Encouraging policy-makers to listen to children when developing policies to address childhood poverty
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Bath
Unit of AssessmentSocial Work and Social Policy
Summary Impact TypePolitical
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration, Sociology
Summary of the impact
Over 3 million UK children live in poverty. Ridge's research has shown
that understanding the impact and experience of poverty from the child's
perspective is essential for developing effective policies and services to
improve children's lives. Through strong, close and enduring relations
with policy makers and advocacy groups, her research and knowledge
exchange have directly influenced national and local government policies
for low-income children. Policy-makers now listen to children's
perspectives as they develop policy, incorporating statutory consultation
with children into key initiatives such as the Child Poverty Strategy.
This has significantly improved the quality of life of children and
families in poverty.
[Numbers in square bracketsr efer to references in Section 3].
This research was carried out at Bath 1997-2013 by Tess Ridge (ESRC PhD,
lecturer, ESRC Fellow, and Professor from 2012). Ridge developed some of
the first research to reveal the complex ways in which poverty affects
children's lives. Contrary to accepted academic and policy positions at
the time, which situated children as passive victims of poverty or used
adults as proxy informants about the impact of poverty in childhood, Ridge
presented children as active social agents, to provide new and innovative
child focused perspectives on poverty.
The underpinning research includes the first UK study of child poverty
from a child-centred perspective (funded by ESRC) [3.1, 3.5, 3.6]. This
found that poverty and disadvantage permeated every aspect of children's
lives, from the economic and material to the social and emotional. A lack
of economic and material resources reduced children's opportunities
enjoyed by their peers; further processes of stigmatisation operated within
school [3.4,3.5]. Ridge showed that childhood is a formative social
experience, where the demands of participation and inclusion could be
considerable and the costs of exclusion particularly damaging. The effects
of such childhood poverty extend into adulthood.
The work advanced further, through a unique qualitative longitudinal
study of low-income work and family life. This consisted of 3 waves of
in-depth interviews with children aged 10-16 and their mothers [3.2, 3.3,
3.4]. Funded initially by ESRC, and then by DWP, this research explored
how lone mothers and their children negotiated the everyday challenges of
sustaining low-income work and family life. Children played a key role in
sustaining their mothers in work, taking on household chores, managing
their own and their siblings' care [3.7, 3.8]. This challenged accepted
notions of children as passive care burdens within working families.
However, in families where work was insecure and financially unrewarding,
this risked alienating children from the values of employment [3.9].
The research challenged accepted policy approaches for children, which
addressed children mainly as a future resource, a form of human capital to
be protected and developed. It challenged policy makers to take children's
needs and concerns seriously; it raised policy questions about what worked
best for low-income children at home, in school and in their
neighbourhoods; and it showed that children's own accounts could make an
essential contribution to understanding these processes.
In 2009 Ridge was commissioned by the DWP to conduct an expert review of
qualitative research with low-income children and their families to inform
the development of the Child Poverty Act and policy for children [3.10].
References to the research
Research awards including the ESRC and DWP:
3.1 A Child-centred Approach to Childhood Poverty and Social
Exclusion ESRC Studentship, 1997/2000
3.2 Children, Poverty and Social Policy: A Child-centred Approach.
ESRC Research Fellowship
Award: Tess Ridge 2002/2004 £106,764. ESRC rated `outstanding'.
3.3 Staying in Work: Work and Welfare for Lone Mothers and Their
Children Over Time
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC): Ridge and Millar (PI)
2005/2007 £88, 464
3.4 Transitions to work — longitudinal qualitative research exploring
work, welfare and wellbeing for lone mothers and their children DWP:
Ridge (PI) with Millar 2007/2008 £89,600
Key Research Outputs
3.5 Ridge, T. (2002) Childhood Poverty and Social Exclusion: From a
Child's Perspective, Bristol: Policy Press. (Translated into Chinese
2007, Japanese, 2010). Over 1,650 copies sold (can be supplied by HEI on
3.7 Ridge, T & Millar, J (2008) `Work and Well-Being Over Time: Lone
Mothers and Their Children'. DWP Research Report No.536. Leeds:
Corporate Document Services (REF2)
3.9 Ridge, T (2009) `It Didn't Always Work': Low-Income Children's
Experiences of Changes in Mothers' Working Patterns in the UK in the Journal
of Social Policy & Society 8:4, pp 503/ 512
Details of the impact
[Numbers in square brackets refer to evidence in Section 5].
Ridge's research first came to prominence durin6 the New Labour
administration after 1997, when rising rates of child poverty rates
brought a new focus on its eradication. She has continued her knowledge
transfer activities with the Coalition government, contributing to the
development of its Child Poverty Strategy. Through her expert advisory
roles and her networks of longstanding relationships with policy makers,
child poverty lobby groups, public service professionals and charities,
she has sought to influence policy and practice development for the
improvement of low-income children's lives. An ESRC review of the impact
of their funded research on the development of child poverty policies
names Tess Ridge as one of a few academics to have made `significant
research contributions to the development of this emerging policy area'
In relation to the REF guidance (REF 01.2012, Main Panel C) we identify
four main types of impact.
1. `Shaping or influence on policy made by government'
Ridge provided invited written and oral evidence and advice on child
poverty to Social Security Select Committees (2002, 2003, 2007, 2009,
2011); to HM Treasury Rural Forum (2002); to the government's Children
and Young People's Unit; and to the 2007/08 Work and Pensions Select
Committee inquiry into child poverty. Typical were the last-mentioned
Committee's recommendations, which cited Ridge's evidence and urged the
`DWP to work with DCSF, local authorities and other partners to address
the socially excluding impact of poverty on children. This must be a
priority of the new Child Poverty Unit' [5.6: page 25].
More recently, Ridge has played a key role in ensuring the
incorporation of children's voice in policy development. Since 2009 she
has had an on-going strategic relationship with the Child Poverty Unit
(tasked with delivering the Child Poverty Strategy) and the DWP.
Child Poverty Act: In 2009 Ridge was commissioned by the DWP to
conduct an expert review of qualitative research with low-income
children and their families. This was intended to `help meet the
commitment outlined in Ending Child Poverty: Everybody's business
... to identify gaps in the evidence base and advise the CPU on
best practice when engaging with these groups. This will inform the
CPU's plans for engaging children and families in developing a "vision"
of 2020 — what a world in which child poverty has been eradicated could
or should look like' [5.7]. Ridge's review [3.9] and her own research
were core elements of the evidence which informed the Child Poverty Act,
and the national, devolved and local Child Poverty Strategies (including
Wales, Newcastle, North Somerset) [5.1]
During the passage of the Child Poverty Act 2010, Ridge was one of only
two invited academic expert witnesses to give oral evidence to the House
of Commons Public Bill Committee. At the amendment stage the importance
of children's views and Ridge's expert research review were highlighted
by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, DWP: `Taking into account the
views of children and families living in poverty is central to the
development of our strategies for tackling child poverty... We have
commissioned Dr. Tess Ridge ... who gave evidence to the Committee last
week, to research the experience of children and families living in
poverty. Her report ...will help to inform the development of the child
poverty strategy [5.10].
Child Poverty Strategy: In 2010 Ridge was seconded to the CPU
for five months, at a critical period in the development of the first
Child Poverty Strategy. Acting as a `critical friend', she played a key
role in ensuring that children's voices and concerns were robustly and
appropriately sought in the development of the Strategy. During this
time she providing insight, evidence and advice across a range of policy
areas, including participating in the development of the life chances
and families strand of the Child Poverty Strategy [5.1].
2. `Policy debate has been stimulated or informed by research evidence
which may have led to the confirmation of policy, change in policy
direction, implementation or withdrawal of policy'.
Ridge's research has stimulated political debates, including in the
House of Lords during the passage of the Welfare Reform Bill, when her
research was cherry-picked by the government, to support proposed
changes in lone mother employment obligations. Cited in a Ministerial
note which argued that lone parents' employment can provide a good role
model for their children, this evidence was challenged by the
Opposition, citing the more nuanced findings of the study, as Hansard
records from the debate: `The research also found that that is not
always the case. One of the researchers, Tess Ridge of Bath University,
writes that, "encouraging lone mothers into unstable and insecure labour
markets runs the risk of alienating children from the values of
employment. For these children work had held out the promise of
something better and that promise had not been kept, so they also
experienced disappointment and for some, an apparent loss of confidence
in the value of work". [3.9, 5.5]
3. `Influencing the work of NGOs'
A review of impact in child poverty policy by the ESRC found that
`Interaction between researchers and lobby groups has been an important
feature of child poverty policy development, and ... has helped to
create a mechanism through which research findings influence the
thinking of policy-makers, including opposition political parties, their
advisers and supporters' [5.9] Ridge's work has played a significant
role in this area. She has worked with national civil society groups to
establish trusted and enduring relationships through knowledge exchange,
policy advice for campaigns and lobbying activities.
At Child Poverty Action Group, she has served for 10 years on their
Policy Advisory Group, advising on child poverty strategy and campaign.
She has regularly written for their publications and for use in lobbying
work. The CPAG CEO at the time commented: 'Tess's influence helped
encourage the charity to become more child-focused in its approach to
its work. ..... Her emphasis on a child-centric approach to poverty
solutions and the importance of such an approach for CPAG was vindicated
when child poverty was taken within the ambit of the newly formed
Department for Children, Schools and Families. As a result, CPAG found
itself well-placed to align its work to the government's Every Child
Matters framework, and to work closely with and influence the
Child Poverty Unit which was established within the Department. [5.3].
She has a 12 year advisory relationship with The Children's Society,
including sole academic presenter at policy discussion and development
event at St Georges, Windsor. She carried out collaborative research
with them into rural poverty, and children's experiences of being in
public care and she was recently invited to contribute a submission to
policy discussion at the 2013 CofE General Synod, to be used to engage
with church leadership, grass roots and politicians. `We need
authoritative, independent and credible evidence that enables us to
argue in the interests of children experiencing poverty. Tess Ridge's
work has provided us with that evidence and has strengthened our efforts
to put children's experiences at the centre of our campaigning message
and ensured that we continue to speak and act from the perspective of
the child' [5.4].
`Influencing Policy or Practice leading to improved take-up or use
At a local level Ridge has a long-standing relationship with North
Somerset Council (NSC). Her research inspired them to develop their
local Child Poverty Strategy with a child-centred perspective. The
strategy draws extensively on Ridge's work and has been identified among
the strongest in the country by the Charity 4 Children, in their
National Survey of child poverty strategies [5.8]. Helen Caldwell of NSC
`I referred to your book Childhood poverty and social exclusion
from a child's perspective on a daily basis when I was developing
and rolling out `Join Up Join In' across North Somerset. Your research
enabled me to roll out a one year funding stream within a wider context
of child poverty and social exclusion from the child's perspective...
Your research was so compelling, all of the schools in North Somerset
agreed to ring-fence the funding for eligible children to spend on
positive activities outside of school hours.' This `Join up Join in'
campaign resulted in a significant increase in FSM (free school meals)
pupils and families engaging in informal learning activities. [5.2].
Ridge has made a particular child-focused contribution to policy and
practice development, lobbying and legislative procedures. In a report
commissioned by ESRC to examine impact, she was identified as being
`particularly important in developing qualitative child-focused studies
that look at what poverty is like for children experiencing it,
including children in lone parent households, and how they see parent's
income.' [5.9]. In 2011 her research was instrumental in winning the
Diamond Jubilee round of the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Further and
Higher Education: the University of Bath for `Influential research
into child poverty and support for vulnerable people'. www.royalanniversarytrust.org.uk
Sources to corroborate the impact
5.1 Testimonial on file from the Child Poverty Unit.
5.2 Testimonial on file North Somerset Council
5.3 Testimonial from Child Poverty Action Group former Chief Executive
5.4 Testimonial on file The Children's Society
5.5 Welfare Reform Bill debate. The House of Lords (2012) Hansard 25 Jan
2012 : Column 1146: 020 Clause 144 : Commencement, Amendment 69
5.6 Work and Pensions Committee: The Best Start in Life? Alleviating
Deprivation, Improving Social Mobility and Eradicating Child Poverty
2007-08, Feb 2008
5.7 Child Poverty Unit (2008) Research Specification for the
commission of an expert research review of the Literature on Children's
and Families' Experiences of Poverty
5.8 Pathways out of Poverty (2011) North Somerset CYPS Strategic
5.9 Economic and Social Research Council (2011) Conceptual Impact of
ESRC Research: Case Study of Child Poverty Policy
5.10 Parliamentary Under-Secretary, DWP. Column 258 Hansard. Public Bill
Committee Child Poverty Bill