Frank Field MP
Your MP for Birkenhead
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We must give children a chance to lift them from poverty


13 February 2012
THE Liverpool City Region's Child Poverty and Life Chances Commission published its first report last week, but will it make any difference? Will it lead to real change? The commission was established by the City's Regional Cabinet and they asked me to chair it. I wrote about the commission's birth in an earlier column, but in this column I want to concentrate on one aspect of the report.

One set of figures has troubled me. I did not believe them at first, and asked the statisticians in the House of Commons Library to check them out. There are 91,000 poor children in the city region if we measure poverty by the now commonly accepted definition of 'living in a household with less than two thirds of median earnings'.

But it was not the number of poor children which most surprised me. It was that three quarters of these children live in one-parent households.

We all know that there are many parents on their own who heroically raise their children in the most brilliant way. Unfortunately these headline figures do not identify these heroines and heroes.

But as soon as I saw the figures a series of questions sprung to my mind.

Clearly poorer children in the city region are skewed towards single parent households. Another way of expressing this is to say that to become a mother without first ensuring you are part of a stable partnership is more likely to financially damage the child. A further way of putting the same message is that for men to father a child, without first making a long-term commitment to the child's mother will similarly damage the child's life chances.

These points can of course be put another way. A pre-requisite for ensuring that children are not born into poverty and remain there for most of their lives is for them to live in households where there are two potential earners. Most families with two parents are able to ensure an income which lifts their children out of poverty. It may not be far out of poverty but it will be out of poverty. Furthermore every survey carried out shows that children from families where there are two parents living together do better in terms of health, ability, jobs and life achievements.

However, I can understand that these may be seen as controversial comments. Let us therefore see if anyone can knock down the figures that I have cited, and the conclusions.

I am trying to engage in an important conversation. Concentrating on the figures, is there another interpretation which seems more reasonable than the one that I have given? If there is not then do we not have a duty not to ignore what I regard as the obvious message from these figures? And if my interpretation is right, can the lessons be expressed more effectively and powerfully? Should not we be stressing these figures in schools, and in debate, through newspapers and in the media more generally?


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