A paper given by Judy Corlyon to the European Consortium for Political Research Conference Glasgow in September 2014.
Drawing on recent research funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as part of their anti-poverty strategy, this paper explores the link between family relationships and poverty and how this is affected by current policies.
In the past, retirement from work was typically accompanied by a seriously reduced income and financial dependence on adult children. In a reversal of (mis)fortune, it is now working families rather than pensioners who are more likely to find themselves in poverty.
The present government believes that poverty is predominantly attributable to personal agency and that for most pre-retirement age people it is work, not welfare, which is the solution. However, this rather narrow view ignores the structural aspects of poverty, in particular how families are helped or hindered in their attempts to reconcile the tension between participation in the labour market and caring responsibilities.
Unequal parental leave and lack of affordable childcare militate against parents’ (and especially mothers’) ability to maintain their employment. This often leads to economic hardship and the resulting stress of living in or near poverty can lead to tension in and breakdown of relationships. This in turn brings a further reduction in income and associated adverse outcomes for all family members.
Grandparents, both retired and in work, frequently step in to help their adult children financially and by providing free childcare which enables parents to work. However, for grandparents who themselves have a low income (or reduce it by changing their employment pattern to provide childcare) this downward transfer of resources amounts not to alleviating poverty but to distributing it more evenly within the wider family.
Summary of paper
Judy Corlyon was previously a Principal Researcher at the Tavistock Institute where her research and evaluation work focused on children, young people and families, with a particular interest in those who suffer social, emotional, financial or material disadvantage.