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. 

Photo: Getty
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Gordon Brown contemplated making Alastair Campbell a minister

The move is revealed in Ed Balls' new book.

Gordon Brown contemplated making Alastair Campbell, a sports minister. Campbell had served as Tony Blair’s press chief from 1994 to 2003, Ed Balls has revealed.

Although the move fell through, Campbell would have been one of a number of high-profile ministerial appointments, usually through the Lords, made by Brown during his tenure at 10 Downing Street.

Other unusual appointments included the so-called “Goats” appointed in 2007, part of what Brown dubbed “the government of all the talents”, in which Ara Darzi, a respected surgeon, Mark Malloch-Brown, formerly a United Nations diplomat,  Alan West, a former admiral, Paul Myners, a  successful businessman, and Digby Jones, former director-general of the CBI, took ministerial posts and seats in the Lords. While Darzi, West and Myners were seen as successes on Whitehall, Jones quit the government after a year and became a vocal critic of both Brown’s successors as Labour leader, Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn.

The story is revealed in Ed Balls’ new book, Speaking Out, a record of his time as a backroom adviser and later Cabinet and shadow cabinet minister until the loss of his seat in May 2015. It is published 6 September.