Leading article: Money alone may not end child poverty in Britain

Share
Related Topics

The Honourable Member of Parliament for Birkenhead has never sat very comfortably in his own party. Tony Blair appointed him welfare reform minister and asked him to think the unthinkable, then sacked him a year later for doing precisely that. More than a decade on, Frank Field received a similar brief, this time outside the Government, from a Conservative Prime Minister. The fruits of his labours were published yesterday in a report entitled The Foundation Years: Preventing Poor Children Becoming Poor Adults; his conclusions made characteristically awkward reading.

Mr Field states baldly that huge class differences can be observed in children's abilities even on their very first day of school. "For many poor children," he says, "life's race is by then already effectively over." Among the remedies he proposes for this shocking state of affairs is a focus on the quality of parenting and more nursery education, with checks on a child's cognitive, physical and emotional development at the ages of three and five.

One of his most controversial ideas – attacked by Labour and child poverty campaigners the moment the report came out – is his contention that a child's life chances are dictated less by money, or the lack of it, than by competent parenting. The two, he would argue, do not inevitably go together. From this he deduces that child benefit need not necessarily keep pace with inflation. There might be times, he suggests, when that money would be better spent on facilities and programmes, such as an expansion of Labour's Sure Start scheme, which the Coalition is committed to preserving.

In separating parenting from money, Mr Field is breaking an assumption cherished beyond the political left. When Mr Blair and then Gordon Brown pledged to "end child poverty", they spoke almost exclusively in financial terms. And it was money they mostly used to address the problem: higher child benefit, child tax credits, higher housing benefit and so on. It can be argued that this sometimes had perverse effects: it may even, indirectly, have increased the number of children who needed to be "lifted out of poverty". Mr Field takes a different approach.

It is not necessary at this stage to reach any definitive judgement on the merits or otherwise of his proposals. What has to be understood, though, is that Britain has a problem with the opportunities open to its children. A study by Unicef, which appeared coincidentally on the same day as Mr Field's review, found that we had one of the most striking gaps in the industrialised world between the chances of children from homes with average incomes and those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. In three main categories of well-being – material, educational and health – Britain came in the bottom two fifths. Nor is this the first international study to find Britain's children doing less well than their counterparts in other developed countries.

Such surveys can and will be open to different interpretations. But one conclusion is hard to escape: either the money-led measures introduced by the last government have yet to filter through, or they do not provide the answer. Either way, there is undoubtedly room for new thinking about the welfare of Britain's poorest children, and if Mr Field's report sparks an open and informed debate, that is something that should be welcomed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn