2 September 2013

I have written about child poverty in Cornwall and elsewhere several times. Last year’s blog post Child poverty still with us explores the issue and my thoughts. It is hard to crack, calling for sustained political will. It worsened significantly under the Tory governments after 1979; the last Labour government did commendably much but in the end not enough. It is depressing that the current Tory Libdem government has chosen to try in part to redefine the problem away, to play the Samaritan without the oil and tuppence as it were.

Child poverty now worsening
Things are not getting better for children in poverty. The Tory Libdem assault on social security has reduced the income of the poor. There have been cuts to housing benefit, unaffordable affordable rents, bedroom tax, council tax to be paid by those who cannot, a VAT increase, wages frozen or kept below inflation as prices rise: a litany of misery and pauperisation visited deliberately on the poor and vulnerable and on their children. The Institute for fiscal studies (IFS) forecasts that the number of children in poverty will significantly rise over this decade because of government policies.

In Cornwall
There has been a noticeable increase over the last year in customers at foodbanks, including in Cornwall. The child poverty statistics published last year by End child poverty are grim. As ever, Cornwall is various but the six unitary ward in Cornwall with the largest proportion of children in poverty are Falmouth Penwerris with 36 percent, and then Troon and Beacon, Penzance Central, Penzance East, Redruth North, and Camborne West with 29. In some subwards the figures are even higher.

Cornwall Council has made child poverty data for subwards (ONS lower layer output areas) for August 2010 accessible with its neighbourhood profiles maps. Each subward has about 1500 people. The proportion of children in poverty in for example Camborne Pengegon, Penzance Treneer, and Bodmin Kinsman Estate are disturbingly high.

Living wage
Nationally, three fifths of children in poverty live in homes where at least one parent or carer works. There is a related issue of low pay. The living wage is a matter of decent pay for workers but also of enough money for families to live on.

Greater expectations
Now along comes Greater expectations, a report from the National Childrens Bureau which compares its Born to fail? report of 1969 with today. It tells a disappointing history but offers practical improving recommendations.

On progress since the first report it says that by and large the inequalities of 1969 are still with us (page 1). It looks in detail at inequalities in education, housing, and health for example.

The report sensibly suggests that the government annual budgets should come with an assessment of its impact on child poverty and inequality from the Office for budget responsibility (OBR); that the political parties should set out in their 2015 manifestos how they would tackle child poverty; and it suggests a national benchmarks to measure child poverty against. All desirable, all doable.

Parallel communities
We must take child poverty seriously, all poverty seriously, we must take inequalities seriously. They blight people’s life chances, they rob Britain of mute inglorious Miltons in the workplace. Greater expectations rightly warns that we may become a Britain where rich and poor children live different lives in parallel communities (page 31). I fear that may be happening for adults in Britain too.

See ‘Britain 2013: children of poor families are still left behind’ in Observer 24 August 2013

Suffer the little children: Luke 18.16. Suffer in the Authorised Version of 1611 means allow, let. The Greek Luke makes this clear, aphete ta paidia; as does sinite in the Latin version.

Samaritan: ‘You find people ready enough to do the Samaritan, without the oil and tuppence’ Sydney Smith (1769-1845), Anglican priest, in Memoir of the reverend Sydney Smith, 1.261 by Saba Holland

Mute inglorious Milton: Thomas Gray (1716-71) Elegy written in a country churchyard