As of next week, I will become one of the 6 million people ‘under-employed’ in the UK, the group of people that is not working as much as they would like to. This post provides a bit of background to how this came about and also provides a brief update on what these arrangements mean for the North East Child Poverty Commisison.
The funding for my post for the current financial year came from the Regional Improvement and Efficiency Partnership (RIEP) in the North East. This was funding provided by the last government to improve partnership working and efficiency between public sector bodies in each of the old Government Office regions. The funding, which was coming to an end anyway, was not continued by the Coalition Goverment, which was not unexpected given their preference for localism over regionalism.
The Commission has been successful in securing funding to continue the post of a regional coordinator for child poverty work in the North East and this has come from two sources. The Association of North East Councils has provided funding to continue core work supporting the Commission and associated policy work. This includes a regional policy network which supports local authority and voluntary sector officers with responsibility for child poverty work (also supported by officers from the Child Poverty Unit and CPAG) and a programme of regional seminars sharing research findings around child poverty related work. These events have facilitated discussions around the Pupil Premium, the role of aspirations in educational attainment and the neglected issue of maternal poverty.
The other source of funding has been the Millfield House Foundation, a local grant making body with a reputation for supporting ‘initiatives which tackle poverty, disadvantage and exclusion, and promote social and economic change, in the North East of England’. This funding will be used to develop a project looking at the role of employers in the North East and exploring ways that they can help to ensure that work always does offer a route out of poverty.
Further funding is still being sought to develop a project which will challenge public attitudes towards poverty in the region and which will attempt to tackle some of the misconceptions about the causes of poverty. This will hopefully involve some campaigning work and an extension of the social media work we are currently developing.
The Commission is a very new project, it is not a registered charity and does not deliver services directly to children and families living in poverty. Funding for many organisations is extemely tight at the moment and it is perhaps understandable that many funders and grant making bodies choose to focus on well established projects that make an immediate difference to people’s lives and do not deal in the grey area of ‘policy influence’ or ‘knowledge transfer’. Millfield House, therefore, deserve credit for being prepared to take a slight risk in funding the work of the Commission and this is in-line with their emphasis ‘on tackling the causes of poverty and other social ills rather than alleviating the symptoms’.
On a personal level, I feel like I’m now a bona fide member of the squeezed middle (if such a thing exists) which is interesting (to me at least) as this is are a group that I have previously not given much thought to. I have written before that a focus on the squeezed middle distracts attention from those at both the top and bottom of our society and my new personal circumstances have done little to alter this view. I appreciate that each individuals or families circumstances will be different but I feel that people who may find themselves in a position similar to mine have a lot more things they can cut back on to save money than someone with a income around the 60% threshold. We are able to exercise far more choice than others on a lower income may be able to do.
As members of the squeezed middle, we can save money through requiring less childcare, we can cut back on car journeys, we can choose to shop in different supermarkets, we can choose to take a cheaper – or shorter – holiday and we can eat out less. In other words, our finances are being gently squeezed, but we’re not exactly being throttled.