14 February 2007

What Money Can't Buy

Today's UNICEF Innocenti report Child Poverty in Perspective: An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries makes for a sobering and challenging read: the physical and emotional well-being of British children is the worst among the world's wealthiest nations.

Those on the left clearly think we simply need to throw more money at the problem. So we find one of the report's authors, Professor Jonathan Bradshaw from York University, claiming "if you're asking what is the main driver of these results, it's the fact that for a long time children in Britain have been under-invested in; not enough has been spent on them." Or Kate Green, Chief Executive of Child Action Poverty Group asserting "The report makes very clear that without addressing relative poverty the well-being of children in the UK will continue to suffer."

However, well-being is about more than just money. It's about personal fulfillment and being able to make a contribution to society. One of the concluding remarks on last night's extended analysis on Newsnight was that "individualism has filled the vacuum left by religion." Although this was not thoroughly explored, the pursuit of individualism is surely one of the factors behind the breakdown in relationships that means our children were ranked as having the worst relationships with family and friends, including the second highest proportion of children living in single-parent families or with step-parents. At one point in the debate, Anastasia de Waal, Head of Family and Education Unit at Civitas, tried to suggest that this did not mean children raised by married parents have a better start in life. Yet, recent evidence, such as that compiled by Jill Kirby or Iain Duncan Smith makes irrefutably clear that family breakdown is a major cause of social exclusion and that children born to married parents have significantly better chances in life than those born to unmarried parents. For instance, within five years of the birth of a child, only 8% of married couples have split up compared to 25% of those who marry after birth and 52% of cohabitees.

Money, such as in the form of Gordon Brown's tax credits, has failed to make a difference. To quote Jill Kirby, "The perverse consequence of our fiscal, social and welfare policies has been to incentivise and institutionalise child neglect. It is time for a new approach." That approach is surely encapsulated in David Cameron's watchword, social responsibility. As George Osborne observed in the Newsnight debate, "This is not all about politicians in Westminster passing laws, it's about social responsibility, it's about parents taking greater responsibility for their children, it's about trusting teachers in classrooms, it's about us as neighbours in a society playing our part as well."


Rebecca said...

The single parents I know do an excellent job in very difficult circumstances. Nevertheless, the reality is that children from single-parent families are twice as likely to drop out of school, go to jail, or get divorced as adults and are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, engage in high-risk sexual behaviour, participate in violent crime, or commit suicide. I know it's not "politically correct" but it is high time our politicians accepted these facts and started encouraging marriage. Check out this link from the Heritage Foundation.