A report launched earlier this week suggested that it was necessary to ‘reframe the fight to end child poverty’ as there had been a failure to connect with the public about the issue. The report was titled ‘Decent Childhoods’ and suggested this as the new approach.
The idea that ‘poverty’ as a concept fails to resonate with people or generate public support is not a new one and has been covered by Joseph Rowntree Foundation in their work around attitudes to poverty. People often think that poverty is something that exists in far away places and is something which is tackled through government aid and supporting charities with fundraising appeals. Where there is acknowledgement of poverty win the UK, it is often accompanied by a lack of sympathy or understanding and a belief that the problems are largely self-inflicted or, at the very least, the fault of the parents.
Inequality and injustice has been suggested as a proxy for engaging the public in debates around poverty and there is good evidence from the British Social Attitudes survey that a large majority of people in the UK believe that the gap between the highest paid and the lowest paid is too big. Decent Childhoods (DC) recognises these issues and works to address them in the hope of provoking ‘a broader conversation’ about children and childhood. The concept of ‘Decent Childhoods’ also has links with the idea of ‘Children’s Well-being’ that has begun to emerge in recent years and which considers the experience of childhood across a number of different indicators such as housing, health, education, environment, income and crime. The Coalition Government have also heralded a ‘new approach to child poverty’ which has included introducing new non-income related measures and a focus on ‘children’s life chances’.
The DC report raises some important issues for discussion – one of which must be do we actually need to present the argument differently or do we need to get better at making the original one? Other questions, not necessarily covered by the DC report could include trying to understand the role of the media in portraying child poverty and exploring the implications of a ‘full employment’ policy on those who are not available to the labour market for whatever reason. One way of making a better connection with the wider public could be to make ‘greater use of real-life stories and the voice of people with experience of poverty’ which the DC report does acknowledge was one potential strategy for raising public awareness. Unfortunately, it was never vigourously pursued. As Jon Cruddas, quoting Oscar Romero, says in the foreword “liberation will arrive only when the poor are the masters of their own struggle for liberation.”