Frank Field blames the parents

By Alex Stevenson

Steps to improve Britain’s parenting skills will help improve the life chances of those not yet at school, an independent report by Frank Field has found.

New Labour’s first welfare minister concluded that the key to improving children’s life chances lies in their parents being better at raising them.

His report proposes requiring schools to teach parenting and life skills throughout the whole of pupils’ time in education – and that the information should be reinforced in ante-natal and post-natal courses and through Sure Start.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg, who commissioned the report, said its publication “marks a vital moment in the history of our efforts to tackle poverty and disadvantage”.

Mr Field said benefits for children could be frozen each year instead of being automatically increased, suggesting the money could be used more effectively to “widen life chances” in the pre-school ‘foundation years’.

His report said ‘foundation years’ services will be paid according to their success in narrowing class differences as children start school, rather than through any other criteria.

Annually published life chances indicator would be released at a local level, allowing taxpayers to see whether their local authority is running the foundation years effectively.

Mr Field’s report seeks to abolish child poverty but, as his conclusion states, goes further.

“It is simultaneously a policy for social mobility, in that it should result in today’s poor children gaining the skills to acquire highly paid jobs,” the report claims.

“The strategy over time will therefore change the shape of the distribution of income in this country by eliminating the larger numbers of people who currently leave school to face at best a life time of low pay or at worse unemployment.”

Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg said the report showed politicians’ concept of poverty needed to be broadened and lengthened “to look at poverty in the round, and over time”.

“Poor children are at a high risk of becoming poor adults,” the pair added.

“This violates any notion of fairness. Nobody should be condemned to poverty or constricted life chances because of the circumstances of their birth.

“That is why the coalition government has already made the promotion of intergenerational mobility the principal goal of our social policy.”

Shadow work and pensions secretary Douglas Alexander said the coalition’s spending cuts agenda would make it harder to cut poverty, however.

“Labour is proud that we reduced the numbers of children living in poverty by 600,000 while in office but are always ready to look at fresh ideas to go further,” he said.