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Frank Field is wrong to ignore importance of family income in improving life chances for under 5s

Responding to Frank Field’s independent review on poverty and life chances, ippr warns the government not to ignore family income as a critical measure of the quality of children’s lives. Young children will continue to struggle if they live in poverty, even if early-years services improve.

ippr also argues that fiscal constraints mean the government should focus its efforts in this Parliament on eradicating child poverty among the under 5s, rather than all children up to the age of 18 as now. To achieve this target, both increased family income and improved services are needed.

ippr says ministers need to overcome the current definitional problems that prevent new free childcare provision counting towards child poverty reduction targets. ippr argues that improved childcare would also help overcome disincentives to work that higher benefits can generate.

ippr Director Nick Pearce said: 

'We know that what happens to children before the age of 5 can have a major impact on how they get on later in life, so Frank Field is right to call for better early years services and more support for parents.

'However, it is wrong to suggest that the family income is not important to the future chances of children. Parents struggling to pay bills and worrying about debt find it harder to give their children the best start to life, although many do despite the pressures.

'A more comprehensive plan is needed which includes goals for increasing family incomes, helping more parents into work and investing in services. However, given the fiscal position, the focus of child poverty eradication in this Parliament should be on the under-5 age group, as poverty is most detrimental to child development in these crucial early years.'

ippr says Frank Field is right to stress the enormous impact that parenting and early years education have on children’s development and later life chances, and these must continue to be a priority for the Coalition government. But ippr says the review’s findings have some important limitations:

Field sets up a false choice between raising benefits and tax credits for low-income families and improving early-years services. Governments can and should do both because, as UNICEF’s latest report on child wellbeing shows, countries that take this approach achieve better outcomes for children.

The emphasis placed on parenting is right, but international evidence shows that parenting skills are 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.

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

Notes to editors

UNICEF’s report The Children left behind is published today and includes a league table of inequality in child wellbeing.

ippr’s Cutting the Deficit: There is an alternative sets out an alternative strategy for how the Coalition government could tackle the deficit. 

See also ippr’s response to the welfare reform white paper


Tim Finch, Director of Communications: / 07595 920 899

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