The government has been challenged to adopt a set of 46 indicators as an independent means of monitoring progress in tackling social exclusion.

The indicators have been drawn from 'buried' official statistics for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and effectively map the state Britain was in when the Blair government was formed.

They show that more than 10 million people live in relative poverty and more than 2 million children are growing up in families where no adult is in work.

Peter Kenway, director of the New Policy Institute, which compiled the figures, said they showed that Britain was a divided country. 'The divisions in the last year we looked at - 1996-97 - were getting worse,' he said.

This was particularly true of poverty and health. Inequalities in income were growing as Labour came to power, after a period in the mid-1990s when there was a slight improvement.

More pregnancies were occurring in girls aged under 16, and growing numbers of adults aged 25 and over were suffering from limiting long-standing illness or disability.

But limitations in official statistics hampered the compilation of the indicators. The authors wanted to investigate the possibility that waiting for operations could lead to deteriorating health for elderly people. But they found that health service data lacked an age breakdown.

Dr Kenway said a regular report on poverty and social exclusion would raise public understanding of the needs of a significant minority of the population.

The report's authors are confident that it should be relatively simple to update the indicators if the government declines.

Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion: Labour's inheritance. York Publishing Services. 01904-430033.£16.95.