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Despite the United Kingdom being one of the world’s richest nations, it has one of the highest rates of child poverty. Research has shown, children living in poverty are less likely to achieve at school and by the age of fourteen many poor children are two years behind their peers (Fisher, 2008). This would suggest, children living in poverty are more likely to leave school with fewer qualifications, unable to realise their full potential, therefore, are less likely to contribute fully to society. Since 1997, New Labour policy has intended to improve services to children and families as part of a wider strategy to tackle social exclusion and poverty in the UK (Blair. 2005). In 1999 the labour party set out to end child poverty in a generation.
I will set out our historic aim, that ours is the first generation to end child poverty forever, and it will take a generation. It is a 20-year mission but I believe it can be done.
Blair (1999, in Ridge, 2004)
Blair’s historic pledge to end child poverty moved the issue from the side-line to the centre of the policy agenda (Ridge, 2004). In ending child poverty, the DCSF has outlined four areas which it believes are key to achieving the goal. Getting more parents into work, providing financial support that matches family requirements, improving children’s life chances and creating safe cohesive communities in which children can thrive (Defries, 2009). The intention to end child poverty by 2020 has introduced various forms of incentives to single parents’ encouraging them back to work (Blair. 1999). The Government has introduced a guaranteed minimum income for families with children who are in full time employment and child care grants for parents wishing to return to work. In addition, the Government has also extended maternity leave to fifty two weeks in the hope of enticing mothers to work rather than claim benefits (Work & Families Act. 2006). Government policies on tackling childhood poverty will be examined further in this essay.
This literature review will explore current opinion on the role Government policy and legislation plays in effectively reducing child poverty. Through Government documents, websites and peer reviewed academic journals; I aim to establish if literature supports the effectiveness of policy in reducing child poverty. This essay will give a brief history of various policies introduced to support children and their families and examine the driving force behind them. It will also look at alternatives to end child poverty and reduce dependency on Welfare state.
In order to appreciate the term ‘poverty’ it is important to give a succinct description of what poverty is and how it is classed; Poverty has many manifestations, including lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods. Hunger, malnutrition, ill health and basic education has also been a consistent theme among children in poverty (Alcock, 2006). The Governments classification of poverty in the UK is based on income and resources. If these are so inadequate as to preclude you from having a standard of living which is regarded as acceptable by the Government, then you are said to be in poverty (Cullen, 2007). Currently the Government class all families with an income of less than 60% of the British median to be in poverty (Gentleman, 2009). This is slightly different than the calculations used in research completed by UNICEF, where homes with equivalent income below 50% of the nation’s median are said to be in poverty (UNICEF, 2009). Although there appears to be no one clear measure, the Governments definition underpins their strategic response to tackling child poverty. Therefore, for the purpose of this review, child poverty will be measured through family income.
Poverty exists within a dynamic and changing social order and is, to some extent, created and recreated buy the social and economic policies that have been developed over time. The history of policies of child poverty can be dated back as far as the first Poor Law. Prior to the Poor Law, assistance with, and relief from poverty was provided by the church, relatives or the parish. Policy and poverty has consistently shaped the position of children who are poor within all aspects of the boarder social structure. To develop an understanding of child poverty it is necessary to have an insight of how child poverty has been represented over time.
Historically, the voices of children living in poverty have rarely been heard. Laslett (1971) points out, that despite there being a large number of children in the pre-industrial world; they are missing from written record (Laslett, 1971. P110). Cunningham (1991) reiterates this by stating, “Early representations of child poverty have come from neither child nor the poor”. (Cunningham, 1991) Therefore, our understanding of the history of child poverty has been filtered through an adults’ perspective based on family circumstances. As a result, any historical account of children living in poverty needs to be embedded in a wider account of the social, economic and political developments over time (Ridge, 2004). With this in mind, this review will give a brief overview of the key factors of legislation.
The first Poor Law was introduced to aid assistance to those who needed it. The first Poor Law legislation of 1388 in England was made in response to a particular social situation following a high death rate from the Black Death plague epidemic.
During the 19th century children whose parents were impoverished came under the jurisdiction of the 1934 Poor Law. Two main systems of relief existed within this law; the workhouse and outdoor relief. The Poor Law commission assumed children should be treated the same as their parents. Consequently, children of the ‘able bodied’ poor were expected to follow their parents into the workhouses (Fletcher, 2005). This would have made it almost impossible for children living in poverty to break the cycle as once they were old enough to work they took their positions within the work house. Outdoor relief was typically given to able-bodied paupers in the form of clothing, food or even money. However, work was expected in return (Walker, 2008).
The underlying notion of the Poor Act was to foster independence and self reliance, therefore reinforcing the inherent values of work. It could be argued that these values are still current today. This will be explored further in the essay.
Due to the high mortality rates of single mothers who died in child birth, about 20% of the children in the workhouses were parentless (Fletcher, 2005). Whilst provision was made for the parentless children of the work house, no provision was made for the parentless beggar children from the street. The street children were very much left to provide for themselves. Many of the children turned to crime, this was portrayed in the film Oliver Twist which was written in the late 1830’s (Ref). This again, would have made it extremely difficult for poor children to break the cycle of poverty and highlights the ineptness of the Poor Law.
The Royal Commission on the Poor Laws, in the early part of the twentieth century, reflected on its ineffectiveness in the majority and minority reports (1909) (Glennerster et al, 2004) It was believed some of the poor were beyond relief and of those on relief, it was felt they should not continue to do as they please. That is, they should not choose not to work if they were able to (Ref). This is a clear parallel of debates regarding today’s society and welfare reform, where the government are actively encouraging able bodied parents to work to reduce dependency on the welfare state (Ref). The minority report saw the causes of poverty as largely the result of basic structural factors in the economy and argued provision for the poor should become part of a range of services for the whole community. This proved a strong thread in the debate of the Poor Law and became the centrepiece of a campaign to abolish it (Glennerster et al, 2004).
After the Second World War it became clear there needed a big idea to put an end to poverty. The social security reforms of the 1940’s, based on the recommendations of the Beveridge Report (1942) aimed to give everyone economic security from the ‘cradle to the grave’ through the provision of benefit support (Alcock, 2006). The introduction to family allowances in 1946 undoubtedly improved services to children and was an effective tool in reducing the problem of child poverty (BBC Radio). This was just one of a number of initiatives used to raise the standards of living for children in poverty. Although, Family Allowances were initially only paid to families with more than one child, this was later converted into Child Benefit and paid for all children and all families regardless of income (ref). This was to encourage low income families to work as they would still get some kind of benefit for their children regardless of income.
However, due to the changes in family structure a high number of family break downs occurred, consequently the numbers of one-parent families grew. This made it very difficult for single parents as many were largely unable to work due to their child care responsibilities so many children remained poor. It could be argued that single parents fell through Beverages safety net as his reforms had only been intended to work as a family unit. This is a clear indication of the changes in family structure in a post modern Britain. It is widely recognised that family breakdowns are costly to the state with a high number of lone-parents claiming benefits.
In 1905 a times editorial warned of relying too much on the state. He declared, parents’ had already been relieved of the duty of educating their children and now this was being used as an argument of relieving them from their duty of clothing them. He voiced his concern that children, in adulthood, may fail to take a productive role in society and instead rely heavily on the government when they in turn become parents.
We have already made a serious inroad upon personal responsibility and a personal independence by relieving parents of their duty to educate their children. When we have done that, the argument will be stronger than ever for relieving them of the duty of clothing their children. But what are we to expect of our children when they in turn become parents. Their habit of looking to the state for their maintenance would be ingrained in them.
However, without the state intervention there would undoubtedly have been no end to the squalor and disease with the century began. (Ref) It could therefore be argued that social policy has been effective in increasing living standards for children. Today many people believe they have gone too far and created a ‘nanny state’. Can future governments do any better than those of the past? If not what will be the consequence of our children?
needed a big idea to through national insurance. There was widespread support for the Beveridge plan and the post-war labour government pledged to make it a reality and the welfare state was born. This led to improved services for all, including education and a free national health service. This was largely welcomed by the nation. As the nation gradually became wealthier it was believed child poverty was becoming a thing of the past. By the 1990’s however, it became clear that this was not the case.
In the UK in 1991 the Child Support Act introduced major changes in the way the state intervenes in the financial support of children when parents separate (Burgoyne & Millar, 1994). Previously, courts were responsible for setting and enforcing maintenance payments however, very few fathers paid anything for their children (Ref). The new approach required absent fathers to pay higher amounts for their children and enforced these payments much more rigorously than in the past. It could however be argued that the governments intentions of introducing the CSA was for the benefit of the state rather than the children, as a large number of lone-parents are unable to work. In which case the lone-parents receive no financial gain from the absent parent as any child support collected is simply deducted from their benefits.
In 1996 the Child Poverty Action Group issued a report which indicated that one in four children were living in poverty (CPAG,??). Although the destitution of the post-war days had gone, children were found to be living in conditions well below standards that we consider acceptable in today’s society. Single parents are finding it extremely hard to exist on single parent benefit but many feel embedded in the poverty trap. It has been widely acknowledged that child care can be costly and the Governments scheme to assist with the cost of child care has been welcomed by many single parents’ wishing to return to work. However, many still find the costs too much even with support from the Child Care Grants. In addition to the cost of child care, many single mothers in a low-paying jobs battle with their imperative to keep a job so they can buy food and shelter for their children, and their responsibility to see the health, safety and education of their children. The needs of children can create a crisis when family needs overlap with demands of employers. This can discourage many employers from employing single parents’.
Theorists such as Bowlby, Stern, Clyman and Bucci (Gerhardt, 2004) have written much about the benefits of secure bonds for very young children’s development. In the case of Bucci’s theory, the development of a secure internal schema is given as much importance as the visible external schemas that practitioners strive to recognise and extend. It could therefore be argued, the Governments underlying aim to have as many adults working outside of the home as possible, regardless of the age of their children, is to the detriment of the long term social and emotional development of the children involved.
A vital part of the Governments strategy to end child poverty was the introduction of Sure Start Centres where the intention is to ‘improve outcomes for all children’. (Sure Start, 2008) However, the first brief for Sure Start centered on the goals of ‘helping prevent family breakdown and promoting readiness for school’ (Link, 2000. P94). The move towards Sure Start providing child care rather than purely child and family support could be viewed as a Government tool for removing parental choice and encouraging parents to work.
In the year 2000, the Department for Education and Employment described Sure Start as ‘a cornerstone of the Government’s drive to tackle child poverty and social exclusion’. (DfEE, 2000) This aim supports the research of many interested organisations such as the Institute for Public Policy Research who stated in 1998 that ‘social inclusion is best promoted though enhanced employment opportunity’ (Oppenheim, 1998. P113) and that ‘poverty and deprivation in children’s families and in their neighbourhoods is associated with their performance at school’. (Oppenheim, 1998. P139) This would suggest that literature supports the Governments views in building an educated workforce and supports the Sure Start family Centre’s aim to meet both the individual needs of the family to get an early start in education support to narrow the performance gap.
Due to the ineffectiveness of the Poor Law policies of the nineteenth century, many self-help organisations were set up to offer help to those who needed it. Many of these charities remained independent of government control or influence. British social policy, in relation to child poverty acknowledges the major contribution of these organistions in promoting children’s needs. The importance of the functions and responsibilities of the voluntary sector are well documented. This was evident in the Wolfenden Report 1978 which viewed the voluntary sector as one of the four sets of institutions through which social needs are met(Taylor & Woods, 2005).
Changes in society, to some degree, have caused poverty. Work for unskilled men and women have become more difficult to find. The wages paid for unskilled workers is far less, therefore creating a huge wage divide for skilled and unskilled workers. Poverty today is not just about money, it is also about feeling of worthlessness in society. Many pathways have been blocked and more and more people are finding it increasing difficult to break free from poverty cycle due to employers requiring skilled workers. People becoming
The social security system is complex and the ongoing use of mean-testing for assessing eligibility for benefits may prevent some families from making claims this could prevent some children from being ‘lifted’ out of poverty. All parents including lone-parents’, have been encouraged to take up paid work through the vigorous promotion of employment opportunities and child care support coupled with the policing of benefit use.
It is increasingly evident that Britain is investing in children today in recognition of the children as the ‘future adults’ and future workforce of our society. Literature acknowledges that a country’s success is progressively tied to its workforce (Melhuish et al, 2008). Britain isn’t alone in recognising that the future workforce is dependent on our children and requires investing in them.
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