Poverty tsar Frank Field plans own pilot project after coalition ‘ignores report’
The government's poverty tsar, Frank Field, aims to implement his anti-deprivation plan in his own constituency, disappointed that the government has ignored the report it commissioned from him. He also revealed he has not even had a conversation with David Cameron about the project.
The Labour MP, who was appointed poverty adviser shortly after the coalition took power in 2010, delivered his Review on Poverty and Life Chances in November that year. He now says he does not believe the prime minister has read the paper, and despite some "very pleasant meetings" with cabinet ministers about his recommendations, "nothing has been done about it".
Instead of allowing the work to be abandoned, Field is determined to try to introduce his vision in his Birkenhead constituency. "Instead of accepting that the report will just gather dust, we're trying to implement it to show that it does work, so that other local authorities could pick it up even if the government doesn't," he said.
In an interview with the Guardian said he was puzzled as to why he had been appointed poverty tsar, given how little interest there had subsequently been in his work. At the time, his appointment was seen as a continuation of David Cameron's compassionate Conservatism agenda.
His key recommendation is for new ways of measuring deprivation to be introduced alongside the poverty measure set out in the Child Poverty Act, which defines a family as being in poverty if its income is less than 60% of the median household income for that year.
He hoped the government might introduce a parallel indicator – measuring childhood development at the age of three and five. If a child falls behind national targets at those ages, then a barrage of resources and assistance would be focused on that child, to push it ahead.
He said that at a time when charities are feeding rising numbers of families through food bank programmes, "we've got poverty data that shows the number of poor children falling, purely because of the recession pushing earnings together. That sends out totally the wrong message because presumably things are more difficult for families now."
He argued that childhood development at age three and five is a more reliable way of predicting whether a child will be poor in adulthood than the 60% figure.
"Schools do not close the class differences that are apparent when children come into school. If you are serious about life chances and social mobility you need to act before school," he argued.
Field has been consistently critical of the Labour party's approach to addressing poverty by boosting family incomes, arguing: "Merely by moving people from one side of the poverty line to the other might be good if you're the family but it doesn't change the life chances of the family, particularly the children."
He hoped that his local authority, Wirral council, would agree this week to grant him £300,000 to fund a two-year pilot project involving 130 local families.
"The local authority has a budget in chaos, but the new leader of the council is backing the project and is asking the council for a £300,000 pot of funding," Field said. "Even though budgets are declining, he is anxious to spend money most effectively, and that means focusing on outcomes."
Although Field's other recommendations on improving parenting skills have been embraced by the government, he remains frustrated that this proposal has been ignored.
"When we introduced the report, we hoped that the government would have adopted this indicator, and local authorities would be saying this will be a great way of measuring how well the foundation years services work," he said.
"I'm not cross, but it is very disappointing. I'm just determined to show that it is something that could work."
This article was taken from www.theguardian.co.uk – www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/sep/23/poverty-tsar-frank-field-ignored