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Britain's War on Poverty

Britain's War on Poverty

Jane Waldfogel
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 280
  • Book Info
    Britain's War on Poverty
    Book Description:

    In 1999, one in four British children lived in poverty—the third highest child poverty rate among industrialized countries. Five years later, the child poverty rate in Britain had fallen by more than half in absolute terms. How did the British government accomplish this and what can the United States learn from the British experience? Jane Waldfogel offers a sharp analysis of the New Labour government’s anti-poverty agenda, its dramatic early success and eventual stalled progress. Comparing Britain’s anti-poverty initiative to U.S. welfare reform, the book shows how the policies of both countries have affected child poverty, living standards, and well-being in low-income families and suggests next steps for future reforms. Britain’s War on Poverty evaluates the three-pronged anti-poverty strategy employed by the British government and what these efforts accomplished. British reforms sought to promote work and make work pay, to increase financial support for families with children, and to invest in the health, early-life development, and education of children. The latter two features set the British reforms apart from the work-oriented U.S. welfare reforms, which did not specifically target income or program supports for children. Plagued by premature initiatives and what some experts called an overly ambitious agenda, the British reforms fell short of their intended goal but nevertheless significantly increased single-parent employment, raised incomes for low-income families, and improved child outcomes. Poverty has fallen, and the pattern of low-income family expenditures on child enrichment and healthy food has begun to converge with higher-income families. As Waldfogel sees it, further success in reducing child poverty in Britain will rely on understanding who is poor and who is at highest risk. More than half of poor children live in families where at least one parent is working, followed by unemployed single- and two-parent homes, respectively. Poverty rates are also notably higher for children with disabled parents, large families, and for Pakistani and Bangladeshi children. Based on these demographics, Waldfogel argues that future reforms must, among other goals, raise working-family incomes, provide more work for single parents, and better engage high-risk racial and ethnic minority groups. What can the United States learn from the British example? Britain’s War on Poverty is a primer in the triumphs and pitfalls of protracted policy. Notable differences distinguish the British and U.S. models, but Waldfogel asserts that a future U.S. poverty agenda must specifically address child poverty and the income inequality that helps create it. By any measurement and despite obstacles, Britain has significantly reduced child poverty. The book’s key lesson is that it can be done.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-701-0
    Subjects: Economics, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. About the Author
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-21)

    In March 1999, British prime minister Tony Blair made a dramatic pledge to end child poverty in the next twenty years. The announcement startled the journalists, advocates, and academics he had invited to hear him address child poverty at Toynbee Hall, a settlement house in the East End of London. None among them would have dared imagine he would make such a bold pledge or commit his government to such an ambitious agenda of reform.

    Yet, once the pledge was made, it took on a life of its own. Overnight it seemed only right that the government should be aiming...

  6. Chapter 1 One in Four Children
    (pp. 22-42)

    When Tony Blair and the Labour Party came into office in May 1997, there was mounting evidence that the position of children in Britain was growing worse. More children were living in poverty, and more were living in one of two situations associated with increased risk of long-term poverty—in one-parent families or with parents who were out of work and reliant on government benefits. At the same time, evidence was accumulating that poverty has lasting effects on children’s outcomes but that programs to improve children’s life chances can be effective in redressing those effects. This evidence base set the...

  7. Chapter 2 Promoting Work and Making Work Pay
    (pp. 43-63)

    The reforms to promote work and make work pay were far-reaching and included the New Deal welfare-to-work programs, Britain’s first national minimum wage, a series of new tax credits for low-income workers, and a set of reforms to income and payroll taxes. These reforms had much in common with the U.S. reforms to promote work and make work pay and in fact drew heavily on the U.S. research. But they also drew on evidence from other Anglo-American countries—in particular, Canada and Australia—as well as Nordic countries, especially Sweden. This chapter details the development of these reforms. It also...

  8. Chapter 3 Increasing Financial Support for Families with Children
    (pp. 64-77)

    The British reformers made an explicit decision to focus not solely on reforms to promote work and to make work pay but also on investments of substantial resources in increasing financial support for all families with children—whether or not the parents worked. As the Treasury stated in 1999: “[The] tax and benefit system needs to provide support for all families with children, both in and out of work. This support recognizes the extra costs and responsibilities that parents face when their children are growing up, and the importance of children for the future of society as a whole.”¹


  9. Chapter 4 Investing in Children in the Early Years
    (pp. 78-90)

    The third leg of the British reforms was a set of investments in children. These investments were seen as essential not just in helping to reduce income poverty for children today but also in preventing poverty when the current generation of children becomes adults. If tomorrow’s parents were to have a better chance of raising their children on incomes above the poverty line, a key step was to equip low-income children with more of the skills and experiences that middle-class children typically had. In particular, this effort required improving the quality of care that children received in early childhood and...

  10. Chapter 5 Investing in School-Age Children
    (pp. 91-112)

    The third leg of the British reforms, investments in children, also included a set of reforms affecting school-age children. A major emphasis was placed on improving schools and closing gaps in achievement. In this respect, the British reforms were somewhat similar in spirit to the U.S. reforms under the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which also emphasized improving schools and closing achievement gaps. The British reforms differed, however, in being more directly led by the central government, which plays a much larger role in education than does the federal government in the United States.

    Campaigning for office, Tony Blair...

  11. Chapter 6 Ten Years Later
    (pp. 113-144)

    How have the British antipoverty reforms affected child poverty and other measures of child well-being? And how do these results compare to those for the U.S. welfare-to-work reforms? The answers reveal some commonalities but also some notable differences. Child poverty has been reduced in both countries, but to a greater extent in Britain, reflecting the more generous measures enacted for low-income families in that country. Data on family expenditures also point to divergence across the two countries. In Britain, low-income families affected by the reforms are spending more money on items related to children, while in the United States low-income...

  12. Chapter 7 The Next Steps for Britain
    (pp. 145-165)

    A decade after Prime Minister Tony Blair declared war on child poverty in March 1999, ending child poverty continues to be an aspiration of the British government. What is the status of the antipoverty campaign? Who are the remaining poor children, and looking ahead, what further reforms might help move them out of poverty?

    The British record of achievement in reducing child poverty over the past decade is both exhilarating and sobering. On the one hand, the British government’s success in halving child poverty in absolute terms is truly an accomplishment to celebrate—and one for other countries to emulate....

  13. Chapter 8 Lessons for the United States and Other Countries
    (pp. 166-184)

    Britain’s war on child poverty is relevant not only for Britain but also for other countries that, in spite of their overall wealth, still face child poverty. This is particularly true of the United States, where, in spite of progress in the 1990s, child poverty rates remain stubbornly high and indeed reached a ten-year high in 2009. Reflecting this stalled progress in reducing child poverty is a wave of attention to poverty in the United States in the past few years that is unlike anything seen since the War on Poverty of the 1960s.¹ As discussed in this chapter, the...

  14. Appendices
    (pp. 185-198)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 199-224)
  16. References
    (pp. 225-258)
  17. Index
    (pp. 259-270)