Ruth Patrick embarks upon a study into the impacts of recent benefit reforms on larger families
Focusing on the two-child limit and benefits cap, the research is funded by Nuffield Foundation and is a collaboration with Oxford University (Dr Aaron Reeves), LSE (Dr Kitty Stewart) and the Child Poverty Action Group.
The study, led by Dr Ruth Patrick, Lecturer in Social Policy and Social Work at York, will combine quantitate and qualitative approaches and incorporate participatory methodologies. It will use large-scale survey data to describe the profile of larger families, and to explore how their poverty risk and poverty depth has changed over time.
The study will further employ creative quantitative methods to explore the impact of these policies on parental mental health and the self-reported wellbeing of children in affected families, while also following a small number of families in Bradford and London as they navigate and cope with the consequences of the changed policy context. It will explore how affected families cope with and respond to the reduced financial support the policies introduce, as well as looking at how these changes interact with other welfare reforms, most notably the introduction of Universal Credit.
The study will also include participatory elements, working with members of larger families living in poverty to discuss policy recommendations and explore the data generated. The Child Poverty Action Group will be supporting the project throughout to help engage policymakers and to widely disseminate findings.
This year is a fitting one to start research into the impact of benefit changes on larger families. Over twenty years ago, in 1999, then Prime Minister Tony Blair made the commitment to abolish child poverty by 2020. This pledge changed the nature of the debate on poverty, leading to an apparent cross-party consensus on the issue: in 2006 David Cameron promised that his Conservative Party would recognise and act on relative poverty.
Child poverty rates however remain high, and are expected to grow further as reforms introduced by the 2015 to 2020 Conservative governments take full effect, which look to penalise larger families and disproportionately affect single parent households and particular religious and ethnic groups. However, the policies are thought to be popular with the electorate, and politicians defend their introduction by drawing on a narrative of ‘fairness’.
The project, which will be conducted over the next two and a half years, starts in February 2020.
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