Kids Company

Speech by the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP

Kids Company

I would like start by thanking Camila for generously hosting today.

Camila is a remarkable woman, and it is a real pleasure to be back at Kids Company - an organisation that I know very well, and of which I am a great supporter.

The work you do here is a real inspiration - offering a lifeline to children who need it most, and working tirelessly to help them reach their potential.

It is far from an easy task.

Listening to your stories, it is clear that the children who come here - like too many others across the country - face profound disadvantages.

Growing up in very dysfunctional or violent families… often with emotional and mental health difficulties… or facing problems around substance misuse…

… their need for Kids Company could not be more pressing.

Relative income

This Government will always stand by its commitment to tackle child poverty…

… supporting those frontline organisations, such as Kids Company and others represented here today, who are best placed to turn children’s lives around.

You understand the reality of these children’s lives, and what it means to grow up suffering severe disadvantage.

Yet for too long, I believe, the common political discourse has been lagging behind - fixated on a notion of relative income and moving people over an arbitrary poverty line…

… at the expense of a meaningful understanding of the problem we are trying to solve.

Visiting today has only reaffirmed that belief.

Life change

If we are to make real headway in ending child poverty, we must learn the lessons of the last decade…

…. where for too long, Government chased income based poverty targets without focusing on what happened to the families they moved above the income line.

Despite an unprecedented amount of spending, some £170 billion paid out in tax credits between 2003/04 and 2010, 70% of it on child tax credits…

… sadly the 2010 target to halve child poverty was missed.

Good intentions failed to translate into effective policies…

… for whilst moving a family from one pound below the poverty line to one pound above it might be enough on paper, it does not do enough to transform their lives.

There must be a sustainable difference in the family’s life, or they simply risk slipping back into the poverty cycle… leaving the underlying causes unchecked.

I believe that we need to focus on life change so that families are able to sustain the improvement in their lives beyond government money.

Poll findings

Income matters - and surely must remain a key indicator in defining what it means to be in poverty.

But how we measure child poverty must do more to expose the real challenge we face…

… drawing on how it is experienced by children themselves, and how poverty is perceived by the wider public.

The Government is currently consulting on a new multidimensional measure of child poverty - with the aim of doing just that.

A recent poll conducted as part of the consultation process shows that whilst not having enough income is thought to be one important factor…

… other criteria are considered equally or even more crucial.

Interestingly, having a parent addicted to drugs or alcohol was thought to be the most important factor of all…

… above and beyond other dimensions such as going to a failing school, living in a cold damp home, or having to care for a parent.

Three quarters of people said having an addicted parent was very important, almost 20% more than the next most significant factor….

… and only 2% of people saying it was not important - lower than any other single factor.

Of course, not every child in poverty will have drug or alcohol addicted parents.

Nor have we made a decision on which on which factors should be included in the new measure.

But it is striking that so many people pick out as central to a child’s experience of poverty, a factor that so rarely features in the poverty debate.

It seems obvious that having a parent with addiction problems will have a huge negative impact on a child’s life and prospects…

… but the debate has pushed us away from the kind of direct thinking that is intuitive for most people.

Nothing illustrates more clearly how far off course the current measure has taken us AND why we need a new measure…

… one which both identifies those most in need and entrenched in disadvantage and is widely accepted by as being meaningful and accurate.

Breaking the cycle

Let me explain why.

For a poor family where the parents are suffering from addiction, giving them an extra pound in benefits might officially move them over the poverty line.

But increased income from welfare transfers will not address the reason they find themselves in difficulty in the first place.

Worse still, if it does little more than feed the parents’ addiction, it may leave the family more dependent not less…

… resulting in poor social outcomes and still deeper entrenchment.

What such a family needs is that we treat the cause of their hardship - the drug addiction itself.

Rather than simply tracking income levels, this surely is what a measure of child poverty should capture…

…  measuring whether the family has an opportunity to break the cycle of disadvantage…

… so that parents can take responsibility for their own lives and improve the life chances of their children.

Routes out

This Government is committed to addressing the pathways that lead families into poverty in the first place, and offer meaningful routes out.

For those who are able, we know that work is the best way for families to lift themselves out of poverty.

It is not just about more money.

Work and the income it brings can change lives - providing a structure to people’s lives, giving them a stake in their community…

… in turn, having a transformative effect on children’s lives and aspirations, equipping them to fulfil their potential.

This belief underpins the whole package of reforms that I am delivering in the Department for Work and Pensions.

We are introducing the Universal Credit, a single payment withdrawn at a single rate, so it is always clear to people that work pays more than benefits.

And we are delivering the Work Programme - offering personalised support to get people back into employment and keep them there.

Universal Credit and the Work Programme are two sides of the same coin.

Either without the other would not have the same impact.

Together, they will become formidable tools for taking people on a journey from dependency to independence. 

Drug pilots

Where someone is paralysed by an addiction, they cannot make progress on this journey.

Their addiction keeps them from getting into work, but being unemployed in turn traps them in dependency, limiting the control they have over their own life.

There are around 100,000 people claiming sickness benefits whose illness is primarily down to their drug or alcohol addiction.

Of these, a staggering 23,000 have been claiming incapacity benefits for a decade or more.

And whilst addicts may face real barriers to work, if we are to break the cycle, it is vital that we help individuals break their addiction and secure a job.

Today, I am pleased to announce two Work Programme pilot programmes, which will be specifically targeted at supporting drug and alcohol addicted claimants into work.

The first of these - the ‘Recovery Works’ pilot will test the impact of higher job outcome payments for individuals engaged in drugs treatment…

… giving providers a financial incentive not only to support addicts into work rehab but also into work.

Launching in the East of England and West Yorkshire, the focus will be on helping those battling drug and alcohol dependency to break free from their addiction…

… using work as a stepping stone to recovery.

The second ‘Recovery and Employment’ pilot works on a slightly different principle - harnessing the existing knowledge of treatment experts, in tandem with that of Work Programme providers.

Here we will be testing how far better sharing of skills and resources can deliver better outcomes for addicts.

Our aim is that two further pilot sites within the West Midlands will provide a flagship example of cooperation between providers…

… working together to support people through recovery and into employment.

Sustainable outcomes

In both cases, the pilots are about sustainable outcomes…

… which means full recovery, supporting people to live a life free from drugs and alcohol…

… and into meaningful employment, getting them into work and keeping them there for up to 2 years.

By focusing on long-term outcomes, we can support individuals to rebuild their future - make a real and lasting difference to their own lives.

Importantly, because we are paying by results, we will only pay for what works…

… at once reducing the risk on the taxpayer, and ensuring that every pound of Government money is targeted where it will have a lasting impact.

Solve that problem - get someone clean…

… get them into work…

…and you help them find a foothold in society again - and stay there.

A new measure

Whether it be addiction, poor housing, educational failure, unemployment, or debt…

… across Government we are tackling the barriers that hold people back, through dynamic interventions which will make real difference to individuals’ wellbeing and their children’s future life chances.

Our commitment to developing a new multidimensional measure of child poverty means that, finally, we will be able to measure the effect of interventions like these.

By segmenting the central drivers of poverty, identifying those children most entrenched in disadvantage and who are on poor trajectories…

… we can both target policies that have the most impact, and hold ourselves accountable for the results.


As I have said, we are consulting now on what this measure should look like.

Addiction is one important form of poverty, but it is not the only form.

The process provides an opportunity and a forum to consider our options.

There are many we could pursue - as part of the consultation we need to consider how different dimensions interrelate, which overlap, and which can be easily quantified.

In developing what a future measure might look like, we accept that expertise lies far beyond Whitehall.

In fact, the success of our future measure relies on listening to what you have to say.

The consultation closes in two weeks’ time, on Friday 15 February.

Before then, I urge you to offer your views and bring your knowledge to bear on what the future measure could look like.

This is a unique opportunity to shape how child poverty is understood…

… now and for generations to come.


In truth, no statistic will ever perfectly reflect what it means for a child to live in poverty.

But through a better representation of the reality of children’s lives I hope we can get much closer to doing so…

… in turn, putting us all in a better position to measure, address and ultimately end child poverty…

… a commitment which, as I said at the start, we will always stand by.

Published 31 January 2013