Reducing Poverty and Investing in Children and Families

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015
Elizabeth Fernandez, Anat Zeira, Tiziano Vecchiato and Cinzia Canali (eds.)Theoretical and Empirical Insights into Child and Family PovertyChildren’s Well-Being: Indicators and Research1010.1007/978-3-319-17506-5_19

19. Reducing Poverty and Investing in Children and Families

Elizabeth Fernandez , Anat Zeira , Tiziano Vecchiato  and Cinzia Canali 

School of Social Sciences, University of New South Wales, G56 Morven Brown Building, Kensington, NSW, 2052, Australia

Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem, 91905, Israel

Fondazione Emanuela Zancan Onlus, Centro Studi e Ricerca Sociale, Via Vescovado 66, Padova, 35141, Italy



Elizabeth Fernandez (Corresponding author)


Anat Zeira


Tiziano Vecchiato


Cinzia Canali

Child povertyInternationalSubjective well-being

The context in which this collection has developed is one of significant change in the conceptualisation, measurement and depiction of the scope and impact of poverty. The growth in income inequality and the corresponding social divisions and social exclusion experienced by families and children is a distinctive feature of contemporary society presenting urgent challenges for family and social policy. This volume brings together a wide spectrum of studies with emphasis on multidimensional conceptualisation and measurement of child poverty. There is clarification, discussion and critique of entrenched approaches around child poverty from a variety of country specific and cross national perspectives. Individual chapters have presented examples of current work in different countries on conceptualisation, measurement and trends in multidimensional child and family poverty. They have integrated theoretical, methodological and policy related trends indicating the potential of using a broad range of indicators to examine child poverty within and between countries. The ideas outlined in various chapters stress the dynamic and complex nature of poverty and capture multiple ways in which poverty affects children’s lives. Significant research questions and important policy implications flow from these diverse chapters. Important arguments include taking a broader view of poverty as relative deprivation which enables engagement with the issues of access to scarce resources and services as part of the experience of living in poverty. Several chapters elaborate on the pathways through which poverty impacts on children’s health and wellbeing. When taken together the chapters are insightful and give a multidimensional view of poverty including the discussion of key concepts of child wellbeing, subjective wellbeing, social exclusion, citizenship, children’s rights and human rights. There are closely woven studies of child and family poverty and related issues that are made country specific but have commonalities with international patterns in developed welfare states. We hope this volume has demonstrably illustrated the value of cross national perspectives and comparisons.

There is an extensive body of work examining the economic aspects of poverty based on income inadequacy. While valuing the importance of this strand of research monitoring the changing incidence of poverty in different groups income constitutes a single dimension of the lives of people experiencing poverty (Bradshaw and Richardson 2008). Most chapters reflect the UN General Assembly definition of poverty which is unequivocal about the need for measures of poverty to encapsulate more than economic dimensions. They mirror Townsend’s seminal attempt to break out of a minimalist approach and provide an equity base through the concept of relative poverty. The work of Townsend (1979) has promoted the concept of relative deprivation which incorporates the level of material and social conditions experienced which enable full participation in society. Chapters in this volume by Bradshaw and Saunders reflect the essence of this approach. Saunders concludes from his review of the relative merits and conceptual advantages of the deprivation studies over poverty line studies that income is too narrow a framework for understanding the nature, manifestation and consequences of poverty. In Chap. 4 Bradshaw’s analysis points to child wellbeing having a strong relative component suggesting that children experience wellbeing relative to their peers merely in relation to their absolute and objective conditions. Many of the authors agree that poverty rates are arbitrary failing to capture the extent and nature of child poverty and its impact on the wellbeing of children, young people and families. The range of contextual factors that lead to child poverty are, according to many of the authors, multiple and complex and should be reflected in how poverty and child poverty are conceived, defined and measured. The ways in which poverty is conceptualised and measured will undoubtedly underpin the formulation of policy to respond to poverty. However it would be erroneous to assume that an acceptable poverty measure alone would provide a panacea to eliminate deprivation (Morgan and Allegritti 1992). Policy responses and interventions to support children and families are equally important to enhance the quality of life of those who are most vulnerable.

A key question raised in Chap. 5 by Wearing and Fernandez is What causes poverty? Dominant explanations which individualise poverty and regard it as a consequence of psychological inadequacies and singular circumstances of individuals are contrasted with perspectives that identify social and economic factors as causes of poverty, and view poverty as multidimensional and ecological and as the outcome of inequalities in society. An overlap of these theoretical positions is evident in several chapters. To align any one approach too heavily with a specific ideological position would narrow the complexities of the authors’ arguments. While these theories serve as a stimulus for continuing debate they impact on the emphasis policy makers place on tackling poverty and the strategies adopted.

The expert views reflected in various chapters come from theoretical positions that are concerned to alleviate poverty. In terms of ideological orientation the structural and institutional approach is the position some espouse. They address the structural inequalities that underpin and bring about conditions of poverty and identify several vulnerable demographic groups who are disproportionately affected by poverty and disadvantage. Kimberlin and Berrick in Chap. 9 cite trends suggesting a large racial gap in the rates of child poverty with African American children having long-term poverty rates ten times higher than the rates of white children. Herczog in Chap. 15 identifies Roma children, children with disabilities and those living in villages as experiencing significant levels of poverty and disadvantage. In Chap. 8 Andresen et al. draw on data from three World Vision Surveys to highlight the vulnerability of single parent families, families where parents are unemployed, parents with low education, and large families who confront significantly higher risk of poverty. Connolly in Chap. 6 and Tilbury in Chap. 17 draw attention to the entrenched inequalities in living standards of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia and Maori and Pacific peoples in New Zealand who experience disproportionate levels of poverty and poverty related risks.

How we understand the causal connections built into lay and expert views of poverty provides insight into the political agenda setting process for policy development. Policies guided by social causation and social selection hypothesis are explored by Wearing and Fernandez in their Chapter. The emergence of the welfare state in mid twentieth century has meant most western nations have been prepared to establish social security systems and anti-poverty programs to provide for social wellbeing, and in doing so redress poverty, and to a more limited extent inequality. The political contest over how to deal with poverty is reflected in the European Union’s social inclusion approach and antipoverty initiatives in other regions including activists’ global advocacy strategies. Nonetheless, as many chapters in this book testify, (Fernandez and Ramia in Chap. 2) the fight against domestic poverty has not reflected similar advances in the last two decades.

The chapters in this volume portray diverse ways of capturing the impact of poverty and co-occurring risks such as ill-health, homelessness, and maltreatment which exacerbate children and young people’s vulnerability to physical and emotional stress and cognitive difficulties (Griggs and Walker 2008; Magnuson and Vortrube-Drzal 2009).

The experience of, and exposure to poverty is perceived to be dynamic with consequences for children likely to be influenced by timing, developmental stage, and context including family, school and neighbourhood. Previous research alludes to the chronicity and depth of poverty exposure and its negative consequence for children’s cognitive and behavioural outcomes (Evans 2004; Wagmiller et al. 2006; Duncan and Brooks-Gunn 1997; Raver et al. 2015; Yoshikawa et al. 2012). Kimberlin and Berrick in Chap. 9

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