Measuring marriage won’t stop child poverty

The government’s new policy of using the relationship status of parents/carers to measure child pove

Buried away on page 52 of the government's new 79-page child poverty strategy are plans to measure family structures. The inclusion of this new indicator is baffling. It is the first time that the government will monitor relationships. And this new focus is at odds with other indicators and the government's flagship social mobility strategy, which emphasise the importance of what parents do rather than who parents are.

Relationships do matter and marriage is a choice for many. But the evidence on how marriage connects to the child poverty agenda is less clear. There is evidence of correlation, but that shouldn't be confused with causation.

IPPR research shows the importance of the quality of relationships. Warmth, love and spending quality time together matters. It is the quality of relationships that should matter. For some couples that will result in marriage or civil partnerships; for others it won't.

But the connection between child poverty and relationship status is contentious. With high employment rates, a strong welfare state and good childcare, family structures become far less important. Living in a dual-earner household – whether married or cohabiting – reduces the risk of child poverty to close to zero. But even for lone parents, the experience of the Scandinavian countries shows that poverty risks are hugely diminished by universal childcare services and an active welfare state.

The government's new indicator on family structures will measure the proportion of children living in relative poverty by the relationship status of their parents – couples who are married/in a civil partnership, cohabitating couples and lone parents. It sits alongside, and seemingly carries similar weight to, other indicators of relative and absolute poverty in the Child Poverty Act.

Conversely, the government's child poverty strategy introduces other valuable indicators, such as in-work poverty, that are underpinned by strong evidence. IPPR's research has highlighted the risks associated with in-work poverty and the need for policy to focus more clearly on job sustainability and advancement. And today, the institute has published Parents at the Centre, which makes policy recommendations that focus on high-quality and accessible early-years provision that can have a significant impact on progress towards the child poverty target.

Eradicating child poverty is about more than just money and income. We need to develop and implement progressive policies that invest in the under-fives, support children's centres to remain universal and tackle in-work poverty. But policy also needs to catch up with and reflect reality: stepfamilies are the fastest-growing family type.

So, as this new measure of family structure goes almost unnoticed, it suggests that the government may be advocating "policy-led evidence", trying to generate data for marriage tax breaks that lack support across government. The child poverty agenda should not be used as a pawn in that debate.

Dalia Ben-Galim is associate director of the Institute for Public Policy Research.

Dalia Ben-Galim is Director of Policy at Gingerbread. 

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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