The National Foundation for Educational Research, analysing the data in a Tellus Survey carried out in autumn 2009, last month drew some conclusions about what makes it more or less likely that a child will be happy – or say that she’s happy, which isn’t quite the same thing. The government decided in June to stop running the national survey (it’s an unnecessary drain on local authorities’ resources, they say), but the NFER analysis may have made them think twice about that, as one of the apparent findings is that poverty does not affect happiness.
The NFER, admitting that this is surprising, explains that no significant association was found between poverty and happiness once other influences had been taken into account. It doesn’t say, however, if it considered the association between poverty and those other influences – which include worrying about parents, worrying about money, being a victim of crime, and whether or not the family sits down to eat a meal together.
It looks as if policy-making may increasingly be justified by this sort of analysis. David Cameron has asked the Office of National Statistics to find a new way to measure ‘wellbeing’ in Britain – so that we measure progress not by ‘how well the economy is doing’ (or how many children are living in poverty) but by how happy we are (or say we are). He can then justify making the poorest families even poorer. The government may be scrapping the education maintenance allowance, child trust funds and the health in pregnancy grant; freezing child benefit (for those that still receive it); changing tax credits (removing some elements, cutting or freezing others);cutting housing benefit; and making it harder to get emergency grants for families in crisis – but let’s not worry about any of that because happiness doesn’t result from living above the poverty line anyway.
Child Poverty Action Group has calculated that a baby born to a low-income family after April 2011 will be around £1500 worse off compared to a sibling born in April 2010, and that a couple with children, one working 20 hours a week on minimum wage and the other on contributory employment and support allowance, could lose £168.31 a week. And those families won’t be less happy? We’ll see about that.