Frank Field report: ‘shift money from benefits to early years’

Frank Field (pic Rex Features)

The government should shift child benefit funding to early years services to increase the life chances of poorer children and scrap the target of eradicating child poverty by 2020, according to a government review published today.

Frank Field’s review of child poverty, commissioned by David Cameron in June, emphasises that the impact of poverty on children goes much further than a lack of money. It says high quality childcare from birth to five years of age can determine the course of the rest of a child’s life.

Field urges the government to make a commitment that all disadvantaged children have access to affordable, full-time, graduate-led childcare from age two.

“This is essential to support parents returning to work as well as child development,” the report said.

The report says this approach would be more effective than the former government’s initiative to erdicate child poverty by 2020 which was unrealistic.

Instead a set of Life Chances Indicators should be created to measure how successful the country is in making life outcomes for all children more equal.

To drive this policy, the review proposes establishing a Foundation Years period, covering the ages of birth to five. These years, the report says, should become the “first pillar” of a new tripartite education system: the Foundation Years leading to school, leading to further, higher and continuing education.

Field said the government should gradually move funding from benefits to the early years, weighing the money toward the most disadvantaged children as an evidence base of effective programmes.

A lot of sector response to Field’s work has been positive.

Anne Page, policy manager at the Family and Parenting Institute said: “A good start in the early years is the only way to break the cycle of disadvantage. This good start for a child requires good parenting, but also other factors that parents may feel are beyond their control. The living environment is a factor.”

Helen Donohoe, director of public policy at Action for Children, said: “We know from our every day work that lifting families out of deprivation can not be achieved by concentrating on family income alone.”By providing targeted support to families at an early stage we can successfully break intergenerational cycles of deprivation. Action for Children welcomes the introduction of the Life Chances Indicator.”

The TUC, however, has expressed concerns about Field’s suggestion that the previous government’s goal to eradicate child poverty by 2020 is unrealistic and should be abandoned.

“The report understates the importance of families’ incomes,” said TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber. “The biggest problem faced by poor people is still that they haven’t got enough money and face debts that put intolerable strains on their finances.

“We have reached a critical point in the debate about poverty, inequality and welfare in Britain. We remain a country with an exceptional level of economic inequality that needs significant fundamental structural change and government investment.

“Deciding not to spend money on meeting the 2020 target to end child poverty is a political choice, not an economic one.”

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