Today sees the publication of a new Working Paper from the North East Child Poverty Commission. The paper looks at the use, misuse and occasional ignorance of evidence in child poverty policy, drawing on over a century of social scientific research around this issue in the UK.
Poverty is an issue that has been examined for over 100 years in the U.K. and as Professor David Gordon has argued, ‘not a single study has ever found any large group of people/households with any behaviours that could be ascribed to a culture or genetics of poverty’ (2011). Despite this available evidence, the current government strategy for tackling poverty focuses primarily on changing individual or familial behaviours.
Some local authorities adhere closely to this narrative, despite a suggested focus on ‘evidence-based policy’ which should rule out many of the activities being proposed. For example, the North East Child Poverty Commission report ‘Local authorities, local duties & local action’ found that some local authorities identified ‘low aspirations’ and ‘cultures of worklessness’ as major barriers to people escaping poverty despite recent, accessible evidence from researchers in the North East which suggested alternative forms of action might be more beneficial.
The paper draws a dstinction between social scientific and empirical evidence and evidence produced by organisations with close links to politicians, which fly in the face of facts. It is, perhaps, perticularly timely given the recent publication of a report on education by an ‘independent’ think-tank which yesterday drew criticism from Helen Barnard of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation who argued that
‘Sensationalist stories of parents who cannot be bothered to toilet train children make for good headlines; they have little to do with the reality of closing the attainment gap.’