News in Brief
Alan Milburn Speech and responses
The week’s big news was Alan Milburn’s speech on child poverty in his role as the Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility and Child Poverty. The speech got a lot of press coverage with a number of commentators and organisations offering their views including the IEA (which drew this response from CPAG), Barnardo’s and IPPR . Predictably, some of these attempted to focus on the issue of measurement and others advocated a new approach. A brief response came from the party who introduced the Child Poverty Bill
Employment and labour
The latest unemployment figures were released on Wednesday which made for dissapointing reading for the region. Research by the TUC suggested that it was the low paid earners who are most at risk of long term unemployment and the North East has the lowest average earnings in England. Neil O’Brien highlighted the fact that the UK has more children living in workless households than anywhere else in Europe and Alan Milburn suggested that applicants ‘social class’ should be recorded to ‘shine a light’ on mobility, although presumably everyone would tick ‘middle class’? No? In news that wasn’t as widely reported, a business man from Bristol said “I don’t accept that in a country as civilised as the United Kingdom we have to have poverty, that we have to have unemployment” and wants Bristol to be the first city in the UK that ‘does away with poverty.’
The Resolution Foundation released a report at the start of the week highlighting the potential economic benefit of providing free universal childcare to increase female employment. The report raised a number of important issues, especially around the quality of part time jobs and the flexibility required for employees with caring responsibilities but the quality of childcare on offer was not mentioned. Affordable – even free – childcare will not encourage mums back into the workplace if it is not of a sufficient quality. I also thought the report raises an important question of how we see ‘stay at home’ mums as possible ‘solutions’ to poverty and low-income. Are stay at home mothers best viewed as a wasted economic resource – an ‘opportunity for growth we can’t afford to pass up’? And should the government facilitate them returning to work or should the government facilitate them staying at home to act as the primary care-giver to their children?
Cuts to disabled children’s allowances were agreed in the House of Lords this week – more detailed and useful information can be found from the Family Action website. Westminster Council announced the idea of ‘civic contracts’ to qualify for social housing and other benefits whilst, in a potential reform not yet proposed by the Coalition, some researchers suggested that the top rate of tax could be as high as 83% before it had an adverse impact on a country’s economic growth.
News that the Pupil Premium will be extended to all pupils who have registered for Free School Meals over the last 6 years was announced this week. Two teachers union reps offered different perspectives on the news with one calling it “just a redistribution of a shrinking pot of resources to England’s schools”
The Resolution Foundation published research measuring the school readiness of children on low to middle incomes, showing that it isn’t just the poorest children who are ‘behind’ children from higher income families in terms of vocabulary skills.
In a speech on Thursday, David Cameron set about tackling the ‘responsibility deficit’ by announcing around £450 million to work with ‘problem families’ and a programme involving ‘troubleshooters’. You can watch the speech here. Earlier in the week Eric Pickles used the opportunity to suggest that “Worklessness has been passed down from generation to generation” and that a small ‘hardcore’ of families cost the ‘taxpayer about £9 billion per year. One police blogger suggested that ‘it’s a lifestyle choice’ and a ‘gravy train’ and, by late Thursday, questions had begun to emerge about the funding for the project, with Factcheck from Channel 4 also questioning the figures involved and The Telgraph likening his speech to one made by Tony Blair five years earlier
An interesting article from Gary Younge on the rise of poverty in America – ‘Land of the free, home of the hungry’
In other news this week, Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group wrote two articles about the current situation facing poor families and the two separate narratives on child poverty within the government, Zoe Williams discussed the link between poverty and obesity and Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of Joseph Rowntree Foundation, argued that poverty shouldn’t be a fact of life in the UK.
Graphic of the week
Income Threshold Approach – with all of the discussions about the best or most appropriate measures of poverty, this interactive tool form the Poverty and Social Exclusion team is as good a way as I’ve seen of explaining the merits of the 60% median income level as a measure.
Signpost of the week
The Impossible Hamster – quite difficult and probably not necessary to describe it in much detail.
Finally, this is likely to be the last round up of news this year as we won’t ba raound much next week. There may be time for one more blog about recent discussions about the need for a ‘new’ approach to child poverty and increasing levels providing ‘evidence’ that previous ‘narrow’ approaches have failed, so please check back before the end of next week.
I would, however, on behalf of the Commission, like to thank everyone for their help and support over the last year andwe look forward to working with many of you in the coming twelve months.
We wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.