An overview of our recent series on Personal Relationships and Poverty commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).
Personal Relationships and Poverty: JRF Anti-Poverty Review
An animation, a series of policy briefings and a robust evidence review by the Tavistock Institute was published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, exploring the links between personal (mainly family) relationships and poverty, to inform the development of a new UK anti-poverty strategy.
Twenty per cent of the UK lives in poverty and families with children are the biggest group. This research sought to answer how are families affected by poverty over their lifecycle? What are the underlying causes? And crucially, what works in reducing poverty in the area of family relationships? It looked at a range of areas including poverty and parenthood, lone parents, family separation and extended families such as grandparents.
It found that anti-poverty policies that reconcile tensions and promote equal choices between family members in how to balance work and care, reduce the risk of family poverty.
Watch the animation on the Lifecycle of Poverty & Relationships here.
Parenthood and Poverty: What works?
Families with children are the largest group in poverty in the UK. After having a baby family finances come under strain and it is difficult balancing work and care. This affects all families but for those on low incomes the pressure is more severe.
When a new baby is born household income drops as one or both parents reduce employment. Current UK policy encourages mothers to be the main child-carers however this traditional model of single earner households increases poverty risks, especially for women who are more likely to be in part-time and low-paid work because of child-care. Father’s choices are also restricted as policies do not realistically allow them to reduce work for childcare – shared parental leave introduced in April 2015 will not work – unless it is non-transferable with part of the leave specifically reserved for dads and paid a high proportion of previous earnings. Employment, and having two earners and two carers in a household is a route out of poverty, but this is not feasible unless there is affordable and good quality childcare that allows mothers to work. Read more
Lone Parents and Poverty: What Works?
Work for those in poverty is low-paid and insecure which leads to a low-pay, no pay cycle with people repeatedly falling into poverty over their lifecycle. The pressures are particularly acute for lone mothers with single incomes, who have to balance work and childcare alone.
Due to caring responsibilities lone parent families face some of the highest poverty risks both in terms of severity and duration. In-work benefits such as tax-credits are vital to ensure working families, including lone parents and their children do not fall into poverty. They top up low wages to increase the likelihood of people staying in employment by making work pay. But the work allowance for universal credit needs to be raised rather than cut, so more can be earned before benefits are withdrawn. The long term poverty risks for working families and lone parents on low-incomes also needs to be addressed, by combining in-work benefits with more intensive and ongoing training and support, so people can progress into stable work and higher wages. Read more.
Family Separation and Poverty: What works?
Family breakdown is often cited as one of the most central causes of poverty, with a current policy drive to improve support for couple relationships, rather than reducing poverty by monetary means. But what is the link between poverty and relationship breakdown?
Family separation can cause or increase poverty, and relationship support and couple counselling to reduce conflict and prevent break-ups, or make them less difficult when couples do separate, is an important anti-poverty strategy. But income does matter, as poverty and lack of money is a major cause of relationship breakdown, as well as a consequence of it. Families in poverty or on low-incomes are stressed, which puts pressure on relationships, increases conflict and the risk of relationship breakdown. So relationship support needs to better reach families in poverty with the highest risks of separation. Stable relationships post-separation also ensure child-maintenance is paid which is important to lift lone mothers and their children out of poverty. Families that separate also need holistic support, addressing the multiple needs of all the family, to alleviate the negative effects of separation. Read more.
Extended Families and Poverty: What Works?
Childcare in the UK is currently the most expensive in Europe, so the help of grandparents, relatives and friends is crucial for parents. But families in poverty are dependent on free childcare, especially from grandmothers, to allow them to work.
Most mothers on low incomes or in poverty can only work if they have free and flexible childcare from grandparents. Many grandmothers give up work or reduce their hours to give childcare, and also help their adult children with money if they are struggling or in crisis. But by giving money or reducing their work, this risks grandparents falling into poverty themselves. So poverty or low income is effectively transferred across the generations. We need affordable and good quality childcare to allow both mothers and grandmothers to work if they choose and to reduce family poverty risks. Keeping state pensions at an adequate level also keeps older people out of poverty and means any money given by grandparents is done out of choice – rather than necessity – and does not risk their own finances. Read more.