This week over 600 people registered for a Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity audio call on the UK's successful campaign to eliminate childhood poverty by 2020. The "Reducing Childhood Poverty: Tips for the U.S. from Across the Pond" audio conference call featured two experts Paul Gregg and Jane Waldfogel.
In 1999, then Prime Minister Tony Blair announced a twenty year mission to end childhood poverty in the UK. The UK managed to reduce absolute child poverty by 50% in just the first five years. As other countries saw povetrty skyrocket, the UK continued to reduce child poverty even during the recent the economic downturn.
Professors Gregg and Waldfogel shared some of the strategies the UK used to make their project successful. The actions taken included both immediate fixes and long term solutions. Gregg discussed the school meals, cash benefits, and prescription supports that reached the poorest families directly. Waldfogel highlighted the advancements in early childhood education as an investment towards the future.
Both Professors Gregg and Waldfogel stressed the importance of having the commitment of all political parties in order to create and follow through with such a long term mission. The UK was able to secure commitments from all of its political parties. Even when Blair's Labour Party, which began the initiative, lost its majority, the dedication to the initiative remained. Gregg said that setting a target and a set timeframe acted as a "self imposed straight jacket" that keeps politicians accountable to their constituents and true to the work of ending childhood poverty.
Though there are many challenges, Waldfogel made it clear that there are reasons to be optimistic about ending child poverty in other nations such as the United States. Waldfogel said that "If we think, as we sometimes do, that there's nothing government can do to reduce child poverty, it's an intractable problem, the British example clearly provides evidence to the contrary. There's no rocket science there, they didn't come up with new policies that we had never conceived of, a lot of these things came from the United States. The big difference was the political will, if you can generate the political will, this thing is doable!"
For the audio of the conversation and more information go to: http://www.clasp.org/resources_and_publications/publication?id=0939&list=publications Or http://www.spotlightonpoverty.org/news.aspx?id=25e22687-6021-4346-be0b-56c77583c5ea