Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The draft Child Poverty Strategy 2014 – 17: share your views with DrugScope

Last month, the Government published its draft Child Poverty Strategy 2014-17.  Here, Senior Policy Officer Paul Anders sets the scene – and invites your feedback to DrugScope’s response.

Child poverty concerns drug and/or alcohol treatment providers for a number of reasons. Many services work with families affected by substance use, with local authorities as part of Troubled Families provision, or work directly with young people themselves. Most services will be aware of the sustained harm a deprived childhood can often cause and will have an interest in mitigating it.

The current measures of child poverty are contained in the Child Poverty Act 2010:
  • Relative income: household income less than 60 per cent of current median income;
  • Combined low income and material deprivation: children who experience material deprivation and live in households with incomes less than 70 per cent of current median income;
  •  Absolute income: household income less than 60 per cent of 2010/11 median income adjusted for prices; and,
  • Persistent poverty: household income less than 60 per cent of current median income for at least three out of the previous four years.

In November 2012 the Government launched a consultation on additional or alternative ways to measure child poverty. They proposed a new ‘multidimensional’ measure which could potentially include a range of other factors, such as worklessness, poor housing, parental skill and parental drug and/or alcohol use. The rationale included the need to learn more about ‘what it means to grow up experiencing deep disadvantage’ and the need to think more about the causes and routes out of poverty.

We were concerned that the proposals appeared to conflate or at least misrepresent the complex relationships between cause, effect and correlation.  In particular, they appeared to draw a connection between parental drug and alcohol use and child poverty – ignoring the lack of evidence as to the direction of any causal relationship between poverty and substance use.  Instead, government communications emphasised a small public opinion poll conducted on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, suggesting that respondents thought that drug or alcohol dependency was more important than income in deciding whether a child was growing up in poverty. 

A further concern was that claiming such a link between parental drug and/or alcohol use and child poverty risked further stigmatising parents with histories of substance use and, for that matter, households living in poverty more generally. Any solution to child poverty will require socially inclusive policies focused on reintegration.  If drug and alcohol use is disproportionally (and potentially incorrectly) emphasised as a causal factor of child poverty, the public, services, employers and other stakeholders are even less likely to be receptive to the reintegration of people with experience of substance use.

Given our shared concerns, Adfam, Alcohol Concern and DrugScope submitted a joint response to the consultation; I blogged about it at the time. The idea of a multidimensional measure – or indeed a series of them – was in many respects very appealing, but we felt that anything that blurred the current focus on income and material deprivation risked not so much moving the goalposts as burying them.

In March 2014, the Government published its draft Child Poverty Strategy, including a summary of responses to the 2012 consultation. There was support for a multidimensional measure, but as was the case with DrugScope and partners, most respondents emphasised the overriding role that income and material deprivation must have in any definition of poverty. For the time being, the measures in the Child Poverty Act 2010 apply.

About the draft Child Poverty Strategy 2014-17

The draft Strategy contains proposals to reduce child poverty grouped under the following headings:

·         Supporting families into work and increasing their earnings;
·         Improving living standards; and
·         Preventing poor children becoming poor adults through raising their educational attainment.

Under these headings, many of the individual proposals are things already in place, like the Work Programme (including the two drug and alcohol pilots, which are to be continued), the Troubled Families initiative and drug/alcohol payment by results pilots, or on the slipway, like Universal Credit (including ‘tailored conditionality’) and free school meals.

The proposals also include ‘investing in drug and alcohol treatment’, although this appears to reflect only the process of localism and public health reform that started in April 2013, the draft Strategy stating that local authorities will have ‘more freedoms and funding to local areas to enable those who know their communities best to decide which services to offer’.

DrugScope/LDAN will, jointly with Adfam, be submitting a response to the draft Child Poverty Strategy. If you would like to feed in to this, you can do so by taking a short survey here: 
https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Draft_Child_Poverty_Strategy .

Alternatively, please get in touch with Paul Anders at paul.anders@drugscope.org.uk

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