Global Child Poverty and Well-Being: Measurement, concepts, policy and action, by Alberto Minujin and Shailen Nandy (eds)

Policy Press, 2012, xxxii + 591 pp, pbk, 1 847 42481 5, £28.99, hbk, 1 847 42482 2, £70

In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the first internationally agreed definition of child poverty:

Children living in poverty are deprived of nutrition, water and sanitation facilities, access to basic health-care services, shelter, education, participation and protection, and … while a severe lack of goods and services hurts every human being, it is most threatening and harmful to children, leaving them unable to enjoy their rights, to reach their full potential and to participate as full members of society (quoted on p.3)

In 2007, UNICEF stated that

measuring child poverty can no longer be lumped together with general poverty assessments which often focus solely on income levels, but must take into consideration access to basic social services, especially nutrition, water, sanitation, shelter, education and information (also quoted on p.3)

In 2008, a conference, ‘Rethinking poverty: making policies work for children’, gave birth to a revived academic interest in the measurement and causes of child poverty. In 2009, Peter Townsend died. His early work on child poverty and his constant commitment to poverty’s measurement and abolition have been an inspiration to academics, policy-makers and practitioners, and to the authors of the papers published in this tribute volume.

The first part of the book finds that children’s human rights are frequently violated, and that economic growth is far from being a sufficient condition for the elimination of child poverty. The second part discusses a variety of methods for measuring child poverty, and finds that the multidimensional nature of poverty means that cash-defined poverty lines are inadequate on their own. The third part relates case studies on the development of multidimensional poverty indices; and the fourth part studies the causes of child poverty and a number of methods for eradicating it. Of particular interest to readers of this Newsletter will be chapter 18, ‘Utopia calling: eradicating child poverty in the United Kingdom and beyond’. Ruth Levitas tells the story of the UK’s Family Allowance, which evolved into Child Benefit, and shows how other rather different policies intended to reduce child poverty reduce the level of absolute poverty but do little or nothing to reduce relative poverty. She laments the proposal to means-test Child Benefit, shows how social polarisation is at the root of child poverty, and suggests that to increase the level of Child Benefit and establish a Citizen’s Income would provide a good basis on which to tackle the many aspects of child poverty. The fourth part of the book shows that economic growth is not a sufficient condition for abolishing child poverty, that tackling one deprivation at a time (for instance, sanitation) can make a real difference to levels of child poverty, and that a global study in fifty countries effectively combines quantitative and qualitative methods to provide a deep description of child poverty. The final chapter, by Peter Townsend, calls for an international financial transactions tax to pay for a global Child Benefit. This is classic Townsend: well researched, big ideas, and quietly passionate.

I have only one quibble: that an editor might have removed duplication, such as the similar discussions of the flawed ‘under $1 a day’ poverty definition in adjacent chapters: but such duplication is hardly unusual in a volume which started life as conference papers.

This is a brilliant book, and a most fitting tribute to Peter Townsend’s lifelong campaign to measure and eradicate child poverty. Now that we have some more adequate methods of measuring global child poverty, all we need to do is abolish child poverty, and then measure it again to see if we’ve succeeded.