13 March 2014

Julia Goldsworthy, former Cornwall Libdem MP and now chosen as prospective parliamentary candidate for Camborne and Redruth, says the Libdem record in government is “a record to be proud of”. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are jointly responsible for what the government does. Here’s some of the proud Tory Libdem government record Goldsworthy hasn’t mentioned.

The Trussell Trust says that in 2013 it helped 12 115 people at its Cornwall foodbanks. In 2011 it helped 4959. An increase of 144 percent in the need for and use of foodbanks. A record to be proud of, Julia?

The Tory Libdem bedroom tax is “an immoral policy”: Andrew George, Libdem MP for St Ives, Hansard 12 November 2013 column 855. The bedroom tax. A record to be proud of, Julia?

Cuts to tax credits that top up low wages, freeze in child benefit. A record to be proud of, Julia?

Cut in income tax for those getting more than £150 000 a year. Helping the rich. A record to be proud of, Julia?

In England in 2009/10 there were 40 020 homeless households; in 2012/13 there were 53 540, an increase of 34 percent. In Cornwall the figures were 419 and 497. See live table 784 here. Increased homelessness. A record to be proud of, Julia?

Funds for affordable housing savaged. A record to be proud of, Julia?

Remploy Penzance shut down in summer 2012. Of the 33 former employees, 12 have jobs a year later. Putting the disadvantaged out of work. A record to be proud of, Julia?

Welfare benefit cuts can lead to 97 percent tax rate on the low paid: the withdrawal of council tax support and housing benefit, combined with income tax and national insurance, can see some people losing 97 pence in the pound of earnings (48th report of the Public Accounts Committee 5 March 2014, paragraph 7). A record to be proud of, Julia?

Government welfare reforms include use of food banks: Department of works and pensions is referring – er, signposting – desperate clients to food banks. See Guardian 11 March 2014.) A record to be proud of, Julia

And there’s this: si monumentum requiris, circumspice.

Goldsworthy became Libdem MP for Falmouth and Camborne in 2005. She lost the redrawn seat of Camborne and Redruth to the Tories at the 2010 general election and was appointed a special adviser to Danny Alexander, Libdem chief secretary to the Treasury (for which she was paid £74 000 a year (Prime minister statement 19 July 2011: she was unpaid initially because she had a resettlement grant after losing her seat). She has resigned as adviser on her selection as prospective parliamentary candidate for Camborne and Redruth.

I mentioned in the post on child poverty that the Liberal Democrats were reasonably saying that high water bills did not help in the work to reduce child poverty in Cornwall. They are right. I added that although the Cornwall MPs mentioned only Cornwall their argument applied throughout the south west water company area.

Now the official Liberal Democrat newsletter Devon and Cornwall Update, which covers the “Devon and Cornwall region,” has printed an almost identical account to that in Julia Goldsworthy’s and Colin Breed’s websites. Almost identical.

On their websites Breed and Goldsworthy wrote on 14 and 19 June 2007 respectively:
Cornwall’s MPs have met with DWP minister, Jim Murphy to raise the impact that the region’s high water bills are having on poverty in the county.”

The Update writes:
The region’s MPs have met the DWP minister, Jim Murphy to raise the impact that the region’s high water bills are having on poverty in the southwest.”

Identical, even down to the lack of a comma after Murphy, except for the beginning and ending – Cornwall’s/region’s, the county/the southwest.

Breed and Goldsworthy websites:
“the minister undertook to seek representations from colleagues in DEFRA and the Treasury in order to investigate what action they are taking to alleviate the financial burden that is crippling so many Cornish households.”

The Update is identical except that the last words are “so many households in the southwest” – Cornish/southwest.

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.

On Friday MPs shamefully voted for a bill that exempts them from the Freedom of Information Act. I do not believe this is only about reasonably protecting correspondence from constituents – there are other ways of doing that than this bill – but it is also about ultimately shutting off further information about their finances and those of the houses of parliament. Anything an MP writes to a minister will also be secret. The vote comes after a two-year losing resistance against releasing more detailed information about MP expenses. It is a damaging vote against transparency in administration.

One Cornwall MP voted (it was Friday when most MPs reasonably return to their constituencies for the weekend). To her vast credit Julia Goldsworthy, the Liberal Democrat MP for Falmouth and Camborne, voted against the exemption. She should be acclaimed.

Mark Fisher, a Labour MP, said the bill would bring the House of Commons into derision, contempt, and discredit.