What is needed, the commission says, is 'a fundamental shift in the value we attach to children as citizens of the future - and therefore to the unpaid work of parenting and the resources which we as a society invest in it'.
In a paper on families and children, the commission says that the number of children living in households with less than half of average income rose from one in ten in 1979 to one in three by 1991. As a result more than a fifth of all children now live on incomes at or below the level of income support.
And while it now costs a minimum of pounds 3,000 a year to rear a child aged under 11, child benefit, the only recognition of that cost that is available as of right, meets only 15 per cent of it. The paper argues that parents do not compete on a level playing field and they can pay a high price for having children.
'Babies can ruin sex - so heavily relied upon to keep partnerships glued together; they often ruin careers - especially women's careers; they usually ruin finances and lifestyles. In fact the composite cost even of wanted children is usually so high that parenthood is a sacrifice and children are luxuries rather than investments,' the paper says.
The paper also considers the provision of child benefit, one of the most sensitive issues on which the commission will have to take a view in its recommendations to the Labour Party on tax and benefits.
Social Justice, Children and Families; IPPR, 30-32 Southampton Street, London WC2E 7RA; pounds 2.95