK carbon dioxide emissions. "Hopefully, this is the last Budget in which piecemeal policies, which may be good in their own right, are set in an attempt to trigger ad hoc cuts in emissions," said Paul Brannen, head of the charity's climate change campaign. "We need government to set out a clear strategy for systematic cuts."
However, the charity praised the Chancellor for setting up a new fund to help bolster environmental protection and finance clean energy in poor countries. "It is encouraging to see that the Chancellor has understood how tackling poverty and protecting the environment must go hand in hand," said Brannen.
Crisis chief executive Leslie Morphy welcomed the Chancellor's increase in funding for education and his commitment to help long-term unemployed people back into work.
However, she expressed concern about the "fast track" approach being proposed. "This fails to acknowledge that the most disadvantaged adults, in particular homeless people, do not have even the basic skills required to sustain employment," she said.
"Thirty-seven per cent of homeless people have no qualifications whatsoever, and more than 50 per cent have been out of work for more than three years. For those people our priority must be to invest in learning opportunities to develop their confidence and skills before we begin to fast-track them back into work."