From the TUC

Poverty myths: “Child poverty is down to bad parents”

17 Oct 2011, by Guest in Society & Welfare

The vast majority of children live in poverty not because their parents are workshy, are drug or alcohol dependent, or can’t manage their children properly, as government rhetoric increasingly seems to suggest. They are poor because their parents don’t have an adequate income to make ends meet.

Work and worklessness:

It is wrong to say that poverty is caused by parents unwilling to work. The majority of children in poverty – 58% – have a working parent.  These families are in working poverty because very often there is no alternative to low paid jobs, with few opportunities for progression. The lack of good, affordable childcare means that many families cannot afford to work more hours.

Rising unemployment means that many parents simply cannot find work. The significant increase in unemployment in recent years is the consequence of the recession and the economic downturn, not a collapse in the work ethic of parents.

The lack of jobs impacts on children. Children living in households where one or both parents aren’t working are at a significantly higher risk of poverty. Using the most recent data from 2009/10, estimates show that a family with one child in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) received only 65% of the amount they needed to meet their basic needs.


While the impact of having a parent who misuses alcohol or drugs is very significant, the number of families with such parents is small. The most recent data available shows these families are atypical across the population: only 2.7% of families in Britain have an alcohol dependent parent, and 0.9% a drug dependent parent.

Parenting practices:

Low income parents are often blamed for ‘transmitting’ poverty to their children through bad parenting. Yet research shows that at all ages, children’s progress is still driven largely by factors such as social class, age and ethnicity. While studies agree that parental behaviour can help improve children’s attainment, this fails to explain the vast majority of differences between poorer and wealthier children.

Some have claimed that a report by Demos published in 2010 suggests otherwise. But in effect, all this did was isolate the effect of parenting on the conduct of children at 5 years old. The report showed that at this point in life, income levels were not as significant as parenting style in shaping childhood behaviour. While children from poorer homes may be emotionally more adept as a result of warmer parenting, they still encounter grave disadvantages compared to wealthier children that cannot be overcome simply by good behaviour.

In fact, parents at the bottom of the income scale lack neither concern nor ambition for their children. A 2008 DWP report showed, for example, that 50% of parents in the lowest income quintile hope their children will go to university. And a new report published this month by JRF demonstrates that young people share these aspirations. It is not parental behaviour that holds them back, but a lack of information as to how to navigate the worlds of education and work.

So rather than reduce responsibility for poverty to individual actions, we need to face the fact that poverty is substantially a result of society’s choices and government‘s policies.

GUEST POST: Alison Garnham is Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). Prior to that, she has been CEO of Daycare Trust, Director of Policy, Research and Information at One Parent Families (now Gingerbread), and Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of North London (now London Metropolitan University) where she has also been an Honorary Research Fellow. She has written about lone parenthood and child poverty, including an edition of Poverty: the Facts, published by CPAG.

6 Responses to Poverty myths: “Child poverty is down to bad parents”

  1. Poverty myths: “Child poverty is down to bad parents” | ToUChstone blog « LESPN news
    Oct 17th 2011, 2:08 pm

    […] Poverty myths: “Child poverty is down to bad parents” | ToUChstone blog: A public policy blog fr…. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. corneilius
    Oct 17th 2011, 6:28 pm

    Poverty can ONLY exist in an environment where wealth is concentrated, as it is the natural outcome of that concentration.

    As regards parenting, the aim of Government appears to be BLAME parents as an easy scapegoat,rather than address to societal, institutional, and historical trauma issues that underpin poverty and deprivation.

    The National Coalition of Child Protection Reform in the USA has proven that removing children from ‘at risk’ families increases dysfunctional outcomes,rather than reducing them and that appropriate support for empathic parenting, which can occur within all but the most extreme cases of abuse, distress or historical trauma based behaviours without the parents being ‘perfect’ (usually by middle class standards) generates more beneficial outcomes in the long term, one of which is a reduction in expenditure down the line for treatment of risk behaviours, criminality, etc etc….

    It’s good to see a strong denouncement of the MYTHS on these,what are for so many families, very trying times .

  3. corneilius
    Oct 17th 2011, 6:31 pm

    If anything, the BEST example of the abusive parent dynamic is Government as we know it… punitive, lacking in empathy, dogmatic, ideological and aligned to commercial greed in a narcissistic culture of celebrity and hubris.

  4. Nicole Murphy
    Oct 17th 2011, 8:02 pm

    When you’re working it only takes something unexpected to happen and income is so badly reduced that just food and electricity becomes hard to afford.
    I recently broke my leg and the 3 of us have been living on £82 pw Statutory Sick Pay.
    Our son can never go anywhere or do anything that costs money. To make parents feel even worse than they do already in harmful to the psychological coping mechanisms of living in poverty. Parents who focus on staying positive for the sake of their children are regularly damned by the media. Any parent in such a situation needs a pat on the back and a hug NOT condemnation.

  5. The Independent View: There are now two main government narratives about child poverty
    Dec 12th 2011, 2:27 pm

    […] bad British parents narrative (which I have written on before) is a surprisingly literal pursuit of a ‘nanny state’ for its Conservative and Liberal Democrat […]

  6. The Independent View: There are now two main government narratives about child … |
    Dec 13th 2011, 11:18 am

    […] bad British parents narrative (which I have written on before) is a surprisingly literal pursuit of a ‘nanny state’ for its Conservative and Liberal Democrat […]