Don’t ignore income when looking at poverty and life chances

Looking at the Frank Field's review on poverty and life chances, it is wrong to suggest family income is not important to the future chances of children.

Dalia Ben-Galim is an Associate Director at the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr)

We know that what happens to children before the age of five can have a major impact on how they get on later in life. Frank Field’s independent review on poverty and life chances, published today, calls for better early years services and more support for parents. Whilst this is important in eradicating child poverty, the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) is warning the government not to ignore family income as a critical measure of the quality of children’s lives.

In his report, Field sets up a false choice between raising benefits and tax credits for low income families and improving early years services. But it is wrong to suggest that family income is not important to the future chances of children.

Field rightly emphasis the role of parenting, but international evidence shows that parenting skills are often linked to income. Parents who feel more financially secure are better able to give their children the best support. Field’s review seems to ignore this evidence.

He is right to say that early years services need more investment. Yet his review follows real term cuts to Sure Start announced in the Spending Review, whereas funding for schools was given a real-terms increase. This raises questions about the coalition government’s commitment to early years support as part of the overall education budget.

UNICEF’s latest report once again shows that the UK trails behind other countries on measures of child well-being. The UK comes fourth from bottom (out of 24 countries) on overall levels of inequality in child well-being. Only Italy, Greece and the USA are lower. Countries that have comprehensive provision that include both income measures and services achieve better outcomes for children.

And this report comes at a time when the costs for families are increasing, with higher heating bills, Christmas around the corner and increases to VAT which will have a disproportionate impact on poor families.

Ippr recognises the current fiscal constraints and argues that the government should focus its efforts in this parliament on eradicating child poverty among the under-fives, rather than all children up to the age of 18, as poverty is most detrimental to children during the early years. To achieve this target both increased family income and improved services are needed.

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