Frank Field’s review of child poverty
policy covers a daunting expanse of ground. From breast-feeding to the little society ("the younger sister of the Big Society"), it’s stuffed with more ideas than reviews that are
twice the size – and will take some time to digest properly. But, in a way, that’s precisely the point. Field’s central argument is that New Labour took an overly simplistic view of poverty.
For Brown & Co. it was all about funnelling cash handouts to poor families, often to lift them from just under an arbitrary poverty line to just above it. For Field, it is more about improving
opportunities across the board, with a particular focus on children aged 0 to 5. As the report puts it, "we have found overwhelming evidence that children’s life chances are most heavily
predicated on their development in the first five years of life." It is, on the whole, persuasive stuff.
It is also one of the most striking examples yet of the coalitions that are forming within the coalition. When Nick Clegg announced the government’s "fairness
premium," he placed a similar emphasis on children under five, referring to "these critical foundation years". And, as Tim Montgomerie writes over at ConservativeHome, this approach is
also "the strong preference of Iain Duncan Smith and the Centre for Social Justice." It remains to be seen how much of Field’s agenda will be transplanted into the statute books, but
there is certainly a strong core of support for it.
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