Friday, 3 December 2010

Thoughts on the Gospel According to St Frank


So Frank Field, Poverty Tsar has pontificated. And I suppose that other wiser heads than me will look in detail at the words, consider their import and add the work to the huge collection of work on poverty, its alleviation and its causes that clutters our collective shelves.

Now Frank is two things - a serious and muscular christian and a social democrat. We need to bear these two factors in mind when considering the impact and importance of his words and his prescriptions for the treatment of poverty.

Some initial (informed) comment comes from Langtry Girl and Wat Tyler (one has to respect pseudonyms). Here's Langtry Girl expressing her concerns that Frank is getting away from the importance of money:

I think Frank Field is a good man. I also know, both from personal experience and from research that inter-generational poverty, is one of the toughest nuts to crack. However, given his remit, and given this Government's philosophy, this report misses the point - poverty is about money, and no amount of research can get us away from that.

Now, I worry that Langtry Girl let's her own specific experience get in the way of considering the aggregate but her observation that poverty does have something to do with money remains a sound observation. Which brings us to Wat:

Spot on Frank. We have long believed that dishing out yet more cash to poor families is missing the point. In general, even the lowest incomes today have moved far above what most of us mean by poverty.

So the problem isn't more money - and Wat is right in observing that the poorest British citizens today are better off than the average citizen was in 1960. By a substantial margin.

Sadly, neither Wat or Langtry Girl offer a strategic alternative to Frank's belief that it is the first five years of life that matter and that the state should concentrate it's efforts in some way on babies and toddlers. Frank's key conclusion that:

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.

My worry here is that we are moving further towards baby farms - towards the East German model of childcare where babies are left in the care of the state from a very young age. I also worry about the teaching of "parenthood" - we will not get firm, strong parenting as a result of this but a mish-mash of 'non-judgmental', undirected psycho-babble laid on a plate before young people.

It seems to me that Frank Field is using the tragedy of poverty as an excuse to introduce a christian socialist, grandpa knows best approach to bringing up children where the state mandates the 'right approach' to parenting and applies sanctions and controls to any one - and especially working class anyones - who step outside this 'right approach'. I'm sure Frank means well. His diagnosis is sound - and very familiar. But prescribing more government seems to me as the wrong solution. The result of this will be more children taken into care, more unjustified 'childcare interventions' and a new industry of 'parenting' - nothing that seems to me as addressing the problem Frank Field was asked to address.

And please tell me that Frank Field didn't propose a "working-class Mumsnet"? That is the stupidest, most ignorant and most patronising thing I've heard in ages. Mumsnet - a truly awful institution in my view - exists because mums set it up and ran it. It succeeds because it has losts of mums using is. It isnt there because the Government mandated it should be there. If the world wanted a working-class mumsnet, there would be a working-class mumsnet.


1 comment:

langtrygirl said...


To make my comments (oh happy day!) in reverse order:

I agree completely about the Mumsnet idea being lunacy. Appart from the deeply patronising idea that w/c mums aren't capable of engaging with the existing Mumsnet, there is a bigger problem. There is a significant correlation between socio-economic class and access to the internet at home. Poor households are far more likely to not have internet services.

Re the first five years being the most important-unfortunately I'll have to disagree with you there, because many many studies, from different countries and disciplines, have shown the importance of these years.

Where we may agree, is that I have never understood the logic behind forcing mothers out to work (often low-paid), handing their children over to other (usually) women (also low-paid)and all this subsidised because neither the childcare, nor the work is affordable without state subsidy. If women wish to work, brilliant. But if they wish to remain at home, also fine.Every mother is a working mother.

You say 'the problem isn't more money'. It is. But only up to a point. I disagree with Wat -I know families who definitely live in what I consider to be poverty (no cooker?), and no amount of Local Authority data pooling is going to solve that problem.

Finally, poor families in this country (especially from workless households) are really impoverished already. Taking away the uprating of tax credits to pay for Field's plans will make things worse not better.