28 Mar 2007

Child poverty - swings and roundabouts

"Budget 2007: Benefit and tax changes will lift 200,000 children out of poverty" says Tristan Donovan, 28 March 2007 at "Children Now".

In the nick of time, so it seems, as according to the BBC, Tuesday, 27 March 2007, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK:

"More UK children live in poverty" - "Figures showing a 200,000 rise in UK children living in relative poverty last year have been described as a "moral disgrace" by Barnardo's."

It's difficult to know what and who to believe.

Let's try Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab) speaking in the House of Commons on 26th March 2007:

"I want to focus on the measures to reduce child poverty. I welcome the decisions that will lift 200,000 children out of poverty, and the recommitment to halving child poverty by 2010 and to abolishing it by 2020 ............. It is clear from the criticisms that we have heard that Her Majesty’s Opposition basically do not understand the phenomenon of child poverty, which is presumably why they allowed it to treble under the last Tory Government. It has also become clear to us that the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) has completely misled his colleagues by suggesting that family breakdown is the prime cause of child poverty in this country. In January, there was a lot of talk about the UNICEF comparisons of child well-being among members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, but I have looked at the more up-to-date comparisons between European countries by Jonathan Bradshaw of York university. They were published in a journal called Social Indicators Research in January this year, and they show that family breakdown is not the prime cause of child poverty in any of the European countries. Indeed, if we strip out the experience of the United Kingdom, we see that there is a positive correlation between child well-being and the number of single-parent families, with Finland and Sweden at the top of the table............... The key factors influencing child poverty were found to be income inequality, child poverty itself, obviously, gross domestic product per capita - at is, the overall wealth of a country - social spending and spending on children and families. That is why the strategy announced in the Budget for tackling child poverty is the right course of action."

So there we have it! Or do we? Is Professor Jonathan Bradshaw the last word we need to hear on the subject?

If the Labour "strategy" is so virtuously and manifestly the correct one, how is it that Barnado's are complaining about the "moral disgrace" that 200,000 more children have just slipped into poverty?

Let's hear it from another professor:

The Extraordinary Effects of Marriage [January 2002 in Accountancy] By Andrew Oswald, Professor of Economics, Warwick University. Visit his website at www.oswald.co.uk

"A new branch of research is finding that marriage has powerful and beneficial effects on human beings. Currently this work is done by applied statisticians, and appears only in arcane journals. But its findings deserve to be read by everyone in western society. The work proceeds in a way common in modern social science. Large random samples of families are followed through time. They are interviewed every year about their lives, and their incomes and psychological wellbeing levels are measured.

The first finding is that marriage makes you richer. In virtually every country ever studied, workers who are married earn between 10% and 20% more than those who are single. This figure holds after many other influences are factored out (in other words, it bears in mind there are lots of other forces that affect pay, including someone’s age and education and gender and so on). Economists argue about what this finding means. Some say that it is because ‘better’ people -- healthier, more tenacious, more conscientious, better looking, more productive, stronger -- are the ones who get married. Marriage itself, on this line of argument, is not doing anything to a man or woman's earning power. Those with large pay packets simply choose to get hitched more than do those on low earnings. That sounds plausible, but actually it does not fit the facts. For one thing, if you study people in their early 20s, then those who are married barely earn more than singles. It appears that the ‘marriage wage premium’, as it is sometimes called by researchers, actually gets stronger through time as the years pass and the marriage gets longer. This suggests that marriage is more a cause than an effect of higher pay....

The second main finding from modern statistical research is even stranger. Marriage makes you live longer. Although most members of the general public are probably not aware of it, there is now some consensus among epidemiologists that you can prolong your life by marrying. Marriage keeps you alive about 3 extra years, on average. Numerous studies have shown this. One of the most intriguing followed male graduates of Amherst College in the United States in the late nineteenth century. At age 18, all these men had their health, height and weight measured. Their later occupation was also recorded, and much else about them. Then they were followed through their lives. All are now dead, of course. Strikingly, those who married lived much longer, even bearing in mind other influences.

There is plenty of British evidence too. In the late 1960s, 20,000 middle – aged male civil servants had a medical examination and were then tracked for the next two decades. At the end of that time, 14 out of every 1000 married men had died, compared to 21 for widowers, 17 for those single, and 21 for those separated. This study is interesting because it appears to pin some of the blame, if that is the right word, on cardiovascular disease. Unmarried men had much higher blood pressure. The current conventional view in the epidemiological journals is that marriage works through some kind of protective effect on mental wellbeing. It lowers stress and worry – presumably because sharing worries halves them, just as tradition says. Partly, too, married people smoke less and eat in a healthier way."

So you can take your choice, if you want to reduce deprivation and end child poverty:

(1) Trust Helen Goodman and Gordon Brown to continue to tinker creatively with taxes and benefits, or

(2) Ask Iain Duncan Smith whether he is going to try to persuade his Conservative colleagues to support the amendments I am proposing to the Statistics and Registration Service Bill and the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill.

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