Early intervention is key to tackling poverty
by Kitty Ussher
Today, Wednesday, the Institute of Economic Affairs will launch a new report on the measurement of poverty. It appears they will be advocating monitoring not just people’s income but their ability to achieve a certain standard of living.
So far so good. Welfare and anti-poverty strategy needs to be about a hand up as well as a hand out; hand outs alone will never be enough. The government has transferred 134 billion pounds to families since 1999 and hundreds of thousands of children have been lifted out of poverty. That’s a great result for those families but with that amount of money available, why are there still 2.8 million children in relative poverty, measured as no-one living below 60% of the median income. But even a hand up isn’t enough if it doesn’t bring a big enough lift. Witness the rise in in-work poverty over the last ten years, a trend only exacerbated by the recession. If it’s depressing that our society is so unequal, how much worse is it to realise that many at the bottom of the pile are working hard to get nowhere.
The IEA is holding a panel discussion this evening to launch their report. As a panel contributor I’ll be drawing on our own recent research 3D Poverty, which argues that while income is still important in understanding what it means to be poor, we also need to take a more nuanced and multi-dimensional approach to measuring poverty. We’ll be taking that work forward in 2011.
The importance of looking at opportunity is re-inforced by Frank Field’s recent report for on poverty for the government. Entitled ‘The Early Years,’ he proposes a set of life chances indicators, asserting “a healthy pregnancy, positive but authoritative parenting, high quality childcare, a positive approach to learning at home and an improvement in parents’ qualifications....can trump class background and parental income.” He proposes measures to plough more money and attention towards the first 5 years of a child’s life. On Monday with Nick Clegg Demos launched The Home Front which supports this conclusion with particular emphasis on the need to support parents.
If the IEA gets underneath what is really happening in Britain, it too will propose these types of measures. If it reverts to type and goes instead for a carrot and stick approach to traditional welfare payments then it will not have contributed much to this debate.