In a major embarrassment to the Labour government in the UK, the number of children living in poverty has shot up by a hundred thousand in the last one year. The total stands at 2.9 million, according to data released by the Department for Work and Pensions on Tuesday.
Back in 1999 the then Prime Minister Tony Blair had vowed to halve child poverty by 2010. But the target remains elusive. This is the second successive year that the government has failed to make progress. Only nine ago the figure was 3.4 million, so the present scenario does constitute some progress, it could be argued.
Stephen Timms, the employment and welfare reform minister, while acknowledging that the figures represented a slip, noted, "We are committed to tackling poverty and providing opportunity for all and these figures confer with the very substantial progress over the last decade to large numbers of pensioners and children lifted out of poverty in relative and absolute terms."
The figures only showed the Government was not on track to meet the 2010 target and certainly could not be achieved unless £4 billion extra funding was ploughed in, warned the charity Child Poverty Action Group.
Chief executive Kate Green said: Keeping the promise depends on new initiatives in the autumn pre-budget report and the 2009 budget.
"It's a moral disgrace that we still have one of the worst child poverty records in Europe. Other countries do better, so why should British children suffer? We can end our child poverty shame and we must."
The figures also show that in 2006-07 there were 2.5m pensioners living in poverty, a rise of 300,000. This is the first increase in pensioner poverty since 1998.
The number of children and pensioners in poverty is even higher once housing costs such as rent and mortgages are taken into account.
Still James Purnell, the work and pensions secretary, insisted: "Had the government done nothing other than simply uprate the tax and benefit system, we estimate there would have been 1.7 million more children and 1.5 million more pensioners in poverty today."
But Help the Aged said that the government ought to be "mortified" by the latest figures, which show an additional 822 pensioners a day in poverty.
Mervyn Kohler, the charity's special adviser, said: "When older people live on a fixed income it is virtually impossible for them to pull themselves out of poverty. Pensioners often have to cut back on essential household items, just to survive. This is a disgrace."
He added: "The government must take responsibility for the inequality so many older people face. Instead, each year the Treasury sits on more than £5bn of unclaimed benefits which should go to older people. While this figure may make the chancellor rub his hands together with glee, this daylight robbery of older people must not be allowed to continue."