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Fair Shares and Families

A piece of research exploring how families from across the socio-economic spectrum think, talk and act in relation to obtaining and sharing resources; and how children are involved in these processes.


Gill Main (University of Leeds) and Sorcha Mahony

Number of pages:

74 pages

Date published:


In this report we present findings from the Fair Shares and Families research project. Our aim was to better understand the ways that families go about getting and sharing resources, and how children are involved in these processes.

We know relatively little about what goes on within families, and how parents and children think and act in relation to the resources they have, want and need. Similarly, we tend to think of children as passive adjuncts to adults – that is, that their material well-being is entirely dependent on and determined by the incomes provided by their parents or carers.

Previous research challenges this, demonstrating that children in low income families are actually active in thinking about, and acting to promote, their own material well-being and that of their families. But we know less about whether and how children’s active participation relates to the socio-economic status of their household(s) and family.

Understanding more about these two issues has the potential to contribute to the development of policy approaches which are better suited to reducing child poverty and the stigma that attends it, and maximising children’s chances to enjoy happy and fulfilling lives, during and beyond childhood.

Key findings

Our findings indicate that lack of resources, rather than differences in motivations and approaches to sharing family resources, are responsible for the deprivations faced by children and families in poverty.

The differences between poorer and better-off families are in the additional tasks they adopt to negotiate life in constrained circumstances, and the things they miss out on due to a lack of resources.

These differences are important – children and families in poverty are going without the opportunities they need to thrive; but this cannot be addressed by changing the motivations of poor families, because their motivations are similar to everyone else’s. Rather interventions should increase the resources available to families and change the rhetoric surrounding poverty which questions the motivations of families in poverty.

Effects of Child Poverty

What can we do?

Change the story

Media and popular portrayals of families in poverty often rely on inaccurate and over-simplified stereotypes. These can influence how we understand poverty, and can legitimise stigmatising and punitive policies. Accurate reporting could highlight similarities in motivations between socio-economic groups, but differences in availability of resources.

Change policy 

Cuts to the services and benefits available to low income families should be reversed, coupled with further action to increase provision of resources and support for families in poverty.

Change practice

A rights-based approach focusing on increasing the accessibility of entitlements and advocating for better – and nonstigmatising – provision is indicated; interventions aimed at changing personal motivations are unlikely to be effective in poverty reduction.

If you'd like more information, read the full report or download the report summary.