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Demos: Setting rules is a class issue
Lack of consistency and stability makes parenting harder in low-income households
Difficulty setting consistent rules and boundaries in low-income households has a detrimental effect on children’s development according to new research from the think tank Demos. The challenge of living on a low income – with issues of cramped, poor quality housing and lack of routine – has a negative impact on parenting, the report found. Parents from the bottom income quintile were less consistent at setting and enforcing rules than those in the highest income quintile (27 percent compared to 41 per cent).
A poll of over 1,000 parents found that lack of money was the largest obstacle for parents (53 per cent) followed by lack of time (20 per cent) and lack of space at home (8 per cent). Lack of time was an issue for 26 per cent of dads, compared to 15 per cent of mums.
‘Tough love’ found by Demos to be the best style of parenting for developing crucial character capabilities, combines warmth and consistent discipline. While warmth was consistent across all ¬socio-economic backgrounds, the instability associated with working and living on very low incomes made it more difficult for poorer parents to enforce rules.
Up to 3.9 million (30 per cent) of children in the UK live in poverty. The number of people in in-work poverty now exceeds workless impoverished households. The Demos report found that for the working poor, the combined pressure of financial and time restrictions left many parents stressed, tired and less confident in their parenting ability. Demos urges support for families that are working, but poor, through a living wage.
Adding to this pressure is lack of space in the home. Unlike European counterparts, the average room size in the UK is decreasing with the average room size in a newly built house 0.5m2 smaller than the UK average. This issue is compounded for people on low incomes, with the number of children in overcrowded housing coming in just under one million (955,000) in 2007.
Kitty Ussher, director of Demos, said:
“Inconsistent parenting due to income-related issues is deeply a complex phenomenon that will only be addressed by looking at reducing poverty, improving the housing stock and supporting good parenting. What our research shows is that children in Britain are deeply loved but because life is often far harder for people in lower paid jobs, income has an impact in terms of the quality of parenting in the home.
“Politicians should not stigmatise those working hard to do the right thing by their families but instead should support them to do it better. Only then can the cycle be broken, and we will be better able to support young people to develop the resilience they need to build successful lives for themselves in the future.”
Jen Lexmond, lead author of the report, said:
“We must support parents to combat the instability caused by poverty and lack of time. Despite the best intentions, working double shifts – at work then at home – and struggling on low wages takes its toll on parents and ultimately on children.”
Dr Maggie Atkinson, Children’s Commissioner for England, said:
“We know that a combination of loving homes and clear boundary setting are what children themselves want. Parents from all social backgrounds provide love. But we have to look at ways to support those who because of low incomes have added burdens such as financial pressure and time restrictions.”
Notes to editors
Crowded, noisy home environments with little regularity or routine is termed ‘household chaos’. Household chaos is associated with parents and caregivers who are less responsive, less involved, less vocally stimulating and more likely to interfere with children’s exploration. Household chaos has been shown to be associated with caregivers who are more likely to use discipline inconsistently. This trend has been observed in both mother and fathers, with the effects being passed on to children. Children reared in chaotic home environments tend to display lower levels of social competence and higher levels of problem behaviour.
Demos polled 1,017 parents (560 mothers, 457 fathers) with SurveyShack and iMama.tv. Parents were polled on how they feel about parenting, support services, and the pressures and influences on their lives. iMama.tv is the first video driven parenting website in the world hosting over 3,000 custom made, TV quality, short videos from both mums and experts covering everything a parent could want to know about pregnancy, birth and beyond.
The Home Front employed a mixed research methodology that combined representative attitudinal polling of parents with detailed, micro-level ethnographic observations of family life and parent-child interaction. This primary research has been supplemented with secondary longitudinal data analysis of the British and Millennium Cohort Studies, a literature and policy review, and a series of case studies with parenting services.
The 2009 Demos report Building Character detailed how ‘tough love’ parenting with warmth and consistent boundaries was best at developing crucial character capabilities – empathy, application and self-regulation – that have a significant impact on people’s life chances.
The Home Front is the second report on parenting from Demos’ Family and Society Programme.
The Home Front by Jen Lexmond, Louise Bazalgette and Julia Margo is published on Monday 17 January 2010 and will be available to download for free from www.demos.co.uk
The Home Front was funded by The Office of the Children’s Commissioner. The Children's Commissioner for England was established under The Children Act 2004 to be the independent voice of children and young people and to champion their interests and bring their concerns and views to the national arena. The Commissioner’s work must take regard of children’s rights (the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) and seek to improve the wellbeing of children and young people.
The Children’s Commissioner for England is the only national statutory organisation in England with the power to enter places where children are living, other than private homes, to interview them and report on issues from the child’s perspective. We can also ask organisations about which we have reported to respond to our recommendations and initiate inquiries into cases where they raise issues of public policy relevance to other children. For more information go to www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk
Beatrice Karol Burks
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