Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, invariably gives the example of drug or alcohol addiction when arguing that poverty is not just about low incomes. The other week, the Department for Work and Pensions published the findings of public polling , carried out as part of a consultation on the measurement of child poverty (criticised in a letter in today’s Guardian to which I contributed). One question was asked: ‘Could you please tell me how important you think each of the following are when deciding whether someone is growing up in poverty’. The factor most commonly cited as very important or important was ‘a child having parents who are addicted to drugs and alcohol’. This was then emphasised by Duncan Smith in a speech about the need for a new measure. Once again the impression was given that there is a close link between poverty and addiction.
So I decided to ask a written question to establish what evidence the DWP had for this link. The answer I received admitted ‘The government does not have an assessment of the number of children living in poverty with at least one parent addicted to drugs or alcohol’. It then referred to the public polling, which of course simply measures public perceptions and does not constitute actual evidence of a link. The few statistics that do exist indicate that a tiny minority of children are being raised by parents who are addicts and not all of those will be in poverty. So it really is time that the government stops fuelling the misleading and damaging idea that parental addiction is strongly associated with child poverty. Misleading because it’s not true and damaging because it’s likely to make the wider public less sympathetic towards families living in poverty.