Child Poverty, Evidence and Policy by Nicola Jones and Andy Sumner

Policy Press, 2011, xii + 250 pp, pbk, 1 847 42445 7, £23.99, hbk, 1 847 42446 4, £65

The authors’ purpose isn’t entirely described by the title or subtitle. They claim in their introduction that the book ‘is about children’s visibility, voice and vision’ (p.1): that is, about children as agents. Even that isn’t accurate, because we don’t in fact hear children’s own voices and visions in the book. What we hear is adults formulating ways in which we might experience children’s visibility, voice and vision. The questions that the authors ask are these: ‘How can we understand child poverty and well-being? What types of knowledge are being generated about the nature, extent and trends in child poverty and well-being in developing-country contexts? How can this evidence catalyse change to support children’s visibility, voice and vision? Finally, how do these questions play out in different contexts?’ (p.1).

The first part of the book studies concepts of child poverty and well-being, how knowledge about these is generated, how policy is formulated, and how knowledge informs policy. Well-being is understood in relation to a child’s relationships and subjectivity as well as in material terms; there is a detailed discussion of the diversity of evidence available; and policy-formation is understood as a complex process from which children’s voices are frequently excluded.

The second part of the book contains chapters on Africa, on Asia, and on Latin America and the Caribbean. For each continent there are sections on material, relational and subjective well-being; a section on knowledge generation (mainly in relation to information-gathering institutions); a study of the interaction between knowledge gathered and policy formation; and a case study. A concluding chapter emphases the importance of a child-centred approach if child poverty is to be abolished. Throughout the book there are tabulated literature reviews which will be immensely useful to future researchers.

It would have been interesting to have heard the voices of children, particularly in relation to the case studies. It would also have been educational to include a chapter on child poverty in so-called developed countries, and on how visible and audible children are in those countries’ policy processes. Perhaps these areas could be tackled in future publications. It would also be educational to see research findings on how effective particular policy initiatives have been in tackling child poverty as defined in part I of the book, and on how children experience those initiatives – in their own words.

In particular: Does the gradual shift away from service provision and towards conditional cash payments (such as Brazil’s bolsa familia) improve children’s material, relational and subjective well-being? And would a Citizen’s Income improve children’s well-being further? (See our report on a Namibian Citizen’s Income pilot project in the Citizen’s Income Newsletter, issue 2 for 2009). In evaluating the outcomes, children’s voices will be crucial, as this book rightly suggests.