Child Poverty Rises in U.S. as It Falls in Britain

Dec 13, 2010

First Focus and the Foundation for Child Development have released a new report, Tackling Child Poverty and Improving Child Well-Being: Lessons From Britain, that examines efforts made in Britain over the past decade to end child poverty. In 1999, Britain launched a comprehensive anti-poverty initiative to support vulnerable children and their families. The initiative has successfully reduced child poverty (measured in absolute terms) by more than a half.

Perhaps more remarkable, the report observes that child poverty in the country has continued to decline, even in the present recession. This is in contrast to the U.S. where child poverty has risen to its highest level in two decades. How did Britain do it?

The report discusses three overarching components of the initiative: promoting work and making work pay, expanding financial support for families, and investing in children. Early childhood investments were central to the initiative's investments in children. The initiative enacted a broad range of reforms, including doubling paid maternity leave to nine months, establishing universal preschool for three and four year olds, expanding access to child care assistance for working families, and creating an infant/toddler program called Sure Start in the lowest-income communities.

Britain's commitment to addressing child poverty, starting in the earliest years of a child's life, is paying off significantly. In Britain, the absolute child poverty rate is currently about 12 percent, while the U.S. has reached an absolute poverty rate of nearly 21 percent.

And early childhood investments remain a priority in Britain, despite fiscal challenges. The report notes that although the newly elected coalition government aims to reduce public spending, the government has announced that no cuts would be made to Sure Start, and the preschool program would be expanded to disadvantaged 2 year olds.

If the U.S. wants to reverse its child poverty trend, it is time for the nation to show the same level of commitment and effort as Britain.

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