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Britain's War on Poverty

Jane Waldfogel

Publication Year: 2010

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.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright Page

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About the Author

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pp. ix-x

Although primarily based in the United States, I have spent a substantial portion of my time in Britain over the past twenty years. This book benefited greatly from the time I spent there and from . . .

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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 . . .

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1. One in Four Children

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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 . . .

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2. Promoting Work and Making Work Pay

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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 . . .

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3. Increasing Financial Support for Families with Children

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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 . . .

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4. Investing in Children in the Early Years

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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 . . .

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5. Investing in School-Age Children

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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 . . .

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6. Ten Years Later

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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 . . .

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7. The Next Steps for Britain

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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 . . .

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8. Lessons for the United States and Other Countries

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pp. 165-184

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, . . .


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pp. 185-197


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pp. 199-223


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pp. 225-257


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pp. 259-270

E-ISBN-13: 9781610447010
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871548979

Page Count: 210
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Public welfare -- Great Britain.
  • Poverty -- Government policy -- Great Britain.
  • Poor children -- Services for -- Great Britain.
  • Child welfare -- Great Britain.
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