Commission on Families and the Wellbeing of Children
Families and the State
Two-way support and responsibilities
An inquiry into the relationship between the state and the family in the
upbringing of children
The Commission on Families and the Wellbeing of Children (the Commission)
was established in April 2004 to consider the relationship between the state
and the family in providing children with a humane and caring upbringing in
the 21st century. It was established by the National Family and Parenting
Institute and NCH (previously known as National Children’s Homes), with
support from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
The Commission considered the developing boundaries between the state
and the family, what is supportive on the one hand and insufficiently
supportive or detrimental to human rights on the other. It addressed three
How and to what extent should the state intervene in the care and
upbringing of children, and what kind of reciprocal responsibility, if any,
does it have to support families?
To what extent is it right for parents to be held responsible for the
actions of their children? Where should their responsibilities begin and
How far and in what way should the role of the state in supporting and
intervening in families be formalised and made transparent?
Values. The Commission’s recommendations have been informed by these
A recognition of the importance of families in all their various forms as
the environment in which most children are brought up and cared for.
A recognition that families, as well as having the potential to offer a
caring environment, can also be a place where people experience
violence and abuse, and may not, in certain circumstances, serve the
best interests of the children living in them.
A recognition that families mediate between people as individuals and
the wider community, and have an influence on society as a whole.
Following from the above, an acceptance that the state has a role to
play in supporting and regulating families, in respect of their impact on
both society and individual family members, and children in particular
because of their vulnerability.
A recognition that, notwithstanding the above, many changes and static
features in family social and demographic trends are not and should
not be subject to significant influence by the state.
A recognition that, because of their vulnerability, the wellbeing of
children should be the paramount consideration in constructing family
policy. This entails the adoption of an “ethic of care” in the development
of family policy.
A recognition of the need to reduce inequities within society and to
address discrimination associated with, inter alia, ethnic, cultural and
social background, disability, gender and sexual orientation.
In determining the dividing line between family autonomy and legitimate state
intervention, and the scope of the state’s obligations to support families, the
Commission has been guided by two internationally accepted instruments
establishing the dimensions of human and children’s rights – the Human
Rights Act 1998 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
Evidence. The Commission has considered evidence in relation to:
demographic and social trends indicative of family life as it is lived;
the impact of supports, regulations, interventions and other aspects of
the interface between the state and the family on the wellbeing of
the views of children, parents, support agencies and the wider public.
It has also conducted a consultation with policymakers, service providers,
researchers and other interested organisations and a series of focus groups
with parents from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Background to the establishment and work of
While outcomes for most children are good, there are nevertheless legitimate
anxieties over the stress experienced by some parents and its implications for
family relationships. Care in the context of employment is an ongoing tension
that is acute around the needs of young children. There are behavioural
issues and safety concerns within communities and families, and a growing
number of young people with mental health problems. Child poverty and
disparities in outcomes in education and health must also be on the agenda
for redress in a society with a commitment to provide the best start in life for
These multiple anxieties have prompted the Government to undertake
initiatives across the family policy domain ranging from support service
enhancement through to criminal justice measures that reinforce parental
responsibility and children’s agency. Reacting to this high profile programme,
reservations have been expressed in some quarters that the Government has
not been able to respond in sufficient measure to the support needs of
families, on the one hand, while on the other it may also have become too
interventionist in family life.
There is a difficult balance to be struck between the caring and control
functions of the state, a tension that is particularly significant for the
governance of the family. The Commission has taken a step back from the
emotionally charged debate around families to assess the evidence. Building
on the strong commitments to relationships that exist in today’s families, it
makes recommendations in relation to the delivery of a measured,
proportionate and caring response from government that is mindful of the
needs and interests of children, parents and the wider community.
Content of the Executive Summary
In relation to each significant area of policy there is a brief summary of the
issues considered by the Commission followed by the principles it proposes
should inform public policy. Recommendations derived from these principles
are drawn together from across the policy areas in a final concluding section
of the Executive Summary.
Evidence of the Impact of Upbringing on Children’s Outcomes
Family relationships and their implications in terms of children’s wellbeing are
complex. Genetic as well as environmental factors need to be understood and
taken into account, as do bi-directional effects – the impact of parents on their
children and vice versa. Nevertheless it is clear that parenting and the
environment in which children are brought up matter, and that the risk factors
and optimal care standards in upbringing are understood. These are reflected
in the Government’s Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need.
The Commission’s assessment of the standards of care required to promote
children’s wellbeing points to the need for the following core principle to underpin
The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need, with its
supportive approach grounded in child development research, should
constitute the corner-stone for government policy in relation to
expectations for the care of children. The state’s role should be to
support these standards of care through universal and targeted
services, through promoting an economic and social environment that
is conducive to families being able to give children adequate care and
in some, more limited, circumstances through regulating family life.
There will be occasions when a child needs the intervention of the state in
family life without parental consent. This is the sense in which the term “child
protection” is used here. Having considered the scope of child protection
needs across physical and emotional abuse and neglect, and evidence of the
impact of state intervention, the Commission has concluded that the following
principles should inform policy.
In child protection cases intervention may be needed that does not
require the consent of the parent. The principle of minimum
intervention should be adopted, restricting intervention to cases where
children are at risk within the definition of the Children Act 1989.
The state’s expectations of standards of care for children who are
adopted, fostered or in institutional care should encompass a high duty
of care secured through a system of stringent checks and therapeutic
Prospective parents and caring for children after parents separate
n order to safeguard the interests of children, some element of state
regulation is needed in respect of adoptive parents and assisted conception. It
is also needed to determine the caring arrangements for children after parents
separate. In making its proposals as to the nature of such regulation, the
Commission has been guided by the evidence relating to children’s outcomes
in these particular family situations.
In terms of regulating prospective parents and parental contact, an
approach is needed that involves an assessment of the risks and
benefits to the child. It should not be unduly restrictive, but the
overriding concern should be to safeguard the welfare of the child.
Checks on prospective adoptive parents should be principally concerned with
child protection and the overall welfare of the child. They should not be
unnecessarily rigid and inhibit adoption by giving disproportionate
consideration to matters such as age, sexuality or religion of potential
Assisted conception clinics should be required to adopt the same acceptable
standards of counselling and assessment. Operating from a problem solving
rather than bureaucratic perspective, these should involve enquiries of
prospective parents and their GP, and if a significant problem is identified,
other pertinent agencies such as social services, in order that the clinician
should be satisfied that there is no foreseeable substantial medical or social
risk to the child. An effective monitoring process should be established to
ensure that these standards are applied.
The legal and social support response to the issue of contact between
children and parents post separation should be to optimise contact with both
parents, subject to the primary consideration of the welfare of the child and
the need to provide the child with a stable home environment.
Physical safety and the family
The preservation of children’s safety is, or should be, a core function of caring
for children. However, this is an area of government policy where there is a
considerable degree of imprecision.
Safety and physical discipline. While recognising that there are distinctions
to be made between different levels and frequency of the use of smacking,
overall, the evidence relating to child outcomes from physical punishment is
negative. There are significant concerns in relation to child abuse and
behavioural outcomes. There is also a human right for a child, like an adult, to
be free from inhuman and degrading treatment. Despite these concerns
relating to child outcomes and human rights, the defence of reasonable
chastisement can still be used by parents in relation to charges of “common
assault”. The Commission regrets this state of affairs.
Safety and supervision. Regulation for parents and other carers in respect of
children’s safety requires greater clarification, particularly in relation to the age
at which it is deemed safe for a child to be unattended.
The preservation of children’s safety and freedom from “inhuman and
degrading treatment” should be a primary concern of government.
Management of children’s behaviour
With measures such as the Crime and Disorder Act (1998) and Anti-Social
Behaviour Act (2003), the Government has sought to tighten personal
responsibility across the generations. A central problem arising from recent
developments in juvenile justice is the growing contradiction between the
effective lowering of the age of criminal responsibility to 10 through the
abolition of doli incapax, which implies that children over the age of nine have
the same knowledge of what constitutes crime as a mature adult, and the
simultaneous raising of the presumption of parents’ responsibility for their
children’s offences. In particular the abolition of doli incapax and the coercive
nature of parenting orders have created a new reality of dual responsibility for
juvenile crime. This inconsistency blurs the crucial distinction between
parents’ duty of care and their responsibility for conduct. The Commission is
of the view that the lines of criminal responsibility should be redrawn to
achieve a proper balance between legal and moral obligation.
In developing an appropriate set of principles to inform the state’s relationship
with families in managing children’s behaviour and protecting the community,
the Commission has examined the legal implications and evidence in relation
children’s psychological development;
parents’ capacity to control their children’s behaviour;
the Scottish precedent of welfare-orientated Children’s Hearings;
and options to enhance informal social controls.
Government policies concerned with the management of children’s
behaviour should embrace the principles of minimum intervention and
enhanced support for families in difficulties due to the offending
behaviour of their children.
Parenting support should become available for parents of children of all
ages as part of the implementation of broader family support strategies.
There should be an emphasis within parenting support services on
encouraging parents to take broad responsibility for the actions of their
children and on imparting to them proven strategies to help them in
handling children’s difficult behaviour. Policies for reducing antisocial
behaviour and truancy in children should seek to divert parents and
children away from prosecution, with due consideration given to
identifying and dealing with the underlying causes of behavioural
Offers of support, rather than coercion, should be the initial response to
families coping with children’s behavioural difficulties. However, where
such support is declined, and dependent on the seriousness of the
case, coercion to accept support, for example through parenting
orders, may be required (see Family Services below).
Account should be taken of children’s psychological development in
determining the age of criminal responsibility and the flexibility required
in order to establish whether a young person is capable of criminal
The Government’s expectations of standards of care in the upbringing of
children are insufficiently defined, and where definitions can be inferred from
legislation and statutory intervention, they are sometimes based on
approaches at variance with each other. In particular, contrasts can be drawn
between caring and welfare approaches on the one hand, and more clearly
enunciated expectations of responsibility in the criminal justice field on the
other. There is also a lack of clarity over who bears caring responsibilities,
and the degree to which they bear them.
There is an obligation in the interests of open government and human rights
to set out the government’s expectations of parents/carers, providing
transparency about the sorts of issues that will be taken into consideration in
depriving a parent/carer of their caring responsibilities.
There is a need for consistency, clarity and public information in
relation to the Government’s expectations of standards of care in the
upbringing of children.
The state’s role in supporting the upbringing of children encompasses the
whole environment in which a child grows up. It ranges from relationship
support, parenting education and health services through to financial matters.
It includes addressing the structural causes of relative deprivation and
remedial responses to counter hardship. It is concerned with the multiple
faces of parents’ lives as they impinge on children, for example parents’ role
in the work place and adult caring relationships. It is also concerned with the
commercial and communal environment that impacts on children's upbringing.
The Commission is of the view that there is a need for the state actively to
promote a shift in social ethos towards an ethic of care, with caring
relationships between parents and children supported across social relations,
including governmental and commercial concerns, and civil society.
The Commission is also of the view that, in order to realise an ethic of care,
and to enhance trust and a partnership between the state and families, both
parents and children should be widely involved in the development, shaping
and delivery of services that have implications for children’s upbringing.
Family services support the emotional wellbeing of children within their
families and directly target the parent/child relationship. They include
information, advice, parent/child leisure and learning activities, befriending,
group-work, counselling, therapeutic facilities, couple relationship support,
help with special needs and the monitoring of children’s wellbeing. They range
from low-key universal services to intensive targeted provision.
Following a review of research into the impact of family services, service
availability and users’ perspectives, the Commission has developed a set of
principles that encompass the scope of services and entitlements, investment
priorities and process issues, and the relationship between service providers
A balanced menu of universal and targeted services should be
available to all parents (see box Menu of Services). While investment
in universal services and a preventative approach is to be supported,
consideration should also be given to resource limitations and the
importance of ensuring that children in need or at risk receive sufficient
support involving expert facilities where required.
Menu of Service
Universal services should:
provide information and advice about child development and the
services that are available to support families in bringing up children;
enable welfare services to monitor and identify situations where further
support is needed;
foster a culture where families are encouraged to accept support in
bringing up children which is appropriate to their needs.
They should be available to every family as a legal entitlement, and families
should be supported to use them.
Universal services should support families and monitor the wellbeing of the
child at the key stages of vulnerability and change in a child’s life.
Birth. Pre and post-natal support should be provided universally during this
period including support from midwives and health visitors, and a post-natal
class to address child development and support service issues.
Child development. Child development checks should be provided regularly
though early childhood and in to secondary school. These would enable
parents, children and professionals to identify any developmental, behavioural
or emotional issues in a universal, non-stigmatising service facilitating access
to remedial assistance or treatment.
On-going information. Information on child-development, support services
and significant issues for parents as young people grow up should be
provided through workshops at key transition points in nurseries, children’s
centres and on entry to primary and secondary schools. Access to information
of this nature should also be available as and when the parent identifies the
need for it through help-lines and children’s centres. This support should be
offered to other carers acting in loco parentis, for example grandparents who
undertake a caring role.
Targeted services should meet needs that go beyond universal services.
families where a particular issue-related service may support their
families where children fall within the definition of being in need or at
risk and who require specialist support facilities.
These services should be available to every family where there is either a self
or professionally identified need. Access should be facilitated by integrating
services into mainstream provision, customising their use, reviewing referral
mechanisms, enhancing ease of use and periodically reviewing the
relationship between support and needs through national and local needs
The menu of targeted services should include:
facilitated and self-help parenting groups or courses beyond universal
individual counselling/support in home or clinic;
special needs support (disabilities; mental health; behavioural and
other respite support;
Relationship support/couple counselling
Taken as a whole, the range of services should relate to children of all ages. It
should include support for mothers, fathers, grandparents acting in loco
parentis and other social parents, and all cultural groups should be catered for
appropriately and inclusively.
Account should be taken of the differing capacity of families to take advantage
of services. There are particular issues for socially disadvantaged families,
and there may be service barriers where there are cultural or language
differences. Strategies for developing sensitive, culturally competent services,
easily available in terms of physical access and backed up by outreach work
are needed to redress this imbalance. A higher level of investment will be
required relative to the general population.
The Government’s Green Papers Every Child Matters and Youth Matters,
underwritten by the Children Act 2004, intend a similar range of provision,
although there are concerns that under-resourcing may hamper
implementation and there is no offer of a legal entitlement to universal
services as recommended by the Commission. The Commission’s proposal
for an extension of child development checks as a support and monitoring
facility is a further significant addition to the Government’s programme.
In order to provide optimal services, there should be a focus on the process of
implementation and the development of individual and service competence
There should be minimum invasion of families’ privacy and an emphasis
placed on the development of trust between providers and the families they
The Material Environment and Growing Up
The state is responsible for investment in a range of physical environments that
impinge significantly on children’s lives, such as road safety, the creation of safe
walkways, recreation spaces, high standard school buildings and the like. It also has
regulatory powers in relation to planning and delivering the spatial environment, and
in respect of health and associated consumption. Regulating the marketing and
retailing of alcohol and tobacco and the standards of food in schools are significant
examples here. These matters affect children and they need a high status lobby
structure in order to ensure that their interests are adequately addressed.
The material environment in which children are brought up requires a
high level of scrutiny, and powerful advocacy is needed in order to
protect the interests of children in this sphere.
Private sphere – Families and Poverty
The reduction of child poverty and the structure of cash benefits for children, linked
as they are with economic redistribution, are highly controversial matters. They are
influenced, not only by government, but also by the wider economic environment and
importantly by families themselves. The state’s protective role in these circumstances
is difficult to establish. For these reasons, and because of the deleterious impact that
poverty can have on children’s lives, the Commission has examined this issue in
The Commission has examined the evidence of the impact of poverty on child
development and has concluded that, whereas poverty may not directly cause
children to have problems, it is nevertheless important because it makes effective
family functioning harder to achieve. It engenders stress and puts barriers in the way
of social integration. It is also associated with poor health outcomes. Both relative
and absolute poverty have this adverse effect on families.
There has been widespread concern over the extent of family poverty in the United
Kingdom. The Commission has considered whether this concern is well founded, and
has concluded that it is. Currently an accepted definition of poverty is income that is
below 60% of the median level of the population at that time. Assuming normal
population statistical distribution rates of income generating human potential, such as
intelligence and health, a 60% threshold based on the mean should result in some
2% of the population falling below the poverty line. However, as measured in 2002
the proportion of children in poverty in the UK was found to be approximately 30% –
more than 10 times higher than expected1. The evidence points to disadvantageous
societal influences that make it very difficult for many people to achieve their
potential. If child poverty is to be addressed, the state needs to not only guarantee
minimum income levels for families with children, but also to consider ways in which
escalating income differentials in society might be tempered. The former is
achievable and the Commission makes recommendations to help secure this end.
The latter is subject to global economic trends that are difficult to control. It should
nevertheless remain an aspiration of government to shift society as far as possible in
the direction of minimising children’s relative deprivation and to secure for citizens a
more equal start in life.
The Commission has reviewed current measures to tackle child poverty. It
considers that the reduction of child poverty, with its potential for long term
positive outcomes for society as a whole, should form a consensus objective
and that there should be a long term programme broadly endorsed across the
political spectrum. It proposes the following set of principles in relation to the
monitoring and redress of child poverty to inform such a programme.
The state should systematically provide, through its taxation and
benefits system, some transfer of resources to people with children.
The level of this transfer should overall be greater for people on lower
than on higher incomes, but should not be negligible for the majority of
the population – i.e. people on middle incomes should feel that the
state is making some significant contribution to the cost of bringing up
their children, even though the bulk of this cost remains with them.
Such a system should broadly keep pace with living standards over
Governments should seek to guarantee a minimum level of income for
families with children, based on prevailing living standards and rising in
line with those standards.
The foundation for an acceptable minimum should be some form of
independent, systematic measurement of what is adequate, informed
by public views of what everyone should be able to afford in today’s
The state’s role in supporting families should include reducing the
negative impact of low earnings through the provision of benefits
and/or taxation credits in order to remove disincentives to participation
in the labour market.
1 This figure is a substantial under-estimate of the level of poverty as it would
be occurring ‘naturally’ if there were no governmental benefits and subsidies
of various kinds.
When attaching conditions to the receipt of out of work benefits by
parents, governments should consider the need to guarantee a
minimum level of financial support for dependent children.
The partnership between parents and the state in paying for children
should seek to offer parents choice and opportunity in balancing the
priorities of looking after their children and participating in the labour
This partnership should aim for equity in the support offered to families
in and out of work.
The law on cohabitation should be amended so that children’s financial
position post separation is equally protected whether they are born to a
cohabiting couple or a married one.
Families should retain autonomy in how they provide for the everyday
material needs of their children, but there are circumstances where, in
the interests of children’s welfare, subsidies and support in kind may be
Policies for state support of families and young people should
acknowledge that children’s dependence on parental help does not
stop at any one age, and thus seek to assist young people from less
advantaged families to make effective transitions to adulthood.
Reviewing Family Support in the Context of
The Commission has reviewed the implications of international governance
for family support in the UK, including instruments and case law associated
with the Council of Europe, the European Union, the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on
Human Rights. These instruments have been influential in the development
of family support policy and children’s rights in this country. However, they
require further integration. The absence of a rights perspective recognising
international governance in Every Child Matters is regretted. As a
consequence of this omission, there is a lack of entitlement of children and
parents to the services on offer.
Family support policy should be reviewed and developed
systematically on an on-going basis in the light of the expectations
placed on governments to provide support for the upbringing of
children established in international instruments to which the UK
government is a party.
Physical Safety and the Family
1.The defence to a charge of common assault of reasonable chastisement by
a parent should be abolished. Parents should be supported in managing their
children’s behaviour through authoritative parenting practices (see
Management of Children’s Behaviour and Family Services below).
2.Guidance should be issued by the Department for Education and Skills, and
made publicly available to parents, in relation to:
the age of a child below which it would not be appropriate for him/her to
be left without adult supervision;
the minimum age at which it would be appropriate for a child to babysit.
Other factors in addition to age could be flagged up and examples given of
circumstances where exceptions might be made.
Management of Children’s Behaviour
The Law Commission should consider the framework of juvenile justice in
England and Wales in the light of the principles described above and the
3a.The age of criminal responsibility should be raised to 12.
3b.A doli incapax presumption until the age of 16 should be reintroduced. This
would allow for the gradual and highly variable process of moral development
in children. A system should be adopted, as recommended by the Scottish
Law Commission, of normal immunity from prosecution until the age of 16,
with an equivalent to the Scottish Children’s Hearings introduced based on
the principles of, and the experience gained from, family conferencing,
restorative justice and youth offender panels. A range of supportive and
remedial services to work with children committing offences and their families
should be available for deployment. The criminal prosecution route should be
the exception rather than the rule. One option for a “sliding scale” of maturity
would be for the presumption of incapacity to stand, unless proven otherwise,
for children aged 12-13, but reversed for those aged 14-15.
3c.Parenting orders should be restricted to parents who have rejected
parenting support offered to them on a voluntary basis. Legal sanctions, such
as fines and imprisonment, against parents on account of the misbehaviour of
their children should be restricted to parents of children who are below the
age of criminal responsibility and parents of children found to be incapable of
4.The criminal standard of proof of “beyond reasonable doubt” should be
introduced in respect of anti-social behaviour orders (ASBO’s), and the
anonymity of young offenders in receipt of them should be preserved.
5a.The range of expectations, standards of care and responsibilities for
children’s upbringing contained in legal and quasi-legal documents, including
social care, education, criminal justice and financial sources, be collated and
reviewed by government with a view to developing a principled and consistent
approach, reconciling contradictions in policy and filling significant gaps. The
review should involve all government departments with a locus in family
policy, in particular the Department for Constitutional Affairs, Department for
Education and Skills, the Department of Health, the Home Office and the
5b.The outcome of such a review of expectations, standards of care and
responsibilities for children’s upbringing should be made available to the wider
public. The nature of this public information exercise should not involve
legislation, and the manner of its presentation should be informed by research
into parents’/carers’ views of helpful options.
The principal government departments that would be responsible for the
implementation of these recommendations include the Department for
Education and Skills, the Department of Health, the Home Office and the
6.Children’s services authorities should be required to provide a menu of
universal and targeted services as described in Menu of Services above.
Parents should be legally entitled to universal services.
7.Implementation and Resources
The Government should develop a national implementation strategy for a
programme of family service enhancement. The strategy should be developed
in partnership with local government and other service providers.
Within that strategy:
a.Redressing deficits in the delivery of current core services should be
b.There should be an assessment of the relationship between demand and
the resources available for family services.
c.Taking into account differing locality profiles, guidance should be developed
for children’s services authorities in respect of relative investment levels
across early prevention, support where children are in need, support where
they are at risk and local authority care.
8.Optimising Resources and Service Competence
Working with service providers, the Government should enhance the capacity
of practitioners to respond effectively to family support needs through
measures to improve individual and service competence and accountability. In
a.Where a child has been identified as in need, one professional within the
multidisciplinary network should be allocated responsibility for ensuring that
appropriate support services are provided.
b.Frontline workers in schools, nurseries and primary health care should be
trained in providing basic advice and support to children, couples and families.
c.Financial incentives within and between caring agencies should be
reformulated so that they do not encourage staff to close cases or to move
them to other agencies inappropriately.
d.Adult services should be required to consider the needs of children
associated with any adult they treat.
e.Investment in “service hubs” – children’s centres and extended schools –
should continue, while ensuring that alternative venues are also available for
the receipt of specialist services.
f.Parents should be involved in family service development and
implementation at every level through:
consultations on policy and service development;
parent advisory representation in relation to local strategic planning
and the operation of 'service hubs' in schools and children’s centres;
user involvement in service monitoring and inspection;
training for providers in effective approaches to parental involvement.
9.Monitoring and Child Protection
a.A national child welfare database should not be established.
b.Protocols for information sharing between professionals in order to protect
children, and the management of associated database systems, should be
drawn up by the Government in a way which minimises the risk of:
inaccurate information being held;
trust between families and caring agencies being undermined.
c.Greater emphasis should be placed on the use of sensitive instruments to
monitor child welfare, such as the midwifery and health visiting service and
the child development checks provided throughout childhood as proposed in
Menu of Services above.
d.Guidance should be provided for the courts and welfare agencies so that
Care and Supervision Orders (Section 31, Children Act 1989) and Family
Assistance Orders (Section 16, Children Act 1989) are used more effectively
as interventions where children are identified as being at risk of significant
The Material Environment and Growing Up
10a.The Children’s Commissioner should be charged with monitoring, and
making recommendations to government in respect of investment in and
regulation of the physical environment, marketing and consumption,
advertising and business operations, with a view to promoting children’s
health and safety and ability to lead fulfilling lives. The office of the Children’s
Commissioner should be expanded to enable this function to be undertaken
b. Local authorities should be required by government to assess investment in
and the planning and development of commercial and public space and
housing with reference to the needs of children and their carers.
Private Sphere – Families and Poverty
The Commission is pleased to acknowledge that in a number of respects,
present government policy conforms to or is working towards the principles
proposed by the Commission in respect of families and poverty. These
principles would, however, benefit from being clearly stated in the context of
that policy, particularly those pertaining to the vexed relationship between
parents’ caring and earning roles.
As well as providing guides to policy development, the principles proposed by
the Commission point to the need for two overarching measures. The first is
to create a new mechanism to define what income children need to avoid
hardship. The second is to entrench a universal system of financial support for
parents in a way that does not allow it simply to wither as general living
11.The Treasury should establish an independent review body for the purpose
of defining income standards that reflect children’s right to an adequate
standard of living.
The key task of such a body would be to provide objective evidence to inform
the government in setting benefit and tax credit rates. Specifically, its duty
would be to state regularly what minimum levels of income are compatible
with an adequate standard of living for families with different compositions.
The review body would bring together the present dispersed and irregular
attempts to set budget standards and could draw on a range of existing
methods to construct an official standard. Some of its possible features are
described in the main report in the box – A Family Income Standards Review
Body. In setting up and providing funding for such a body, the Government
would not be surrendering its legitimate right to make judgements about what
kinds of benefits and tax credits are affordable and compatible with other
objectives such as maintaining work incentives, as well as with its other
spending and taxation priorities. The Government would remain responsible
for decisions on credit and benefit levels. Rather, it would be creating a visible
standard of income adequacy and acknowledging the need to work towards
bringing every family above that standard.
12.The Treasury should make a commitment to up-rate Child Benefit and the
family element of Child Tax Credit (i.e. the basic amount going to most
families) in line with average earnings.
The proportion of national income devoted to making flat-rate contributions to
the cost of children across income groups should be standardised in this way,
otherwise there is a constant risk that such “universal” transfers supporting
parents will decline in value relative to other elements of income, as other
budget priorities take precedence. This occurred in the case of Child Benefit
in the 1980s and most of the 1990s, when at best it was up-rated by inflation,
and for a period in the late 1980s not up-rated at all, following the removal of
the statutory duty to consider such an up-rating in 1986. The result was that in
1997, Child Benefit was worth less in real terms than in 1979, even though
average earnings had increased in real terms by around 50% during that
period. The Commission is of the view that the social solidarity required to
sustain adequate protection for the worst-off children is strengthened if some
significant benefit is extended to every family.
Reviewing Family Support in the Context of International Governance
13.The element of international rights instruments (the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child, the European Convention on Human
Rights and European Union and Council of Europe requirements) that has
implications for families and their interface with the state should be collated
and responded to by government in a periodic inter-departmental review of
family support policy encompassing:
support in kind including physical and mental health services,
education, childcare facilities, maternity and paternity leave and the
menu of services that constitute parenting support;
financial support, in respect of which government would also respond
to the findings of independent review body on family income proposed
at Recommendation 11.
This periodic review of family support should be published in precis for
a wide public audience as part of a process of public information and
enhancement of public awareness.
14.In order to promote and safeguard the application of its tenets, the United
Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child should be incorporated into