Higher benefits for poor families could do more harm than good, Iain Duncan Smith claimed last night, as feckless parents will only spend the extra money on themselves.
In an attack on Labour’s child poverty targets, the Work and Pensions Secretary said youngsters’ lives were not necessarily improved by bigger handouts.
He claimed that any extra cash doled out to dysfunctional families may simply be frittered away on drugs and gambling rather than being used to improve the lives of children.
Mr Duncan Smith’s comments come after it was estimated that measures introduced by the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement would push 100,000 more children into poverty.
He criticised Gordon Brown’s measure of poverty – 60 per cent of median earnings – which was enshrined in law in an attempt to abolish child poverty by 2020.
Mr Duncan Smith said this ‘poverty plus a pound’ approach led to hollow claims of success by lifting income over an arbitrary line.
Focusing on tax credits and other measures did little to address fundamental problems, he said.
‘What do we know about the things that really improve wellbeing?’ he asked in a speech at the London School of Economics last night.
‘It’s better health , lower crime and lower fear of crime, work, a strong sense of community.
‘This isn’t to say that money isn’t important. Of course it is. But I do believe increased income and increased wellbeing do not always follow the same track.
‘Take a family headed by a drug addict or someone with a gambling addiction – increase the parent’s income and the chances are they will spend the money on furthering their habit, not on their children.
‘According to the relative income poverty figures they might be above the line, but by any reasonable measure of long-term life chances they would be stuck firmly below.
‘Or take a family where no one has ever worked. Increase their benefit income – while taking no other proactive action – and you push the family further into dependency, only increasing the chance that their child will follow that same path as an adult.
‘So while income is important we should be clear that the source of that income can have very different effects. Income through benefits maintains people on a low income, whereas income gained through work can transform lives.’