5 August 2007

Child poverty is variously defined and I think it does not make sense to try to produce a figure for Cornwall as a whole as its incidence varies vastly from place to place in the county. Child poverty in Redruth North is not the same as in Saltash St Stephens, as we shall see. So I don’t see the point of Julia Goldsworthy, the Liberal Democrat MP for the seat which includes Redruth, the other day asking for a Cornwall figure; such a figure would not help one iota in the practical reduction of child poverty and we have better, more local figures.

Indeed, from the department for work and pensions (DWP) we also have detailed tables of the household and family characteristics for children in low-income households, though for the UK as a whole: see chapter 4 of ‘Households below average income’ here.

The Labour government has pushed hard the view that people can best work themselves out of poverty. However, ‘Monitoring poverty and social exclusion 2006’ by Guy Palmer et al for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation points out that half the children in poverty live in families where someone is working: see the ninth report of December 2006 here. The main cause seems to be low pay rates. See too the above DWP tables. Nevertheless, the government has made good progress in tackling child poverty though it is proving more difficult than imagined in a free market economy.

Liberal Democrat MPs in Cornwall have, however, reasonably been reminding the government that its attempts to reduce child poverty in the county could be frustated by high water bills. They have identified a possible additional contribution to child poverty in Cornwall – they mean parts of Cornwall – and, though they do not say so, parts of the rest of the south west water company area.

So how much child poverty is there here?

The End Child Poverty campaign has given figures for constituencies in 2005 which showed for Cornwall the proportion of children in families on out-of-work benefits ranged from 14 percent in South East Cornwall to 21 percent in Falmouth and Camborne. The average figure for Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) was also 21 percent. On another definition the campaign said in February 2005 that 25 percent of children in Cornwall lived in poverty.

Free school meals are a rough and ready way of measuring poverty and the Hansard data for them are on this blog here though they refer to Cornwall as a whole.

Above all, there is an index of child poverty: this is a part of the Indices of Multiple Deprivation. See the IDAC file here where the child poverty figures are given for 32 482 subwards in England including all of the Cornwall ones. This is much more useful information. It enables us to identify quite precisely where to target any remediation which is what the whole-county figures do not. It defines child poverty as people of less than sixteen living in income-deprived families, income deprivation being defined as in receipt of certain benefits.

What does this dated but very local child poverty index show about Cornwall? What every other measure of poverty and deprivation shows: much variety in the county. Some places in Cornwall have completely unacceptable high levels of child poverty and others do not – and many other places in England have more child poverty than anywhere in Cornwall.

Of the 32 482 subwards in the child poverty index, where the lower the figure the worse the poverty, the range in Cornwall is from part of Redruth North ward in Kerrier at number 485 to part of Saltash St Stephens ward in Caradon in at number 29 153. The Kerrier subward has sixty six percent of children aged less than sixteen who live in income-deprived families, an appalling figure, and the Caradon subward has three percent. That is a vast range. Over a third of Cornwall subwards are in the top half of the 32 482 England subwards, that is score better than the median average for England.

The Labour government has made significant inroads into child poverty and in the seven years to 2004/2005 there was a sixteen percent drop in Britain. Nevertheless very much has to be done still. The progress should be acknowledged and welcomed; a government with the large ambition to abolish child poverty should be encouraged, chided, goaded, and cheered towards its goal.

It makes no sense to talk of ‘Cornwall’ when it comes to child poverty but rather we should talk about the different parts of Cornwall and their different needs. We need to know where most help is needed. To help tackle child poverty effectively we should not focus equally on Redruth North and Saltash St Stephens. Goldsworthy’s comment that “Cornwall is unique” is profoundly unhelpful; it blurs the focus. In any case everywhere is unique, every child is unique. Let me say it again: when it comes to child poverty every child is unique wherever they live and child poverty is a scourge wherever it is found. We shall beat it primarily by national measures and resources focussing on the children and families who need help the most.

See Vorsprung 1 on this blog for particular help given to Cornwall in March 2007.

And see here for Lisa Harker’s report of November 2006 for the DWP ‘Delivering on child poverty: what would it take.’

PS 7 August 2007
Writing in today’s Guardian about effectively tackling poverty through social enterprise, David Cameron, the Tory leader, says that local authority areas are “too large to get an accurate picture of what is going on…We need a more fine-grained approach to tackle multiple deprivation at the micro-level.”

I agree entirely. The micro data is available in the index of multiple deprivation and its subsets as this post shows for child poverty. I think for measures and projects that directly and effectively tackle poverty we should drop “Cornwall” and even the districts as data-identifiers and focus on the places and people in Cornwall that need most help.

However, for economic regeneration we need “Cornwall” to qualify for EU convergence funds which reflect the EU emphasis on regions.