Iain Duncan Smith tells dole parents to work
Filed under: Career
But why would he say this, and is he right?
Labour failure?Announcing child poverty figures, showing a shortfall on official targets to halve child poverty by 2010, Duncan Smith's speech claimed that that state benefits had not been effective. He said that in 2010-11, 18% of children (2.3 million) lived in poverty, a 2% fall from a year earlier. However, much of this was due to the fact that the average income fell, so the average income required to beat the poverty line fell £259 a week.
He said that despite the former government "pouring vast amounts of money" into the benefits system in order to overcome child poverty, the policy had failed. And he outlined his belief that more benefits were not the answer. He said: "Getting a family into work, supporting strong relationships, getting parents off drugs and out of debt - all this can do more for a child's well-being than any amount of money in out-of-work benefits."
DisagreementNot all the experts agree. Kitty Stewart, a child poverty researcher at the London School of Economics, said: "Without Labour's changes to the tax-benefit system, there would have been around 1.8 million more children living in poverty today. Claims that money was thrown into tax credits with little measurable return are simply mistaken, as the evidence shows that the investment paid off, with future benefits still to come."
"In families most at risk of poverty, such as lone parent households, we observe higher self-esteem, less unhappiness and less risky behaviour among teenagers. That's not only a good thing for those young people today, but it should mean better life chances in the long-run too."
Parents must workThe papers are reporting that his answer is for parents to get off the sofa and get themselves into work for at least 35 hours a week. This is one take on his approach. He actually spoke out for support for young people, and encouragement for them to look beyond their current lives to something more fulfilling.
He said: "With the right support, a child growing up in a dysfunctional household, who was destined for a lifetime on benefits could be put on an entirely different track - one which sees them move into fulfilling and sustainable work. In doing so, they will pull themselves out of poverty."
The bit relating to whether or not parents ought to be working was simple maths. He pointed out that under the universal credit system, if at least one parent works 35 hours a week, at the minimum wage (or 24 hours for a lone parent) the family will officially be out of poverty.
He added a Tory sheen to the view, saying: "For those who are able to work, work has to be seen as the best route out of poverty. For work is not just about more money - it is transformative. It's about taking responsibility for yourself and your family."
ArgumentsAnd this is the bit that rankles. For every family where refusal to work has become a way of life, there are many others where the parents would dearly love to work, but do not have the opportunity.
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty action Group, has serious concerns about the change in policy, saying: "Prioritising child poverty across government improved the childhoods and life chances of millions of children and strengthened our economy; but even so, much more needed to be done given the size of the challenge."
"The warnings for the current government are crystal clear. Under current policies they risk wiping out all these hard-won gains. Unless their strategy improves, their legacy threatens to be the worst child poverty record of any government for a generation.
Duncan Smith has also announced a paper exploring new ways to measure poverty - beyond saying those with less than 60% of average income are in poverty. This, he argues, will make it a less blunt instrument. Meanwhile, there are others who argue that by changing the measure in the right way, he can ensure that whatever the outcome of the universal credit he can prove it has helped reduce child poverty.
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