JOHN ECKENRODE: Hello, everybody.
Hi. I'm John Eckenrode. I'm Director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, and I want to welcome you all here today for the fifth annual John Doris Memorial Lecture.
This is actually the first year this lecture is sponsored by the newly formed Bronfenbrenner Center, which represents a merger of the Family Life Development Center and the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center. The Family Life Development Center had been the host organization for the previous four John Doris Lectures, but now we have a new merged organization, and we hope you will visit our website-- it's listed in your program-- and see what we're up to and hopefully connect with us in lots of ways in the future.
You can also find in the program a biography of John Doris, who was the Founding Director of the Family Life Development Center. And please read his interesting bio as well.
I think Ellen Doris is here today. Ellen, thank you for coming. And it's always great to have some of the family here.
I want to also think Patti Fair and Carrie Chalmers for their hard work in putting together this program today and taking care of all the logistics for us. So thank you, Patti and Carrie, once again.
Just to let you know, following the talk, when we're done around 1 o'clock, there will be lunch next door, in the room just adjacent to this room. So feel free to stay, and we can continue the conversation, or just meet with friends afterwards, immediately after the talk.
Now, the Bronfenbrenner Center promotes the use of science-based evidence in the design of programs and policies that benefit families and children. Today's topic is poverty, and in particular the policy response to poverty. We're fortunate to have with us a distinguished scientist-- Professor Jane Waldfogel-- as our speaker, who has been studying poverty and work-family policies in both the US and Britain.
Now, the science is clear as to the impact of poverty on children's development and its association with a number of risks to children, such as child abuse and neglect. The child poverty rate in the US has been increasing over the past decade. Today, over 20% of children live in families below the federal poverty level, and over 40% of all children live in low-income families, defined as 2 times the poverty rate.
Now, as scientists we have an obligation to get the science about child poverty right. But science alone does not drive social policy, as many of you know.
Here, I would like to actually quote John Doris, in whose name and memory as a scientist, clinician, and administrator we gather here today.
In a 1970 paper, John wrote, quote, "scientific facts and theories about the nature of man and his environment do not, in themselves, dictate how we solve social problems. It is only when those facts and theories are placed in the perspective of a value system that we suggest solutions to our problems."
This reminder from 42 years ago is, I believe, quite relevant to today's talk. We can agree on the toxicity of poverty for children and families but come out in very different places as to solutions, based on our value systems. This is one reason why cross-national analyses can be quite illuminating.
In the US, the most recent incarnation of the War on Poverty started by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 was welfare reform, which focused much attention on the working status of parents, especially mothers, and less directly on the children themselves. This was a value judgment as much as a response to the science of poverty.
This becomes clear when examining the response of another English-speaking industrialized country, like Britain, to poverty, where there were some similarities to the US approach, but some important differences that we'll hear about shortly.
Let me say a few words about our speaker. Dr. Jane Waldfogel has been a faculty member at Columbia University's School of Social Work since 1995 and this past year was appointed the Compton Foundation Centennial Professor of Social Work for the Prevention of Children's and Youth Problems. So congratulations.
In the School of Social Work at Columbia, she succeeded Sheila Kamerman in that position. She's also a visiting professor at the London School of Economics.
She received her PhD from the Kennedy School of Government, and she's widely regarded as one of the country's leading experts on the impact of public policies on child and family well-being.
Her current work focuses on work family policies, poverty, and understanding social mobility across countries. She has published over 100 articles and six books, including Britain's War on Poverty-- the subject of today's talk. She's also contributed important work to the topic of child maltreatment in the child protective services system in the United States, perhaps stemming from her experiences working for 10 years in the Massachusetts Department of Social Services as a social worker, a case practice specialist, and then a policy analyst.
Needless to say, we're very pleased that Jane has agreed to come to Cornell to give this lecture. So please join me in welcoming her to Cornell and the Bronfenbrenner Center.
So thank you, John, for that really nice introduction. And thank you for inviting me to come give this lecture today.
I knew of John Doris's work, but it wasn't really till I revisited his biography that I realized the full extent of his work. It's like anything else-- you know the part of the work that overlaps with what you do, so of course I knew his work around child abuse and neglect, child maltreatment, and the child welfare system, but of course his work went way beyond that.
And so it's such an honor to be invited to give this lecture in his memory. And a great pleasure to visit Cornell and visit this new center, so congratulations to you all for joining the two centers together. And the sum will be even-- the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts. So yeah, it's very nice to be here.
So I'm going to talk about what we can learn from Britain's war on poverty. And as John was saying in his introduction, this is somewhat reminiscent of what some of us will remember as the US War on Poverty. And some of us will even remember President Lyndon Johnson declaring war on poverty.
And I'll spare you my LBJ imitation, although it's actually reasonably good. At the time, we all were very aware of that kind of southern Texas drawl that he had, and I actually had a pretty decent imitation in those days, but I'm going to spare you that.
But-- "this administration, today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. It will not be a short or easy struggle-- no single weapon or strategy will suffice-- but we shall not rest until that war is won."
And this launched a host of programs that we're all familiar with. Things like Head Start and many, many more.
I think what's less familiar with us in this country-- less familiar to us-- is that 35 years later, a British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, declared his own war on poverty.
So this is sort of an equally famous quote in the British context. "Our historic aim will be for ours to be the first generation to end child poverty. It will take a generation. It is a 20-year mission. But I believe that it can be done if we reform the welfare state and build it around the needs of families and children."
So what I'm going to talk about today is, where did this pledge come from? This is a pretty amazing pledge-- to declare war on poverty and to make a commitment to end child poverty. What did the British government do? What were the results?
What happens after the war on poverty? So the Labour government that Tony Blair was the head of was in government from 1997 until 2010. There's now a new government in the UK, a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. So what's next?
And then, finally, what are the lessons for us here in the United States?
OK, so Tony Blair and the Labour Party come into office in May 1997. And this is after a stretch of 18 years of Conservative government rule. So some of you may have seen recently The Iron Lady this year, with Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher. So you saw the end of that previous government, and she finally is displaced, and someone else comes in.
But there were 18 years of Conservative rule. And as there was in this country mounting concern about inequality-- unlike in this country, mounting concern about child poverty-- this is the kind of graph that people were concerned about that at that time.
So in Britain, like in the rest of Europe, they tend to use a relative measure of child poverty. So a relative measure of poverty is you, in that time, you took the average income in the country, and you looked for all the families that had incomes below 50% of the average. So if average income goes up, the relative poverty line goes up. So the line moves as incomes move.
And so on that kind of a relative measure, poverty in Britain had been roughly around 10%. Roughly 1 in 10 kids were poor.
And then you can see that-- you know, those of us who study inequality in this country know that from 1979 forward there's a big run-up in income inequality. And this was happening in the UK as well. And as income inequality was growing, so too was child poverty.
But for a country that always thought of itself as having a poverty rate of about 10%, all of a sudden, by the early '90s and the mid-'90s, we're looking at a poverty rate that's more like 30%. And this was considered just completely unacceptable. This was cause for great concern, that suddenly close to 1 in 3 British children were poor.
The other concern was how this compared to other countries. So in Europe, there's lots of league tables. So if you follow-- I follow English football, soccer, so they have league tables. If you follow baseball in this country, you're familiar with league tables. And we talk about being at the top of the table-- you want to be at the top of the league, maybe American League or the National League. You kind of don't want to be at the bottom of the league table. It's not where you want to be.
So this is a child poverty league table. And the countries at the top are the familiar suspects-- Sweden, Norway, Belgium's not so familiar, but Denmark, the Nordic countries. That's their child poverty rate around this time that the Labour government comes in the mid-1990s. So you know, the Nordic countries, child poverty is around 5% or less.
And you have to go all the way to the bottom of the league table, almost all the way to the bottom, to find the UK-- with, at that time, their child poverty rate on the-- so then, now, this is a slightly different relative income measure, this is percent with incomes below half median income, not average income. So it's a slightly different number. So here it's only 20%.
But the UK is sitting at the bottom of this league table, and the only countries with a worse record in terms of child poverty are Italy and-- then, of course, there we are at the bottom, the USA.
So this is not where the UK wanted to see itself. So child poverty is high relative to where it's been historically, and it's high relative to its peer countries.
So Tony Blair makes this pledge kind of from out of left field. You know, he's giving a speech about child poverty, and to the surprise of everyone in the room, makes this pledge to end child poverty. But once he makes the pledge, there's widespread public support. So even the tabloid newspapers get on board. There's just widespread agreement that there shouldn't be 30% of children in Britain poor.
So there's widespread public support. And importantly, it's also strongly supported by the second important person in government at that time, and that's the chancellor, later prime minister, Gordon Brown.
So a parliamentary system, the Labour Party's elected-- that means they have a majority of seats in Parliament. There is a division of power at the head of government between Tony Brown, who's prime minister, and Gordon Brown, who's the chancellor. Think of it as the secretary of the treasury.
And as part of their agreement, there's power sharing. So the chancellor, Gordon Brown, is given authority over domestic policy-making, and Tony Blair takes the foreign policy side. And so the social policy side is led by treasury, led by Gordon Brown.
So this is important, because if you have Gordon Brown on board as secretary of the treasury, he's in charge of the budget, so he can put real resources into this thing. So you don't want to have a prime minister committing to end child poverty and then have a chancellor or a secretary of the treasury who doesn't want to put money into it.
So Gordon Brown gets on board, is as committed-- if not more committed-- than Blair, and he-- so he puts real resources in, and he also sets specific targets. So Tony Blair had said we're going to end poverty in a generation. Gordon says, well, if we're going to do that in 20 years, that means that we're going to have to cut it in half in 10 years. So he sets this interim target of cutting child poverty in half in 10 years.
OK, so, they've got this pledge, the two guys are on board, so what did they do?
So they have a three-part strategy. The first part is a bunch of measures to promote work and make work pay. So if you're going to reduce poverty, make people less poor, you have to get at least some parents into work, and you have to make work pay.
This should sound familiar to us. This is very familiar to you from US welfare reform. This is what our welfare reform in the 1990s was all about-- it was promoting work, making work pay.
The second leg-- raising incomes for families with children, whether or not parents are working. So you're not going to get everybody into work consistently all the time. So you have to do something about the kids whose parents aren't working. What are you going to do? You have to raise welfare benefits and other benefits.
This is not familiar from the US. This is not what we did during welfare reform. We haven't raised welfare benefits in a long time.
And then the third leg is this host of investments in families with kids. It's everything from childcare to paid maternity leave to after-school programs to investments in education. It's measures to improve the well-being of poor kids today, but also to prevent poverty in the next generation.
So if these kids are not going to go on to become poor parents themselves and have a next generation of kids in poverty, you have to raise their human capital today. You have to improve their health and their well-being today. So it's a host of investments in kids.
So I'll talk about each of these three legs.
So promoting work, making work pay-- there were a set of reforms, welfare-to-work programs called the New Deals. There was a New Deal for lone parents. There was a New Deal for young people.
This is absolutely modeled on US evidence. So prior to this war on poverty, Britain didn't have a national minimum wage. It had some old sectoral minimum wages in some sectors. Based on the US evidence, they thought, if we're going to make work pay, we have to have a national minimum wage, and we have to raise it regularly based on inflation so it doesn't lose ground the way the US minimum wage does.
And they were looking at some new recent economic evidence in the United States that said, you know, you can have a minimum wage, and it's not really going to hurt employment. So this has been a longstanding worry there. And based on the US evidence, they felt comfortable imposing a minimum wage.
The Working Families Tax Credit is modeled on the US earned income tax credit. So if you work, you get a tax return, tax relief, money returned to you to help you not be poor. They reduced payroll taxes for low-income workers. So just a bunch of measures so that if you worked, you shouldn't be poor.
So in the US, in welfare reform, we had a combination of what are called carrots and sticks. So the carrots are the work incentives-- they're the minimum wage, the help with childcare costs, the EITC. And then there were the sticks. So the sticks were the work requirements, the sanctions.
So they-- interestingly, they only took the carrots. They only took the carrots. And they raised single-mother employment by 12 percentage points, only taking the carrots. So how much did we raise single-mother employment here with the carrots and sticks? 13 percentage points. So they achieved as big an increase in single-mother employment, but only with the carrots.
It wasn't really that they were completely philosophically opposed to the sticks. It's that the public opinion wouldn't have gone along with it. There was a sense-- they have more traditional attitudes than we have here about mothers working. There was a lot of support for the notion that kids are better off if moms are home, and especially kids who only had one parent. There was a sense that these mothers maybe should be home. So they just weren't comfortable forcing these mothers to go to work.
Only very recently have they imposed something that looks like a work requirement for single mothers. This was very controversial. And it's now, once your oldest child turns 12 years old, you're required to start looking for work. That's the work requirement that was so controversial.
So in welfare reform here, once your youngest child turns about three months, you're required to-- do you see what I mean about the difference in attitudes? So it just-- it would have been very against the cultural norms to do that. But interestingly, they got really good results just with the carrots.
OK, the second leg of the reforms-- as I said, this doesn't really look like anything we did with welfare reform in the states. This is significant real increases in child benefit. This is what was, until very recently, the universal benefit for all families with children, any family with children, regardless of income-- Richard Branson on down to the poorest families with kids.
It's a flat benefit intended to help cover the costs of children. And they very significantly raised the value of that, along with the value of the welfare benefits, especially for families with young kids.
So like here, there was previously a sense that if you were getting welfare, you should maybe get a slightly higher benefit if you had a teenager than if you had a young kid, because teenagers are thought to be more expensive. They want all that clothing and shoes and cosmetics. And as they thought about it, they felt uncomfortable with the idea that they were investing more in older kids than younger kids, because there's been a real thrust to invest more in anything in early childhood.
So what they did was they leveled the benefits up. They raised the benefits for families with young kids and and then added some extra benefits for families with newborns, to make sure that they were tilting resources just towards families with younger kids.
They introduced a new child tax credit that goes to about 80% of families, so it's actually for all low and middle-income families. And that, again, is just purely designed to raise incomes, whether or not parents are working.
So again with this idea that not all parents will be working all the time and you need some kind of safety net. If kids aren't going to be poor, you've got to do something for the families where the parents are not working. So these are just flat transfers, regardless of whether parents are working. They're not work-conditioned.
And then something called a child trust fund. So these are asset-based welfare policies. So these are-- at birth, every child and their family gets a small amount of money that's put in a savings account for the child. And the family can add to it, and the government matches that for low-income families.
And the idea is that when the child then turns 18, they have an asset that they can use to buy a car, to put a down payment on a home, to start a small business. Although there's actually no conditions on that, either. So you could take the money and go on vacation. You could buy a really flashy car. There's no restrictions on it. Again, it's just about different political attitudes.
Then the third leg-- these were these investments in children. And you can see I had a lot of trouble getting all these investments in one slide. In the-- the structure of the book was meant to be-- there's a chapter on promoting work, making work pay. There's a chapter on the measures to raise family incomes. There's supposed to be a chapter on investments in children. That chapter turned out to be about 80 pages long, whereas all of the other chapters were about 30.
And so I ended up having to split it into two chapters, because the investments were so many that I couldn't cover them in one chapter. So I ended up splitting. In the book, there's a chapter on early childhood investments, and then one on school-age investments, which mainly covers the education reforms and a few other things.
And as I was saying before, these are things designed to improve well-being for kids today, but also to prevent poverty in the next generation. Some of them don't necessarily reduce poverty today, but they improve outcomes today.
So paid maternity leave-- the slide's actually not quite right. Paid maternity leave, when these guys came in in '97, was 16 to 18 weeks' pay, so it was about 4 and 1/2 months' pay. In 2002, they extended it to six months, and then in 2004, they extended it to nine. So actually, they doubled the period of paid maternity leave. So they went from being one of the shortest in Europe in terms of paid maternity leave to being one of the longest.
So there's now nine months of paid maternity leave, with another three months after that unpaid. So you could stay out for 12 months, job protected.
They introduced two weeks of paid paternity leave. They didn't have that before. Is that affected by the fact that both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had children while in office? Probably, yes.
Interestingly, both of them used paid paternity leave while in office. And you know, what a role model. What a great thing to do. So nobody now in Britain can say, well, I can't take paid paternity leave, because my job is too important, right? I mean, if you could take paid paternity leave while you're running the country, what guy can say, I can't take it? So they instituted it, and they both used it.
They raised maternity grants for low-income families. So this is part of trying to buffer families when kids are very young. They introduced something I'm very excited about-- the right to request part-time or flexible hours.
So this was actually-- they don't get credit for this, really. This was a European Union directive. The European Union directs a lot of social policy. They had to do this to come into compliance. But it's still good that they did it.
So this is-- if you're an employee and you have children under school age, under the age of 6, you have a right to request of your employer part-time or flexible hours. You have the right to have that request reasonably considered. Your employer doesn't have to grant it, but you do have the right to make the request without penalty and to have it considered.
You'd think that this would have little impact, because there's no teeth in it. The year they implemented this, a million parents came forward. So obviously, there's this huge pent-up demand for people to switch to part-time or flexible hours in people who didn't feel like they had the right to ask or they'd be penalized. And 90% of those requests were granted right off the bat.
So it's a huge pent-up demand, and there clearly was little cost for employers in granting this. And so they actually went back later on and ask employers, so how do you feel about this policy? How's it been working for you?
And the number-one complaint on the part of employers was that they were uncomfortable that it was limited only to families with preschool-age children, because they felt it was discriminatory towards, what about families with older kids? Or what about people who have elder care or other issues, and they would like to switch to part-time or flexible work? And that was the main concern on the part of employers.
So pretty recently-- actually, under the Conservative government-- this has now been extended. And it's now a right for-- families with children of any age can request part-time or flexible hours. So this is one I think we really should implement in this country, because it's not a mandate. It doesn't impose anything on employers. It's simply a right to make the request. So it's absolutely costless.
Universal preschool for three and four-year-olds. So Britain used to be a real laggard compared to other European countries. So many of you probably know-- France, Belgium, Italy, the year or two before school entry, there is universally provided, publicly funded preschool. And something like 95% to 99% of kids attend in the year or two before they start school. And also in the Nordic countries, the Eastern European countries.
Britain looked like us they had a very privately funded, for-profit, not-for-profit but privately paid, preschool system. And this was one of the original pledges of the Labour government when they came in-- was to have universal preschool for all four-year-olds.
So they came in in May of '97. In September '98, they implemented universal preschool for four-year-olds. They start school at five, like we do. And then a couple of years later, they extended it to three-year-olds. So now every family has the right-- it's half time. Every family has the right to a half-time preschool place.
And it's what we would, in this country, think of as a voucher. I mean, the family doesn't get a little piece of paper, but it's basically a voucher system.
So you have an entitlement. You have-- the government will pay for a half-time slot for you. You can use that entitlement at your local school. If they have a nursery class, you can use it at a local preschool or a daycare center. You can use in a parent-run cooperative playgroup. You can use it in whatever.
Whatever form of provision, so long as they comply with the government regulations, so long as it's licensed. So parents still have freedom of choice, because this is a culture like us that values freedom of choice.
And later, they started extending this downward to two-year-olds, but by that point, they were realizing how expensive this all is. And so the two-year-olds, it's only for disadvantaged kids. So the free entitlement for two-year-olds is only for disadvantaged.
For the younger kids, the zero-to-threes, the kids under age three, they developed something they're very proud of called Sure Start. So this is a community-based intervention. I suppose it looks something most like-- Early Head Start would be a way of thinking about it.
It's an area-based intervention that serves the poorest areas in the country, which has made it very tough to evaluate, because they wouldn't roll it out randomly. They rolled out-- they took the 10 poorest areas, then the next 10, then the next 10.
And it's a combination of home visiting, parent groups, childcare provision, but pretty heavy on the kind of family support, health kind of home visiting, programming, that kind of stuff.
And that later became so popular, the brand Sure Start became so popular, that they decided that this ought to be available not just in the poorest areas but really in every community.
So it turned into something that became called Children's Centers. And the idea was that these would be one-stop shops for families with young children in every area. And to this day, I still don't fully understand what a Children's Center looks like, because it's not a childcare center, although many of them have childcare centers, and some of them have parent groups. But it's an umbrella term for some kind of office or program where people can go locally for advice.
I think of them as being a lot like our resource and referral agencies, our childcare resource and referral agencies. But they might also have some programs on site.
Then there is a whole education initiative. They reduced primary school class sizes. That was an early election pledge.
They introduced something called the Literacy and Numeracy Hour. This costs almost nothing. They bring all the teachers together for training in a room like this, and they say to them, starting Monday, you have to deliver an hour a day of literacy in your elementary school class, and you have to deliver an hour a day of numeracy-- math.
And if you're curious about how you should spend that hour, here are some ideas. We suggest you spend some time on whole-group reading, or small-group, or working individually. But basically, the policy is, you must spend an hour a day on literacy. You must spend an hour a day on numeracy.
Now, you might wonder, why did they need to do that? Well, it's because not every teacher was spending an hour a day on those subjects, so teachers are getting kind of caught up in arts projects, putting on the school play-- the Christmas pageant is a big, big thing in these schools-- and weeks would go by and there was no math instruction at all. So this was a very cost-effective initiative. It cost almost nothing. It cost 25 pounds per child and it significantly raised both literacy and math scores.
They had real increases in education spending. It went up from 4.5% of GDP to 5 and 1/2% of GDP. Tony Blair-- another from out of left field announcement-- announced that, as of a certain date, every school in the country would be an extended school. This means a school that's open from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM. So basically what we would call community schools, or schools of the 21st century.
And then there were a couple of initiatives around the older-age kids, the kids at risk of dropping out of school. Their legal school leaving age, until recently, has been 16. So a lot of especially low-income kids leave school at 16.
And until recently, welfare benefits ended when the kid turned 16. So they think of childhood going up to 16, and once your child is 16, you don't typically get a welfare benefit for that child. So there's a pretty big incentive for kids to drop out of school.
And the school-- you finish one kind of school, and you have to move to a different school. So there's a lot of incentives for kids to drop out.
So the first thing they tried were these education maintenance allowances. So this is basically a continued welfare grant, conditional on staying in school for low-income 16 and 17-year-olds. That had some effect on keeping kids in school. And then towards the end of their government, they simply raised the school leaving age. So now, legally, you're meant to stay in school-- first to 17, and more recently to 18.
So this is a good example of moving from a carrot to a stick. There's a lot of sense of let's try the carrots first, the incentives, and if the carrots don't work, then we move to the stick, which is the school leaving age.
So one of the people who reviewed the book before it was published objected to the focus on education in the book and suggested we take out the education chapter, because he didn't feel like a chapter on education belonged in a book on poverty. So I always feel like I have to say-- I have to justify why education relates to policy around poverty. And of course it relates because these are going to be the parents of the next generation. And so if we're going to end child poverty, we have to make sure the next generation is better educated.
And like us, they have a big problem with the sort of left tail of the distribution. There's a lot of kids with very low skills who really fail abysmally in school and drop out early, and it's very similar to here. And those become the parents of the poor kids in the next generation. So they worked very hard on that.
So this is a lot of money they spent on these programs. By the time all of these things came into effect, they were spending an additional 1% of their gross domestic product on these child poverty initiatives. And so this combines the money that was going to families, which is substantial, and then money being spent on programs-- things like these education reforms.
So by April 2010-- this is about 10 years after Blair's announcement in March '99-- the average family with kids is $3,200 a year better off, and families within the bottom income quintile, the bottom 20% of the income distribution, are $7,200 a year better off. That's quite a substantial increase.
So what are the results of all this?
AUDIENCE: Could you comment on how the anti-social laws, in particular the truancy laws, in Britain-- how they came in to interact with these anti-poverty laws? These initiatives?
JANE WALDFOGEL: So you mean the things around social exclusion? Is that--
AUDIENCE: I don't think so. I think particularly, I'm thinking of the--
JANE WALDFOGEL: The anti-social behavior stuff?
AUDIENCE: Yeah, anti-social behavior. The truancy ones, in particular, were cases where if kids didn't show up to school for a certain number of days, then their parents would actually be imprisoned. There was one particular case of a parent being [INAUDIBLE].
JANE WALDFOGEL: Yeah, so around the school-age kids, I mean, the big focus was on education, but there were some initiatives around kids' behavior. And I'll talk some more about that, actually, when I get to some of the behavioral outcomes, because there are some serious issues around youth behavior that they were trying to address.
So confusingly, but for good reasons, they have at least three measures of poverty in Britain. So I have to talk about three different measures when I talk about the results.
So their preferred measure is the relative poverty measure, because that's what's used in Europe. So that's income below 60% of median income.
Their second income measure is an absolute poverty measure, similar to what we have in the United States where we draw a line in the sand and we say, that's income poverty. And we only raise that with inflation, but it doesn't change with other people's incomes. It doesn't move relative to other incomes.
And then they have a material deprivation measure, which is very interesting-- a measure of having both low income and lacking basic necessities that everybody agrees kids should have.
So when Blair declared war on poverty, there were 3.4 million children in poverty, whether you use the relative or the absolute measure, because initially they're pegged at the same level. There were 2.6 million who were materially deprived.
10 years later-- if we look at the absolute poverty, which is most similar to what we have in the United States, because we use an absolute measure-- so they met the 10-year goal. The 10-year goal was to cut child poverty in half. They cut it by slightly more than half. They moved 1.8 million out of the 3.4 million kids out of poverty in absolute terms. That's more than half, more than 50% reduction. So they're there.
Relative poverty is much harder to do, because relative poverty-- the poverty line keeps moving up as incomes go up. So this is the late 90s, the early 2000s. This is years of tremendous economic growth. All the incomes are rising. So as fast as they're giving more money to low-income families, middle-income families are moving away.
So they're shoveling sand against the tide is the way to think about it. Had they not spent all this money on low-income families relative poverty would have gone up quite substantially. So instead, it goes down 15%.
So from my view, that's a good result. From their perspective, that was disappointing. They'd hoped to cut it by more. And then material deprivation falls by about 15%.
So we can easily compare the record on absolute child poverty with the United States, because we're both using absolute measures. So here we really are comparing apples and apples.
So the red line is the United States child poverty rate. And you can see child poverty comes down during our welfare reform during the 1990s. So that's welfare reform, it's the expansions in the EITC, and childcare subsidies, and it's the strong economy in the 1990s.
So all three things are happening at the same time, and so a portion of that is welfare reform, a portion of that is making work pay, a portion is the strong economy. But you add it all up, and we have that very sizable decline in child poverty in the 90s.
And then, of course, it starts ticking back up in the 2000s-- and then, worryingly, goes up quite sharply in the most recent years. And that's obviously the recession.
So that looks pretty dramatic, until you look at the blue line, which is what happened to child poverty in Britain. And so you see, from-- if you look at the period after Labour comes in, and especially '99 forward-- there's just that plummeting in child poverty in the blue line.
And then interestingly, even after around-- it kind of plateaus around 2002, when they get involved with other things and their attention shifts elsewhere-- Blair's running for reelection, he starts worrying about the middle class, not so much about poor children-- it kind of plateaus. But it doesn't go up again like it does in the States, because everything is still being uprated. With living standards and with inflation, there are these benefit increases that make sure that families don't fall further into poverty.
And so you can see, even as they start heading into recession, child poverty still is going down, because the benefits are going up relative to how much earnings went up in the prior year, so the benefits are always going up a little bit faster than they need to as the economy is going into recession. So there's this continuing decline.
Relative poverty-- it's a little bit harder to have a comparison. I think the best comparison is what was happening in the rest of the European Union, where-- so the UK is those reddy bars, and the rest of the EU are the light purple, light blue bars. And you can see the UK's a real outlier in the European Union, with much higher relative poverty rates.
And you can see those poverty rates coming down, especially from '99 to 2002, 2003, the really intensive period of reform, at a time when in the rest of Europe, relative poverty's pretty flat. And in a lot of countries, it's going up. So this is this point about relative poverty would have been flat or would have gone up in Britain, had they not had these reforms.
And then finally, material deprivation-- I mean, I really like this is a measure, because it was some of the first signal that things were happening in terms of the reforms, and I think also it's a measure that maybe interests the public slightly more than poverty.
So I won't go through all of these, but just the first one. What's the percentage of families, lone-mother families, who say, I worry about money almost all the time? I worry about money all the time? And in '99, when Blair makes his announcement, it's almost half. Lone-mother families, they're worrying about money all the time.
And already by 2002, that's down to 30%. And then it comes down a little bit lower. And you can see it on a host of items. Running out of money, not being able to afford things-- a lot of these things are cut in half. And this is kind of like the canary in the coal mine, the sort of first indication that you get that things are turning around.
There's less evidence around child well-being. That's the toughest thing to measure, and a lot of this stuff happens with a lag. I did several studies where I looked at, so, how are families spending the money-- so looking at the expenditure side.
And so taking advantage of that young families had bigger benefit increases, families with young kids than families with older kids-- you can do kind of a difference in difference. And we found pretty conclusively that families with young kids that benefited from these reforms increase their spending on things for kids-- children's footwear and clothing, fresh fruits and vegetables, books and toys. They reduced their spending on alcohol and tobacco.
So you can imagine how happy the government was with this result. Because this is always the worry, right? We're going to give those poor families this money, right? What are they going to do with the money?
And so the government referred to this as-- this was the "booze and fags" result, fags meaning cigarettes in Britain. And they can cite-- people in the Labour Party can cite the study chapter and verse. They know exactly what these results are, because they were so happy to see them.
We did a similar study in the US about how families spent the money they got during welfare reform-- the families that gained income during welfare reform. So to gain income during welfare reform, you had to go to work.
So the way families spent the money in the US is on adult clothing and transportation. Things you needed to go to work. There's no evidence of increased spending on kids.
Sure Start, this early intervention they're very proud of, did improve parenting, child health, and child behavior. Didn't improve cognitive outcomes, because the kids weren't sent to center-based care. And they got some good findings around adolescents in lone-parent families who got the other end of the reforms, the education maintenance allowance-- had improved mental health, school attendance, and school intentions.
There's also some evidence around kids' behavior. So these are cross-national surveys about kids' health behaviors. And early on-- you know, these are adolescents. So 2000, 2001, they haven't been too affected by the reforms. Britain is at kind of the bottom of the league table, so they ranked 18 out of 21 countries on the share of kids that eat fruit every day. 16 out of 21 countries, the bottom of the league table, around "do you like school a lot?" Basically, they're sort of at the bottom on a bunch of things.
And they move up in rank on almost every item, moving to 2005-6, except these problematic behaviors-- bullying, fighting, getting drunk. They continue to be at the bottom of the league table. They just have these problems with youth anti-social behavior. I will not deny it. There's some things they just haven't grappled with.
Now, you may say, they were at the bottom of the league table, there was no place to go but up. This is regression to the mean. So now I'll show you the United States.
So here we are. We're also at the bottom of the league table on a bunch of these things, like eating fruit, getting into fights, that kind of stuff. We have fewer items, because we won't let our teenagers answer questions about sex, so that's why this table's shorter than the other one.
So we didn't move up on every item, right? We did move up on the fruit thing, but-- we moved up a little bit on a few, but there was a couple we didn't move up, and there's several we moved down. So there's not-- you don't see the same pattern.
OK, so this is not in the book, but I was worried somebody would say to me, there's this big increase in income for low-income families. What about child abuse and neglect? I can't believe you haven't talked about that.
Well, I haven't talked about it because it's just too difficult to attribute this to the reforms, I think. I don't think it's responsible to do that.
But that said, on this column-- the closest column to the years-- that's the number of kids per 1,000 who are sitting on the child protection register. So you can think of those as being indicated or substantiated cases. And over on the other side, in the parentheses, that's just to remind you about what happened to the relative poverty rate.
So relative poverty fell from '97, '99, into the early 2000s. Did the share of kids on child protection registers fall over the same years? Yes, they did. They do come down from like 29 to 23 in 2005. So the low point for relative poverty is the same year as the low point for kids being on the child protection registers, and then it turns around and starts going back up. So maybe that's worth looking into more, but I'd say it's suggestive more than conclusive.
OK. What's next?
So as I was finishing the book in the spring of 2010, there was an election looming in May 2010 which the Labour Party was likely to lose. And in fact, they did lose to the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, who then came in in June 2010. So Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are no longer in office.
I think what they did is going to last. I think they put child poverty on the national agenda in a lasting way. I think there's no going back. I think it's become kind of a mom and apple pie issue, and no politician in their right mind would get up in Parliament and say, I think we shouldn't worry about child poverty.
So to the contrary, prior to the election in 2010, the Labour Party cleverly filed legislation, a child poverty bill, committing future governments to the child poverty target and setting up things like a child poverty commission and measures of poverty.
All three parties lined up and spoke in favor of this bill. I mean, I had the most amazing quotes in the book from Conservative Party politicians talking about the scourge of child poverty and the responsibility of government to address child poverty. Conservative Party-- you know, as far on the right as you can get in Britain. It's not that far as it is here, but nevertheless.
And since coming into office, David Cameron, the new prime minister, has made a bunch of speeches about child poverty. The night he took office on the steps of Number 10, Downing Street, he was talking about helping those who cannot and helping the neediest. It could have been Tony Blair-- it was the same language.
But there are also-- we've all read about their austerity budgets. They've made very deep budget cuts. So clearly, there's some incompatibility there.
So they have announced some very deep cuts in this program, but there is a lot that they haven't cut. The universal preschool is still there. Sure Start is still there. They've drawn a ring around education, and they said that they will not cut education spending and they will not cut health spending. So they're making deeper cuts to other parts of the government to protect education and health, because these are investments in the future.
And they specifically raised the child tax credit, which is this tax credit that goes to low and middle-income families not conditioned on work. So it's like our-- well, it's like a refundable tax credit.
They've increased that benefit to make sure that their other cuts don't increase measured child poverty. So they're not going to reduce child poverty in the current moment, given the budget cuts, but they're trying hard to make sure that child poverty doesn't go up-- really, for political reasons.
And they're thinking about more-- we were talking earlier this morning about they're really thinking hard about these early childhood prevention programs, things like home visiting and parent support. So they're planning to spend more money on that. And they're continuing-- they're going to roll out the childcare for the disadvantaged two-year-olds, the free childcare. So there's no retreat on this early childhood stuff.
OK, so finally, what are the lessons for us? I'll go through this pretty quick, just because we're kind of running out of time.
On promoting work and making work pay, they took a lot of what we did during welfare reform but did it slightly better. So the lesson for us around the minimum wage is our minimum wage is really eroded, and it needs to be set higher. And we should have some mechanism for updating it annually as they do, rather than letting it lose value. There may be ways to expedite access to the EITC.
Strengthening the safety net. Our federal child tax credit isn't fully refundable. We might want to think about getting additional benefits to young kids like they did.
I hope I've conveyed my enthusiasm for their work-family agenda. Paid parental leave, we don't have here. Their right to request part-time or flexible work, I think, is costless. It's an easy win.
Universal pre-K for three and four-year-olds-- the states have been trying so hard to do this. We're serving about a quarter of four-year-olds with universal pre-K. I would have said five years ago we'd be there now, but it's tough with the recession. It's really tough with what's happened to state budgets. But I think we'll get there.
And then there may be some stuff for us to learn from the education reform. Some of what they did was pretty clever and creative.
Clearly, you don't have to work out all the details in advance. So there's very much this flavor of-- you know, when Johnson declared war on poverty, he tapped Sargent Shriver. And he said, you're going to be in charge of War on Poverty. And there's wonderful videos of Shriver saying, well, he said you're going to charged with War on Poverty! I didn't know what to do!
And he got all these smart people in one room, and he said, well, what do you think we should do? And that's how they came up with things like Head Start.
And this initiative had very much that feel. Very much that feel. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, they're really committed, they want results. What should we do? And all these smart people running around treasury, and they called people in and said, what should we do? And what's the evidence from nurse-family partnership, and what's the evidence from Perry Preschool?
And this is really how it all developed. So setting a goal, setting a target, can really mobilize policy.
I think I also learned in the process how important it is to have good measures of poverty. Going into this, I thought they were nuts to have three measures of poverty. It's just so complicated. You know, it's difficult today to have to stop and say, OK, there's three measures, and here's how they're defined. And most of you still couldn't say what the three measures were. And it just adds this layer of complexity and it confounds things.
But each of them provides some essential information, and it is pretty important here, because we have an official measure that doesn't capture government effort, and that doesn't do a good job of capturing, especially, things like work expenses. And so we don't really know who's poor on the official measures.
So since completing this, I've actually been doing a lot of work on improving poverty measurement in the United States, because we need to do it. So we now have a supplemental measure which looks a lot better-- and does a lot better job at capturing who really is poor and what's the role of government policy.
The politics-- you know, this is tough. They maybe didn't publicize as much as they should have what they were doing, and they maybe didn't get as much credit as they should have. But then again, it's very hard to get public support.
So as I was starting the book, I was really gung-ho that the next president of the United States should declare war on poverty. I'm not sure that that would be the right thing here.
You know, poverty evokes certain frames here. There are certain reactions to it. Obama has talked a lot about ending child hunger in the United States. Maybe that's a better frame for us, to talk about child hunger. The First Lady is doing a lot of work around ending obesity, childhood obesity. No child in this country should be ill-housed. There's a lot of work about homelessness. Maybe those are better frames. I think we need to think openly about what frame is going to work with the public.
To me, the biggest lesson is that you can do this. So two decades of rising inequality-- this thing looked relentless. Labour came into office committed to reducing child poverty, found public support for this-- there's lots of individual lessons, but to me, the most important lesson is that it's possible to make a sizable reduction in child poverty.
This is not rocket science. This is all stuff we know. It was all done based on our evidence from the United States. You don't have to work it all out in advance. This is pretty easy to do.
So if we think there's nothing government can do to reduce child poverty, if we think this is intractable, there's nothing we can do, I hope I've persuaded you that this example clearly provides evidence to the contrary, and it's really just a matter of political will. If we had the political will to do this, it's a no-brainer. It's not rocket science. So it's just a matter of generating the political will.
And so people at Russell Sage will want me to tell you that you can get the book at Russell Sage. And helpfully, they always now, as a matter of policy, put the introduction to the book online, so you can get the introduction for free on their website.
And they always require now the introduction always summarizes the entire book. So if you want the executive summary of the book, you'll find it online at their website. But if you want the nitty-gritty details about these anti-social behavior orders or things like that, well, you know, then you have to get the book. And there's some of these youth coming out of the subway. Who knows what they're up to? But there are some of those youth we were just talking about on the cover.
So that's it. Looks like it's 1 o'clock, or 12:57.
So I didn't leave a lot of time for questions.
AUDIENCE: So what's the portion of Britain's population is considered minority?
JANE WALDFOGEL: So that's an interesting question. It used to be if you asked that question they'd say, we don't know, we don't have statistics, it's a tiny share. At So I've looked into this, and something like 1/5 of kids have a foreign born parent.
And they said to me, where do you get those numbers? That can't be right. You mean in London? No, I mean nationally, 1/5 of kids. Now it's slightly higher. It's probably 1/4 of kids by now have a foreign born parent. And there are a couple of groups that have way higher poverty rates than anybody else. So that's Pakistani and Bangladeshi families.
So I went on quite a long digression in the book about kind of what was going on with that. There are families that have a lot of household members, and the moms typically don't work. The fathers are working, but often with not such long hours and a pretty low pay, because they're pretty low skilled guys, they may not have such good English skills. And then they often have other adult dependents in the household. So they've gotten one kind of marginal earner and lots of other people depending on the earnings, but in a cultural context where the wives really aren't supposed to work.
So a lot of what the government did, in terms of policies, doesn't really touch those families. So I think there's some work to be done ethnographically to sort of understand-- and also understand how those families view themselves. Their incomes are low, but they're all living together and they're able to have the moms at home, which may be what they want.
So it's not so clear. But it is a point of difference, because if you talk about child poverty there, if the image that would come to mind is a white family. And so the way that race plays into poverty here isn't a factor there. And actually, when Russell Sage first suggested this cover for the book, I said, I just don't know that that's an accurate cover for Britain, because when they think of child poverty they think of a white kid. And this is a lovely mixed racial group of kids, but that's not the way that they think of poverty. Yeah?
AUDIENCE: What proportion of Britain's budget goes to defense?
JANE WALDFOGEL: So I'm sure it's a smaller portion on defense than here. And I was saying that they put a ring fence around education and health spending, the most recent cuts. They're cutting spending by 20%, 25% nationally. It's unbelievable budgets. But they're not touching education or health.
So in order to protect them, they've got to cut deeper elsewhere. So they've been implementing very deep defense cuts. They decommissioned an aircraft carrier. I mean, this is real stuff. but these are the choices that they're making. They're making choices based on principle.
So you know, the contrast to here, where we're putting a ring fence around discretionary spending and then all the cuts are there, they're doing just the opposite. And this is the conservative government doing this.
AUDIENCE: I guess it's to that point. It seems like the gulf between the principles of Britain and here are so vast that it's hard for me to imagine sometimes that we could ever get anywhere near there. I'm wondering what you think. Is it possible for us to implement anything similar in any way, shape or form to what they've done?
JANE WALDFOGEL: Oh, I think absolutely. I think people in this country are plenty concerned about competitiveness and the skills of the next generation and the skills of the workforce. I think people are plenty concerned about it. It's costly for all of us to have kids who are so poorly equipped for modern life. So that's one argument to make.
And then there's the moral case. So we were talking this morning about, you know, I did a briefing for a group called First Focus that was hosted by Senator Bob Casey. And he made the moral argument. He talked about his Catholic faith and the light that shines in every child and that should be nurtured. It was absolutely brilliant what he did.
And so it was some moral case that in America we shouldn't have poor kids. And then there's the economic. So you can make different arguments. But no, I think the political will can be generated here.
You know, John was saying at the outset, so I think people are convinced that poverty is bad for kids. I'm not sure they're convinced that you can do something about it, that we know what to do about it. So there I think they did believe the evidence. Part of what laid the groundwork was they believed the evidence. So maybe there is a role for us to do a better job of getting that evidence out there.
But that's what all of you are involved in. That's what this whole translational piece is about, is getting that evidence out there to the public and policymakers, so that when they say, OK, you've persuaded me. It's bad that kids show up at school ill prepared. But do we know anything about good preschool programs or home visiting programs? At least then we have the evidence that we can marshal.
So no, I don't think-- there's a lot of differences. They're more traditional in terms of values. Their political system makes it easier to implement things because they have a parliamentary system. But in terms of fundamental values, no, I think we can make the case here. We haven't made it yet.
AUDIENCE: --racial group, do you think that impedes our political will to [INAUDIBLE] poverty in a normalistic and effective way?
JANE WALDFOGEL: Yes, absolutely. No, it's one of the major barriers here, and it is a pretty important point of difference. There's a brilliant book by Marty Gilens called-- I think it's called Why Americans Hate Welfare. And he walks through the evidence about how, in part because of the media, people view poverty as being affecting kids of color. And then there are these racialized attitudes about kids of color and about work ethics.
And all of that just contributes to reluctance to do anything around a poverty agenda. And that's part of why I was saying maybe using other terms, talking about child hunger, or children being ill housed, or child obesity. Because I don't know, if you talk about child hunger, I don't know that the kid who comes to mind is a kid of color. Do you see what I mean? And the same way that poverty has been so linked.
So it really made me stop and pause. And by the time I got to the end of the book, I wasn't any more calling for Obama to say, end child poverty. Because I wasn't sure that that was the right frame, because of that baggage, which, I just don't think we've gotten over it. Yeah?
AUDIENCE: Well I think related to race but transcending it, a problem we've had in the US is that it's hard to help children without helping their parents.
JANE WALDFOGEL: Yes.
AUDIENCE: And we don't want to actually help their parents. That's where the work ethic thing comes in. So reframing the issue, as you have done, towards children I think is helpful.
JANE WALDFOGEL: Yeah, and maybe isolating some of the investments in kids. So you know, investing in pre-K, or investing things like that, those are investments in kids rather than investments in the parents. But you're right. The barrier is not wanting to provide support to the parents.
And the cultural attitudes are different, because when they surveyed people before they declared this war on poverty, and they surveyed people about the welfare state and how they felt about-- who were scroungers and who shouldn't be getting welfare benefits and who should get more welfare benefits, single moms were in the good camp. Single moms and kids were good people. And if anything, they should be staying home and getting more benefits because they were moms.
Whereas the teenagers, the young adults, they were the feckless people who shouldn't get-- you know, they're scroungers. They shouldn't be getting as much benefits. So yeah, if we could move single moms into the good column, that would be good, or promote benefits that are thought of as going to the kids.
So we definitely have some work to do. But it's not work around the science. It's work around the framing and the public attitudes and the public will, which is why I'm happy to have this connected to thinking about translation. Because that's kind of where the challenge is.
SPEAKER 2: Thank you so much.
JANE WALDFOGEL: Yeah.
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In 1999, then Prime Minister Tony Blair made a remarkable pledge to end child poverty, and over the subsequent decade he and Gordon Brown carried out a multi-faceted anti-poverty campaign. Although their New Labour government did not succeed in ending child poverty, they did make a substantial dent, reducing child poverty by more than half if measured in absolute terms as we do in the United States.
Jane Waldfogel, Compton Foundation Centennial Professor of Social Work for the Prevention of Children's and Youth Problems at Columbia University, delivered the 2012 John Doris Memorial Lecture on March 26, 2012, describing Britain's ambitious reforms and lessons for the United States. Waldfogel is author of "Britain's War on Poverty."