Coffee House

Field caught between reality and fantasy

11 September 2010

6:56 PM

11 September 2010

6:56 PM

Frank Field’s been thinking. He will make his report on poverty next week and he hints
at its contents in an extensive interview with the Times (£). He is convinced that there is more to social
mobility than money and he has some brilliantly simple ideas to alleviate poverty. He advocates creating four or five terms in the school year to shorten the long summer holiday, which he argues
disadvantages the poor.

‘They have less help at home so they lose out even more in long holidays. They drop behind, they are not being read to or tutored or talked to in the same way as many middle-class children.
They have often fallen behind by the beginning of the next school year.The school year is also out of kilter with mums working. Every parents’ group I have met has said they dread the long
summer holiday.’

But the summer holiday is an elongated version of a constant problem: how to improve parenting whilst keeping parents in work? Ironically, Field thinks money is the answer. He wants the proposed
Pupil Premium to go to parents, not schools. He tells the Times:

‘Parents could choose activities in the holidays that richer parents choose — enrol them on courses — just one visit somewhere can wreck your week’s budget. I think we
should look at when it is good for parents to have the money and when it is good for the schools to have it.’


So too with benefits – Field would rather see the steady dribble of child benefits (up to £100,000 over 19 years by his estimate) arrive in one lump sum at birth. 

‘Parents should be able to say, ‘I would like to take a quarter of that now’ after their baby is born — £25,000 tax-free will allow them greater choice over when to go
back to work.’

Encouraging greater class interaction and giving mothers flexibility are admirable, but I’m not conviced by either of Field’s money proposals. Teachers on the Teach First programme (who teach in
failing schools in deprived areas) say one thing: parents are the problem. Many are uninterested in their children’s education; many are incapable of managing their finances. By no means is bad
parenting the preserve of the poor – look at the royals. But handing over the price of an Audi for giving birth makes giving single mothers a council house look mean. The state’s role in education
and child rearing needs to be reimagined, its grip weakened. But the state cannot become a mere conduit for yet more well-intentioned waste. 

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Boudicca

    My father was born in 1929 to a poor rural family; he was the eldest and 7 children followed on. He was a clever lad and passed the exam to get to grammer school, but his parents couldn’t afford to send him there so he stayed in the local school until age 13half when he had to leave to work on the farms because the farm workers had gone to fight in WW2.

    His parents had very little money. They didn’t take him out and about on trips and they certainly didn’t get a handout of £25,000 pounds. What they DID do was instil discipline and enforce standards of behaviour; ensure that he went to school and give him the ambition to make the best of himself.

    I don’t disagree with changing the school year to reduce the long summer holiday. But handing out large sums of money to mothers who are probably none too bright; can’t budget and will p!ss it away on booze, cigarettes and flat screen TVs is ridiculous.

    And no doubt the same sum of money would have to be paid to all our immigrant mothers from the minute they land in the country. It will attract even more dross from the Eastern countries of the EU and the 3rd world.

  • maddy1

    Great Expectations for the sprogg droppers of the world! We would be better off run by a clique of Chinese Industrialists then these moonbats. Why not re issue Charles Dickens novels with todays date on them or simply open old coal mines for the little mites to cut t their teeth in!

  • Noa Zrk

    “Here is a thought – abolish ALL benefits. use the money saved to
    – increase the state pension…etc”

    Ahmm, no!

    Use it to freeze and reduce the deficit and pay down Gordo’s

  • Barbara

    To me, Fields’s report will convince people he’s lost the plot and those who accept it. The Tories are pledged to cut and cut again with no thought or fear, until of course the strikes, riots and crime increase to levels not seen since the 1980’s. Its no good throwing money at these people at all, it’s education they need, and their off springs. We have an army of people who cannot and do not have a level of education which can be matched in states in Africa. Education as had money thrown at it but we still have illiterate people in our country, what does that say for the teachers we’ve paid to teach. Poverty is a terrible thing, unless you’ve been there and felt it one cannot tell the poor what they should do, they know only to well. Education, jobs, and real support is the answer so they get jobs, pay taxes, and support society like everyone else. These cuts we are seeing now are ideological based, political poison at it’s nastest. The poor are paying for the rich bankers greed, so where is Cameron’s ‘fair society’ now, the poor didn’t have advantage from the bankers folly. The Tories are living up to their history, as the nasty party, nothings changed, they will reap what they sew.

  • Charlie

    “one lump sum at birth” – Actually a stroke of genius as a method of revitalising the economy! I’m sure if this was implemented, I can imagine a roaring trade for Elizabeth Duke, Burberry and other purveyors of life’s basic essentials.

  • TrevorsDen

    As Strapworld says there are good ideas here worth considering – even ones with obvious drawbacks like giving child benefit in a lump sum.
    Currently is there any evidence that child benefit goes directly to children? Clearly there are extra expenses in having children and the benefit goes directly into the pot for bringing them up.

    Ultimately ignorance sloth and bad education lie at the heart of the benefit dependent underclass.
    To a certain extent psychotherapy as much as money is the answer.

    Here is a thought – abolish ALL benefits. use the money saved to
    – increase the state pension,
    – offer incentives (like BOGOF) to encourage personal pensions,
    – massively reduce direct taxation
    – massively increase pre school provision and infant school education
    – provide real direct help/advice/opportunities to children, like a properly funded and equipped youth club service
    – provide real help where there is real tragedy and need.

  • Annabel Herriott

    Shirley’s detractors have missed the point.
    She is taking the mickey out of the whole idea of giving an inadequate woman a lump sum. Check what has happened over the years to certain types of lottery winner. Rags to riches to rags in a few years only.

  • Noa Zrk

    It seems the case against these welfare reform proposals boils down to
    “Where’s the money coming from?”.

    But then, that’s never been a problem for Labour, ‘coz it’s not coming from them, it’s coming from you.

  • Clear Memories

    Peter from Maidstone – don’t take the piss out of posters like Shirley.

    She was obviously educated under Franks Party.

  • Clear Memories

    The cash lump upon birth has been tried in Australia and abandoned for exactly the reasons quoted by Commenters here – the money never went on the child and many ‘women’ saw it as an easy and regular source of cash.

    Until we grasp the nettle and prevent the inept, incompetent, feckless and pointless from breeding, the problem will never go away. How about contraceptive implantation at 11 and reversal only upon demonstration of maternal competence? Solves a lot of social problems but perhaps too strong a pill for the intelligensia to swallow.

    After all, even feckless scum have the right to inflict more of the same on the saner sections of society without penalty. Same problem faces the Global warming loonies – the obvious solution is a reduction in the worlds population, but you’ll never hear them suggest that solution. Rather the rest of the world suffer, economically or otherwise.

  • Major Plonquer 1

    Giving the money to the parents instead of to the schools is an excellent idea and will certainly allow parents to spend more time with their children. Specially now many pubs allow children in with their parents.


  • wrinkled weasel

    Thank you for your concern, OO. Tiredness and trying to edit a 25,000 word document. Plus, failing eyesight and never being able to find my glasses.

  • Occasional Ostrich


    Your spelling is usually spot on. Am I therefore to assume that this collection of typographical errors is equivalent to the sputum flecks of an enraged diatribe?

  • Rosinante

    It’s not money that those people need, but culture, which cannot be bought.

  • Peter From Maidstone

    I’m sorry shirley, but I found your post incomprehensible.

  • JohnAnt

    ‘Just one visit somewhere…’ This is perceptive. I joined a class/school trip to Paris when I was eleven, and the £ happened to be at a good rate against the French franc, so it cost very little, and my parents could stump up the money. Equally, a school trip to the Rhine when the DM was still modestly restrained. These trips changed my life, and still do.

  • shirley

    can you imagine giving the acholic mother and drug addidc parent all the money of child beefit at once when there child is born. take the money spendid on who knows what then give kids up to care of to lok after them selfs. Its bad enough now when they wait till child beefit day to get a little money threw to spend. god help the kids then if they pay the parent sit all when the kids are born get real frank.

  • Marcher Baron

    I despair. To postulate giving mothers a lump sum for dropping a sprog is unbelievable! How fast will some of them be able to squander it? Poor parenting is poor in quality rather than money in many cases. Of course parents dread the holidays; it means they actually have to take responsibility for their offspring instead of dropping them off for somebody else to do the job. A child is for life, not just for the child benefit.

  • strapworld

    Mr Blackburn. Your faith in teachers is worrying.

    Firstly Mr Field does have a point and it is worth exploring his suggestions more. You have to create ambition, challenge and competition in the minds of all children for them to succeed in life, whatever their backgrounds.

    Gareth Malone, who has impressed so many people by creating choirs from people with no musical background etc. and succeeding has, at the moment, a programme on BBC2 on Thursday evenings where he is attempting to improve the literacy skills of young boys.

    The teachers in this school in Essex simply appalled me. Young women set in their way without, in my opinion, any idea of how to teach. Each unable to speak a coherent sentence. The school only having one male teacher!! The headmistress constricted by Health and Safety and ‘rules’. It sums up the hopelessness of our present education system. Teachers without any life experience and, it appears, no experience of what they are teaching!

    If this is an indication of all state schools then we had better change it fast, and if the cut backs in the armed services and police are correct get them onto teaching courses and fill the schools with male teachers.

    I hope Gove is watching this programme and when it finishes and if it proves that the system Mr malone is adopting works, get him to help the government bring it in nationwide.

    Mind you Elf and Safety and the compensation culture will have to be tackled head on.

  • wrinkled weasel

    I am not sure I am reading this properly. There seems to be a suggestion that a huge amount of cash is handed over to a parent at the birth of a child. I must be going mad, for, that cannot be the idea can it?

    How many fags, flat screen TVs, “E”s, cans of McKewans Export and visits to prozzies will that by? Some women have kids because they know already that the state will pay them. Does Mr Field seriously think that the millions of scum-sucking chavs who already milk the system are going to send their kids on creative writing courses?

  • davidk

    Fields is a one off.

    Thank God.

  • Woody

    “By no means is bad parenting the preserve of the poor – look at the royals.”

    This is probably one of the most stupid and ridiculous remarks you have made so far and you have made a few.

  • JohnBUK

    “But the state cannot become a mere conduit for yet more well-intentioned waste.”

    How so very true, but it has taken many decades to realise this and even now some of the leftie bleedin’-hearts still think it is wise to throw ever more money (other people’s) in the general direction of the “poor”, “disadvantaged” et al. The reason is of course it makes THEM feel good!
    The time has come to transfer benefit/social payments to local control and from their budgets/taxes. This will give two advantages; the recipients will be known and could be monitored better and maybe the recipients might feel better motivated to improve their lot knowing they are a “direct charge” on their peers.
    Get the State out of education – again local control (free schools maybe but no NATIONAL Curriculum). The State cannot run anything efficiently so why should it be involved in one of the most important aspects of each person’s expenditure.
    For those who are unable or unwilling to pull their “social” weight then remove all benefits provide vouchers for the essentials and appoint “trustees/guardians” to monitor them and their children’s behaviour.