LONDON CALLING

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City Hall is looking across the Atlantic to find new ways to tackle poverty in the five boroughs.

The city is studying British anti-poverty programs to see if some of the Labor Party’s more successful maneuvers can be replicated in New York, Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs told a City Council committee last week. Speaking to the City Council’s General Welfare Committee, Gibbs said that the city’s Commission on Economic Opportunity was scrutinizing the British system and would offer policy recommendations by September.

Through a national program that combined targeted tax credits for low income families, support for job training programs, a massive investment in child care and increases in aid to families with children, the British government reduced child poverty by 17 percent over the past five years, removing 700,000 children from poverty, according to official reports and independent assessments. Contrary to the more punitive model of U.S. welfare reform, the British increased welfare payments and rejected the idea that single parents should have their benefits terminated as long as they continue to actively look for work.

The idea that the city can learn from the expanded entitlements of the British model may seem puzzling considering that just a month ago Mayor Michael Bloomberg surprised top aides by critiquing a proposal to extend the time that jobless people who don’t have kids can receive food stamps, saying “I’m a firm believer that people should have to work for a living.”

The mayor’s office would not say whether the city’s assessment of the British effort involved sending any staffers to the United Kingdom, nor would officials comment on the cost of the study. (R. Neuwirth)[05/22/2006]