Overcoming persistent poverty

The concept of 'intergenerational poverty' is of doubtful validity and lacks an evidence base, according to a review by the National Foundation for Educational Research.

The researchers conducted a wide-ranging review of UK and international studies, focusing on how children and young people can be helped to escape poverty and deprivation.

Key findings

  • The terms 'intergenerational poverty' or 'intergenerational poverty transmission' are typically associated with the notion of a 'culture' of worklessness or welfare dependency – behavioural traits and dispositions among specific families that are 'transmitted' from one next generation to the next. However, the review found little compelling evidence for this concept, with many studies strongly refuting its existence. Given these findings, the authors concluded, it was an unhelpful term of reference for the review.
  • Simple 'point in time' measures of poverty can be misleading, and can reduce the extent to which the nature of poverty is truly understood. For example, poverty can be characterised as chronic, severe, persistent, recurrent, transient or experienced throughout both childhood and adulthood.
  • The term 'persistent' poverty is a less politicised and more helpful way of describing the problems faced by families in long-term poverty. Given the severe implications for children growing up in persistent poverty, there is a need to understand more about what can be done to alleviate or mitigate it, and for a greater focus on it by policy-makers.
  • There is a range of factors that can support positive outcomes for persistently poor children – structural, individual and practice-level. These factors operate at different levels and will need to be taken forward by a range of stakeholders. But it is critical that structural barriers to equality are given at least as much policy attention as the concept of a 'behaviour' of poverty or worklessness.
  • Policy-makers and researchers need to develop a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that link successful family intervention strategies and outcomes to the ultimate alleviation of persistent poverty. There needs to be a dual focus on the removal of structural inequality and on capacity building among families. Interventions are likely to have the greatest effect when they tackle external obstacles and nurture internal resilience simultaneously.

Source: Julie Nelson, Kerry Martin and Gill Featherstone, What Works in Supporting Children and Young People to Overcome Persistent Poverty? A Review of UK and International Literature, National Foundation for Educational Research
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Publication date: 
Jul 2 2013