First director of Sure Start criticises government child poverty policy

Government policies on child poverty have shifted too far in their focus on individual families rather than wider problems, according to the first director of the Sure Start programme, Naomi Eisenstadt. Despite her own commitment to championing parenting classes as a key element of Sure Start, Eisenstadt is critical of the Coalition government’s drift towards promoting good parenting as a key theme in reducing child poverty. ‘I would rather put the food on the table. In the absence of any talk about paying the bills, this focus is disrespectful because it assumes that these are the problems poor people have, and does not recognise that the main problem poor people have is not having enough money,’ she is quoted in The Guardian. ‘It is true that conflict between parents is bad for children, so providing more couple relationship support is a good thing. It is true that the largest determinant of educational outcomes is the home learning environment, so improving the home learning environment is a good thing. The extent that the parent talks to the child, all that is massively important ... but none of it makes you less poor. It doesn’t pay the gas bill.’

Eisenstadt argues that governments can take two approaches to helping to lift families out of poverty. ‘They can reduce pressures or they can improve capabilities. The government is very keen on improving capabilities, but they are very weak on reducing the pressures on families. With the best will in the world, people will learn more from parenting classes if there are fewer pressures. The previous government had a more balanced approach to the two, reducing pressures and improving capabilities. There has been a shift. What worries me about the current government is that they are looking at the capabilities of the parents, so that they can raise children who won’t be poor when they grow up, but I think the only way to be not poor is to have a job. There needs to be comparable emphasis on employment.’

Eisenstadt is heading a new Child Poverty Commisssion launched by Milton Keynes Council and the Children and Families Partnership. The Commission is talking to parents in the most deprived parts of Milton Keynes about how they cope with living in poverty.

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Full details of the Child Poverty Commission are on the Milton Keynes Citizen website.

For details of the government’s approach to child poverty see A New Approach to Child Poverty, 2011.