Graham Allen, the Labour MP for Nottingham North, was commissioned by the coalition government last year to review the benefits of ‘early intervention’. In his first report, published in January, he found that many damaging and costly social problems can be averted or reduced by giving families the right support during a child’s first three years. It’s a persuasive argument, which has also been made in other recent reviews commissioned by the government from Frank Field, Clare Tickell and Eileen Munro. The big question though is how to fund early intervention services when the government is committed to spending cuts.
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 –
Researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies have analysed the impact on households in London of the changes in taxes and benefits due to come into effect by 2014-15: - The increases in taxes and cuts in benefits and tax credits due to take effect between now and 2014/15 hit lower income Londoners harder than those on higher incomes. For instance they amount to 5.7% of net income for the poorest fifth of Londoners, on average, compared to 1.7% for the richest fifth.- Roughly half of poor children and one third of children just above the poverty line are in families that report they are receiving housing benefit. Furthermore, almost 90% of all children living in families receiving housing benefit in London are in poverty or just above the poverty line. Meanwhile, the coalition’s poverty tsar, the Labour MP Frank Field, has published his review of child poverty, The Foundation Years: Preventing Poor Children from Becoming Poor Adults. It calls for greater investment in early years education and argues that funding should be both shifted towards the first five years of children's lives and weighted to help the most disadvantaged. It also calls for all disadvantaged children to be provided with affordable, full-time, graduate-led childcare from the age of two. So far, so reasonable. But at the same time Field also thinks, as his subtitle implies, that we may as well give up on trying to alleviate child poverty:
When I started working as a housing officer in Westminster in 2006, I finished my first week of visits feeling relieved. There were few signs of antisocial behaviour, no gangs of youths intimidating residents in dark corridors, no evidence of overwhelming deprivation. Which isn’t to say that the tenants’ lives were easy: most were living on low incomes, some had mental or physical health problems, others had learning difficulties, some were addicted to drugs or alcohol, others were simply struggling to bring up their children in small flats with poor sound insulation and tired neighbours complaining about the noise. But they were, for the most part, getting by. And with tenancy for life, low rents and housing benefit, as long as they kept to the terms of their tenancy agreement they had a secure home in an area where they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to live. That security has now gone.