Frank Field echoes Nick Clegg’s approach to tackling poverty

Labour MP Frank Field’s Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances, commissioned by the government and published last week has added to the debate over whether efforts should focus on increasing social mobility:

He proposes that the government switches focus from Labour’s anti-poverty measure, based on material income, to a set of life chance indicators.

He writes: “Poverty is a much more subtle enemy than purely lack of money,” adding that he does not believe poverty is the dominant reason why disadvantage is handed down from one generation to another.

Parenting is more important than income or schooling to a child’s life chances, he says. (The Guardian)

This chimes with Nick Clegg’s recent Hugo Young lecture, in which the Deputy Prime Minister said,

Of course it is better to have more money, even if it is only a little more. But poverty is also about the quality of the local school, access to good health services and fear of crime…

Can we really think that a society in which people are temporarily lifted above a statistical line by a few pounds is, in the long run, fairer than one in which opportunity is genuinely dispersed and people’s future life chances are fundamentally improved?

Inequalities become injustices when they are fixed; passed on, generation to generation. That’s when societies become closed, stratified and divided.

The review itself says,

We have found overwhelming evidence that children’s life chances are most heavily predicated on their development in the first five years of life. It is family background, parental education, good parenting and the opportunities for learning and development in those crucial years that together matter more to children than money, in determining whether their potential is realised in adult life…

There are two overarching recommendations.

• To prevent poor children from becoming poor adults the Review proposes establishing a set of Life Chances Indicators that measure how successful we are as a country in making more equal life’s outcomes for all children…
• To drive this policy the Review proposes establishing the ‘Foundation Years’ covering the period from the womb to five. The Foundation Years should become the first pillar of a new tripartite education system: the Foundation Years leading to school years leading to further, higher and continuing education.

The two details proposals which have caught the most media attention so far are the proposals for parenting classes and the suggestion that funds could be diverted from future child benefit increases into the Foundation Years work instead. Likely to be more significant than the specific detailed proposals (especially given the caveats put around the child benefit one), however, is the general approach recommended, which is one of emphasising factors other than how much money a family has in its pockets.

You can read the report in full here.

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  • Ah Frank Field. Who will forget his claim in in June that anyone with a GSCE could see the former govt’s 60% of median income target was mathematically impossible because if you increase the poor’s income, it increases the target? [See

    Funny but alarming. Field’s opposition was based on his own ignorance, but also – because the mean is hgher than the median – presumably a completely distorted view of the income level the target represents.

    In the new report some poor civil servant presumably had to sit down and explain it to him. But you get the impression he has had to come up with other criticisms to try to hide the fact it was all based on this error. One of them is that it was a hard target because median income was growing!

  • Surestart

  • Patrick Smith 5th Dec '10 - 3:15pm

    Frank Field has contributed to the progressive policy formation in providing greater life chances than purely by lifting the income previous analysis of the poorest in society by only examining the median income line.There are patently other factors that must be recognised and to eliminate Poverty in the early 6 years of a child`s life.

    Nick Clegg is absolutely right in the Hugo Young Institute Lecture to state that it is not how must the State spends over a Parliament but how it spends it.

    `but poverty is also about the quality of the local school,access to helth services and fear of crime’.

    It is pertinent that Ed Milliband shoud now say that after 13 years of Labour Governmnent `UK is a fundamental unequal society’. He of course was the author of the recent failed Labour Manifesto on May 6th 2010 that resulted in the lowest Labour vote i.e. 29%- since 1929.

    Frank Fields only cares for the betterment for the poorest members of our communities and I believe that social onject is shared by many `grass-roots’ Liberal Democrats in inner cities Wacross the UK and not least in London, Glasgow and Birmingham.

    If room in this `Coalition Agreement’ can be found for Franks Fied`s Independent Enquiry on Poverty than it bodes well for all those seeking to find a new progressive analysis for governmnet responses to the `poverty trap’.

    It is too simplistic to accept any definition of social poverty erstwhile as it now requires fresh initiatives on new `Coalition Governmnet’ recognition ground to see that all key markers on `life chances’ as prposed by Mr Field for postcode lottery children are welcome and ought to be subject to Liberal Reform.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 5th Dec '10 - 3:29pm

    “Who will forget his claim in in June that anyone with a GSCE could see the former govt’s 60% of median income target was mathematically impossible because if you increase the poor’s income, it increases the target?”

    That’s rather nice. But I do worry that you’re about to be attacked by a posse of Lib Dem cheerleaders insisting that he was absolutely right …

  • @ Geoffrey ‘So if you want greater social mobility, you need to have a more equal society first.’
    You offer no evidence whatsoever of this. You might have said that if you greater social mobility you need to give poor parents more money’ which seems to be what you actually mean. Although since the poorer have got better off while you say mobility has gone down you may not be right.

    The Spirit level doesnt say there is a link between equality and mobility. it says that Scandavaian countries have greater equality and greater mobility. No evidence of any link between the two.

  • @dane , well cetainly in absolute terms.

    surely the onus is one geoffrey to prove his point rather than me to disprove it. ?

  • As social mobility is usually measured by the ability to rise through income percentiles (which of course means it is also easier to fall down them) then if the percentiles are closer together in terms of pounds then surely it should be easier as a given % increase will take you further?

    By the way this Clegg quote:

    Of course it is better to have more money, even if it is only a little more. But poverty is also about the quality of the local school, access to good health services and fear of crime…

    is a bit silly. The quality of the local school and access to good health services is also mainly about money, and even if it is not always only more money that improves them, if they are improved they are worth more money. His second quote listed above makes more sense (in his own terms) although of course given the success of his policy won’t show up for 10-25 years it’s going to be near impossible to hold him to account.

  • YouHaveNoIdea. 7th Dec '10 - 10:15pm

    Inequalities do become injustices when they are fixed; passed on, generation to generation. Thats when societies become closed, stratified and divided. I think Nick, you are unwittingley describing ‘the old wine in new bottles’ now presiding? And as for ‘opportunity dispersed’, it clearly has!

    Spare me the punative edwardian social investigative paternal finger wagging of Frank Field, even before the review I could have told you he would hold parenting as the central problematic. As for a new tripartite education system? it already exists if you care to look before it is dismantled.

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