WORKSHOP: Case Study - CPAG secures extra cash for children

Francois LeGoff


Background: The Child Poverty Action Group campaigns for the eradication of child and family poverty in the UK and seeks to improve benefits and policies for low-income families. Children in households with an income below 60 per cent of the median income nationwide are defined as living in poverty. The charity monitors official poverty statistics and carries out research to expose the shortcomings of the social security system.

It presents these findings in regular briefings to government ministers, MPs and the public.

The CPAG receives no government funding. Most of its annual income comes from the sale of various publications, subscriptions from its 5,000 members and individual donations.

Since 1999, when the Prime Minister pledged to eradicate child poverty within 20 years, the charity has been watching the Government very closely to make sure it honours its commitments.

The Government's first target is to reduce child poverty by a quarter by the end of 2004/5, but forecasts published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in January 2003 suggested that this target would not be met unless the child tax credit was increased from £3 to £5 a week.

In August 2003, four months before the Chancellor announced the changes to child tax credit as from April 2004, the CPAG decided to launch a campaign urging him to give an extra £5 a week for each child living in poverty.

Aims: Called 'Make it a fiver Gordon!', the campaign aimed to persuade the Chancellor to take the Institute for Fiscal Studies' warnings seriously, and to boost the cash that the Government dedicates to the eradication of child poverty in the UK.

How it worked: With a budget of a few thousand pounds, the CPAG could not afford to spend vast amounts of money on advertising and campaign materials. The charity sent postcards to its 5,000 members asking them and their relatives to fill their name and address in support of the campaign.

Supporters could also fill an e-card available on request via email. All the postcards were then collected by CPAG and taken to 11 Downing Street.

Finally, the campaign was backed by 12 MPs who wrote to the Chancellor urging him to increase the child tax credit by £5 a week.

Results: Child benefit was a focal point of December's pre-budget statement.

At the end of his report, the Chancellor placed particular emphasis on increases in tax credits for low-income families. He announced a rise in child tax credit of 13 per cent, equivalent to an extra £3.50 a week.

"Because every child should be born into a world of opportunity and not condemned to poverty, maximum help for the first child worth just £27 a week in 1997 will rise in April to £58, and for two children from just £44 a week to £100 a week", said the Chancellor.

Alongside the extra measures taken to reduce child poverty, the Chancellor encouraged employers to fund childcare by offering their staff childcare vouchers of up to £50 a week, free from national insurance and income tax. He also committed to the creation of 1,000 centres for pre-school children and their parents.

"We are very pleased with the outcome of this campaign given the small budget we had and the financial pressure the Chancellor was under," said Martin Barnes, director of the CPAG. "Substantial extra investment will be needed if child poverty is to be halved and then eradicated."

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