Monthly Archives: December 2011

Is a ‘new’ approach needed? Or just a robust one?

There has been much discussion recently suggesting that rising poverty levels and projected future increases were evidence that previous ‘narrow’ approaches have ‘failed’ and a new plan was required. The Coalition Government’s child poverty strategy was introduced as a ‘new’ approach which focused on the ’causes of disadvantage’ and supporting families to ‘work themselves out of poverty’ rather than the previous approach of ‘cash handouts’ and ‘simply throwing money at the perceived symptoms’.

However, the previous government’s approach to child poverty also focused on getting people into work and also introduced policies designed to improve children’s ‘life chances’, to use the current political language, including free nursery places, Sure Starts, a class size cap and the introduction of Educational Maintenance Allowance. So what is ‘new’ about the Coalition’s approach and is it really justified?

A recent paper by Richard Dickens for the National Institute Economic Review summarises the evidence of the last government’s approach to child poverty and the relative successes of different strands of that approach. Dickens notes that

‘work itself had a modest role in reducing poverty and those entering work relied on substantial increases in government benefits to lift them over the poverty line … these findings cast severe doubt on whether the current coalition government strategy of promoting work will be any more successful than the policies of the previous government.’


‘what this is telling us is that the sort of jobs that those in poor households have been getting over the past decade or so do not pay enough on their own to raise households over the poverty line. This strategy is likely to fail without improving the wages obtained or pay progression in these jobs.’

Most people working on poverty in the UK are fully aware that poor work and low pay are major barriers to eradicating poverty, but the National Minimum Wage only appears as a footnote in the new strategy and the concepts of a Living Wage or Pay Ratios don’t feature at all in the document. Instead, there is a focus on ‘in-work’ conditionality via the Universal Credit to support people ‘who do the right thing, who take a full-time job’ lifting people out of poverty. Recent employment statistics shows that there has been a large increase in part-time employment  which suggests that the ‘new’ approach may be difficult to implement.

There is therefore nothing ‘new’ about putting work at the heart of a strategy to reduce poverty. But, equally, there is nothing robust about ignoring particular characteristics of the labour market whilst doing so. What does appear to be ‘new’ is the approach to in-work benefits through the tax credit syustem. Dickens notes that:

‘in contrast to the previous government, the coalition government is also implementing a large number of other changes to the benefit system that in general will reduce the benefits of those on low incomes. Child Benefit and Tax Credits face real-term cuts. There are planned cuts to Housing Benefit with the inroduction of a cap. Also benefits are to be up-rated in line with the Consumer Price Index rather than the generally faster growing Retail Price Index.’

There is sufficient evidence from the previous government’s approach to understand what worked and what didn’t work in reducing child poverty, but the current government appear unwilling to learn any of the lessons. They could easily be accused of keeping the bits that didn’t work that well and discarding the bits that did.

Child poverty levels fell when ‘there was a big drive to reduce child poverty’, according to Dickens. With child poverty playing second fiddle to social mobility and government ministers openly questioning the income related targets in the Child Poverty Act, it seems unlikely that the situation will improve in the foreseeable future.

A genuine, robust approach to ‘making work pay’ has to at least explore measures to improve wage levels, ways to introduce pay ratios, improve access to affordable quality childcare and improve progression routes when in employment. Such an approach also needs to recognise that not everyone is available to the labour market and that work is not the best or most appropriate option for everyone. Unfortunately the Coalition Government’s child poverty strategy appears to do none of these things.

Stephen Crossley

Institute for Local Governance


Weekly Round up 16/12/12

News in Brief

Alan Milburn Speech and responses

The week’s big news was Alan Milburn’s speech on child poverty in his role as the Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility and Child Poverty. The speech got a lot of press coverage with a number of commentators and organisations offering their views including the IEA (which drew this response from CPAG), Barnardo’s and IPPR . Predictably, some of these attempted to focus on the issue of measurement and others advocated a new approach. A brief response came from the party who introduced the Child Poverty Bill

Employment and labour

The latest unemployment figures were released on Wednesday  which made for dissapointing reading for the region. Research by the TUC suggested that it was the low paid earners who are most at risk of long term unemployment and the North East has the lowest average earnings in England. Neil O’Brien highlighted the fact that the UK has more children living in workless households than anywhere else in Europe and Alan Milburn suggested that applicants ‘social class’ should be recorded to ‘shine a light’ on mobility, although presumably everyone would tick ‘middle class’? No? In news that wasn’t as widely reported, a business man from Bristol said “I don’t accept that in a country as civilised as the United Kingdom we have to have poverty, that we have to have unemployment” and wants Bristol to be the first city in the UK that ‘does away with poverty.’


The Resolution Foundation released a report at the start of the week highlighting the potential economic benefit of providing free universal childcare to increase female employment. The report raised a number of important issues, especially around the quality of part time jobs and the flexibility required for employees with caring responsibilities but the quality of childcare on offer was not mentioned. Affordable – even free – childcare will not encourage mums back into the workplace if it is not of a sufficient quality. I also thought the report raises an important question of how we see ‘stay at home’ mums as possible ‘solutions’ to poverty and low-income. Are stay at home mothers best viewed as a wasted economic resource – an ‘opportunity for growth we can’t afford to pass up’? And should the government facilitate them returning to work or should the government facilitate them staying at home to act as the primary care-giver to their children?

Welfare Reform

Cuts to disabled children’s allowances were agreed in the House of Lords this week – more detailed and useful information can be found from the Family Action website. Westminster Council announced the idea of ‘civic contracts’ to qualify for social housing and other benefits whilst, in a potential reform not yet proposed by the Coalition, some researchers suggested that the top rate of tax could be as high as 83% before it had an adverse impact on a country’s economic growth.


News that the Pupil Premium will be extended to all pupils who have registered for Free School Meals over the last 6 years was announced this week. Two teachers union reps offered different perspectives on the news with one calling it “just a redistribution of a shrinking pot of resources to England’s schools”

The Resolution Foundation published research measuring the school readiness of children on low to middle incomes, showing that it isn’t just the poorest children who are ‘behind’ children from higher income families in terms of vocabulary skills.

“Problem Families”

In a speech on Thursday, David Cameron set about tackling the ‘responsibility deficit’  by announcing around £450 million to work with ‘problem families’ and a programme involving ‘troubleshooters’. You can watch the speech here. Earlier in the week Eric Pickles used the opportunity to suggest that “Worklessness has been passed down from generation to generation” and that a small ‘hardcore’ of families cost the ‘taxpayer about £9 billion per year. One police blogger suggested that ‘it’s a lifestyle choice’ and a ‘gravy train’ and, by late Thursday, questions had begun to emerge about the funding for the project, with Factcheck from Channel 4 also questioning the figures involved and The Telgraph likening his speech to one made by Tony Blair five years earlier


An interesting article from Gary Younge on the rise of poverty in America – ‘Land of the free, home of the hungry’

General comment

In other news this week, Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group wrote two articles about the current situation facing poor families and the two separate narratives on child poverty within the government, Zoe Williams discussed the link between poverty and obesity and Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of Joseph Rowntree Foundation, argued that poverty shouldn’t be a fact of life in the UK.

Graphic of the week

Income Threshold Approach – with all of the discussions about the best or most appropriate measures of poverty, this interactive tool form the Poverty and Social Exclusion team is as good a way as I’ve seen of explaining the merits of the 60% median income level as a measure.

Signpost of the week

The Impossible Hamster – quite difficult and probably not necessary to describe it in much detail.

Finally, this is likely to be the last round up of news this year as we won’t ba raound much next week. There may be time for one more blog about recent discussions about the need for a ‘new’ approach to child poverty and increasing levels providing ‘evidence’ that previous ‘narrow’ approaches have failed, so please check back before the end of next week.

I would, however, on behalf of the Commission, like to thank everyone for their help and support over the last year andwe look forward to working with many of you in the coming twelve months.

We wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Kind regards,


Inter-generational Worklessness

In the last week or so, an interesting e-mail debate about the representation of poor people has developed amongst a number of academics and social policy professionals. Regular readers of this blog will be aware that some of the issues that the North East Child Poverty Commission is particularly concerned about are public attitudes towards people on low incomes, myths that surround them and how they are represented by politicians and the media. These issues have been covered in the Weekly Round ups in the blog in recent weeks.

Below are some extracts from the conversation that has been taking place:

“It is certainly the case that there is an inter-generational pattern of experiencing spells of worklessness which in effect indicates the exposure of poorer people across generations to the disadvantages of flexible labour markets and poor work. That is not the same however as inter-generational total benefit dependency which implies no real connection with work generation on generation.”

Professor David Byrne, Durham University

“The myth needs to be challenged every time it is uttered. What have IDS’s officials produced in evidence? If any single ‘family’ [do they mean household of unrelated people?] could be found, what does this say about the profitability of its members to local employers and the capability of the local jobcentre staff to do their boasted job of helping people into work they are meant to do? His department and its contractors are incompetent? There are also unemployed people whose disabilities are not outwardly visible [psychological and personality conditions] — these too are subject to mythology about living on the dole or malingering. At a time when even the visibly incapacitated are publicly abused, the situation of the non-visible may be even worse in terms of prejudiced discriminations of the mythological kind government ministers and their acolytes purvey.”

Professor John Veit-Wilson, Newcastle University

“Ministers are being allowed to get away with remarkable accounts of life on low incomes. I believe that the actual words used by Iain Duncan Smith need closer attention as they provide an indication of how far the presentation of ‘benefit dependency’ has gone at the ‘highest’ levels of government.  In the Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture in March this year the Secretary of State responsible for welfare reform spoke of those on benefits who ‘have seen their parents, their neighbours and their entire community sit on benefits for life…’  This is not a slip, he repeats it: ‘The Universal Credit is about understanding that people who have been out of work all their lives…and have never seen a family or even a community member in work…have to see the financial benefits from taking up employment’.  What evidence did he have for this?  OK, it can be quoted to provide a remarkable insight into thinking at the ‘highest’ levels in government, but in the last week he and others appear to be building on this sort of line to dismiss existing poverty measures because extra on benefits will only mean more on drugs and alcohol rather than more on children.

 I think that descriptions such as ‘out of work all their lives…and have never seen a family or even a community member in work’ and their repetition takes myth-selling a stage further. They raise questions about the ways in which policy issues are being reframed to ensure acceptance.  The pathological construction of others as them the poor, if not paupers, in contrast to us as hard-working taxpayers pushes them away into a separate underclass in the worst ‘Down with the Poor’ and earlier traditions.  In Who Runs this Place?, his last edition of The Anatomy of Britain,  Anthony Sampson remarked on the similarities in Britain of the first decade of this century with the first decade of the last.  He was mainly writing about the distribution of power, wealth and respect. Perhaps we need to go back to the presentations of pauperism in the late 19th century – see, for example, Peter Keating’s editing of Into Unknown England, 1866-1913.”

Professor Adrian Sinfield, Edinburgh University

Many thanks to the contributors for their permission to use the comments above

See also:

Gaffney, D (2010) The myth of the intergenerational workless household,

Weekly Round-up 09/12/11

News in brief (a round up of what happned child poverty wise during the week)

A very busy and informative week in relation to child povertry news began on Sunday, an article on the demonization of disabled people, wirtten by Ian Birrell, David Cameron’s former speech writer, appeared in the Observer. The article suggested that ‘There is a climate of hostility towards people for whom life is already difficult and it is being fostered by politicians and journalists’ and used a recent example from South Tyneside to illustrate the effects. An Ipsos Mori report  also showed how most parents believed their children would be worse off than them in the future. An interesting blog from James Plunkett linked this news to Nick Clegg’s suggestion of means testing some benefits for pensioners.

On Monday an OECD report highlighted how inequality was rising faster in the UK than elsewhere (although The Telegraph managed to explain this as being due to poor people not being very clever or motivated and a lack of discipline in schools) and a new ‘blitz on benefits cheats’ was announced, with news of ‘bounty hunters’ also being called in to tackle the ‘problem’. The Guardian also published a number of articles and resources from its Reading the Riots project early in the week, a couple of which explored the links between poverty and the riots, which drew this reponse from The Telegraph.

Monday night also saw the first documentary on Channel 4 looking at the supply of housing in the UK and the waste of the current stock with approximately 1 million homes estimated to be empty. The first and second episodes of the Great British Propoerty Scandal can be seen here

On Tuesday, the Centre for Social Justice had a piece in the Guardian based on the OECD report and the measure of poverty debate which was mentioned in last week’s round-up. Family Action also responded to Iain Duncan Smiths ‘theory of relativity’  . The Daily Mail also helpfully highlighted Britains benefit divide

On Wednesday – the 2011 British Social Attitudes Survey was launched which included a section of questions on child poverty which showed that 75% of respondents thought drug and alcohol problems were one of the main causes of poverty, along with parents not wanting to work. Again ,the report received a lot of press coverage and the Conservatives issued a statement which claimed public support for their policies and that the ‘report makes it clear that the hard working people of Britain want their government to bring an end to Labour’s something for nothing culture’.

Wednesday also saw  news coverage of a campaign urging the government to tackle pay day loan companies and increase regulation of their activities.

On Thursday, and following on from child poverty findings in the BSA survey report, Declan Gaffney wrote a very thought provoking blog entitled ‘ Does the child poverty agenda now belong to the Conservatives?’,  Tim Montgomerie followed this up with a piece in The Guardian called ‘Compassionate Conservatism is the only game in town‘, and Liam Byrne wrote a criticism of the Coalition’s policies in the Huffington Post. Quite bizarrely, and without obvious irony, the Mail published an online article berating the government for demonising poor people which included the following:

Take Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith’s recent offering that there should be no rise of benefits because too many recipients would only spend it on alcohol or gambling. That’s a disgusting slur. Not to mention ill-informed and inciteful. Someone should wash his mouth out with a bar of soap. I’ll happily step up for that. But then, in matters of demonisation of the poor, the Tories run a master class in it. It is in their DNA.

They think nothing of bandying around such heinous, undermining descriptions of other human beings including ‘scroungers’, ‘feckless’, ‘feral’ and ‘spongers’. The list is seemingly endless and Dave and his gang never seem to tire of pulling them out and using them as weaponry against the more vulnerable.

Whatever next?

Graphic of the week

A summary of the findings from the British Social Attitudes Survey


Signpost of the week

Inequalities blog – an excellent blog with a number of different contributors writing on various issues relating to poverty, inequality and other social concerns. Well worth checking out and recent posts have included examination of ‘the deservingness of benefit recipients’.

And, as it’s been a busy week – an excellent piece by Mary O’Hara called ‘What George Osborne is cutting is hope’


This week seems like a particularly good time to highlight that this blog only provides a brief summary of what is happening poverty-wise in the news and it can’t claim to be a full and exhaustive list of everything that is taking place. If people are aware of things that they’d like to bring to our attention, please do so. I’d be very interested to hear what people have to think about  the shaping of the debate around poverty that are emerging at present. The North East Child Poverty Commission is very interested in work to change public attitudes towards poverty and so this weeks stories have particular resonance with us.

You can, of course, also follow the action in ‘real time’ on Twitter and on Facebook

Best wishes,


Weekly Round up 02/12/11

News in brief (a round up of what happned child poverty wise during the week)

Sunday saw the announcement by Newcastle City Council that they were going to donate the wages not paid to striking employees to local voluntary groups working in disadvantaged communities in the city. We think this is a first in the country

Monday saw the launch of a Social Market Foundation report called The Parent Trap which explored the changing costs of childcare between 2006-07 and predicted costs in 2015. The report noted that the affordability of childcare was likely to decline in the coming years.

There was also an report on a review on Consumer Credit and Personal Insolvency. The BIS press release  that accompanied the report noted that ‘Following the review, the evidence showed that a cap would not be in the best interest of consumers as pricing some consumers out of the market could force individuals to seek unregulated or high cost credit’. So loan companies remain free to charge whatever they like….

On Tuesday, George Osborne set out the Autumn Statement which included the prediction that an extra 100,000 children will be forced into poverty in the next financial year as a result of the changes announced. The IFS produced a very useful summary of what the changes will mean to living standards, including a specific section on child poverty targets (Slide 14). The statement received a lot of press coverage, a lot of which focused on the impact on the very poorest children in our society and the different implications for different sections of society.

Wednesday was the day of industrial action for many people in the public sector and the majority of news coverage focused on this event. The Centre for Social Justice did, however,  launch a report on the links between mental health and poverty, which focuses on the perception of mental health issues as a cause of poverty as much as an effect of it.

On Thursday, Joseph Rowntree Foundation published their Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion report for 2011 which looks at 50 indicators across a number of themes. The report also includes a section on child poverty, including a very useful table looking at long term trends across the child poverty indicators included in the government’s child poverty strategy. A blog accompanying the report is also worth reading

David Cameron also suggested on Thursday that “there is a real problem with the way we measure poverty in this country. Because it’s done on relative terms…” He suggested that the 100,000 increase in child poverty levels was because of an increase to the pension, a claim that was fact-checked and found to be misleading. In 2006, David Cameron made a speech on child poverty and how it is measured and it is worth repeating some of it here, because he is quite unequivocal in his thoughts about how child poverty should be measured:

“In the past, we used to think of poverty only in absolute terms – meaning straightforward material deprivation. That’s not enough. We need to think of poverty in relative terms – the fact that some people lack those things which others in society take for granted. So I want this message to go out loud and clear: the Conservative Party recognises, will measure and will act on relative poverty.”

“So poverty is relative – and those who pretend otherwise are wrong. This has consequences for Conservative thinking. Tackling poverty is not just about a safety net below which people must not fall. We must think in terms of an escalator, always moving upwards, lifting people out of poverty. And, crucially, an escalator that lifts everyone together.”

On Thursday evening, Iain Duncan Smith gave a speech at LSE which appeared to indicate a change in direction regarding measures of income. This was reported in sections of the press on Friday morning with The Guardian suggesting that ‘the target is no longer going to be a central goal of government policy’ although it is debatable that it ever was with social mobility being the ‘principle goal of the Coalition’s social policy’ according to Nick Clegg. The Telegraph provided a ‘feckless parents’ headline, while The Mail suggested that benefits could ‘do more harm than good’.

Signpost of the week (we’ll try and identify some ‘further reading’ each week – reports or papers that are thought-provoking, controversial or just generally helpful….)

Last chance to save a wild bunch of teenagers (Thanks to Dan Jackson for sending this one in)

Interesting article from The Telegraph earlier this week about a charity they are supporting this Christmas who are working in South Tyneside with a group of children who have been expelled from schools. Leaving aside the intervention itself, which seems quite intensive and supportive of the young people here’s a couple of quotes which, in my opinion, show how it easy it is to adopt and report lazy stereotypes without checking facts

“Some of these kids are as tough as it gets. They are pretty much left to feed and clothe themselves, and maybe their younger brother or sister. You could say they are feral, they have developed their own way to survive.”

This doesn’t seem like a very good description of ‘feral’ – ‘domesticated’ might be a better adjective?

“The teenagers being taught in South Shields are at the sharp end of social deprivation, living on desolate estates where unemployment and crime are the   norm and stable, working families are rare.”

Why is stable linked with working? The two aren’t mutually dependent

A lot of it is aspiration. You are looking at generations of unemployed since the shipyards closed.”

The kids are poor because they and their parents never aspired to be anything else etc etc. Which shipyards are referred to? If it relates to closures in the 1930’s which led to the Jarrow March, is the article suggesting that there are families who have never worked since then? More recent shipyard closures in the 70’s would probably suggest the term ‘generations’ is slightly misleading

Looking ahead…. (announcements coming up that we’re aware of)

Nothing specific but, given the announcements relating to measures of poverty this week, it wouldn’t surprise us if other developments occurred in this area in the near future.

Contributions (over to you….)

We would (still) welcome comments, suggestions and contributions from our readers. If you have a particular question you would like to pose, a subject you would like to see covered – or cover – in the blog, please get in touch with us. If you’d like to suggest any new section or changes to the ones we’ve got above, please do so.

Best wishes,


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