Monthly Archives: August 2012

Lacking the necessaries of life…..

A couple of weeks ago Jeremy Cripps, the Chief Executive of Children North East wrote a powerful blog about how funding cuts passed from central government to the local authority and then to his charity meant that they were unable to afford to provide a meal for some children in temporary accommodation over the summer holidays that they work with. Jeremy wrote:

here we have a Government without the humanity to care for very vulnerable people until they are deported by giving them even a minimal amount of money to feed their children; a local authority providing shelter for those families but forced to cut back on its spending by the Government; passing that cut on to a  charity which too has to economise; the buck passes to the charity’s staff who cannot stand by and do nothing while in daily contact with children in basic  need of food; so they take it upon themselves to make sure children do not go hungry. This is the reality of the so-called ‘Big Society’ in ‘austerity  Britain’.

This story was picked up by the Guardian Cuts Blog which ran it under the headline ‘who pays for lunch when the state does a runner?’ and another similar story was posted earlier today

Earlier this year, as part of a blogging day during Volunteers Week, Carrie Brookes of VONNE asked readers to ‘imagine if we all stopped volunteering tomorrow’, noting that the value of unpaid care in the UK had been calculated at around £87bn. She finished her blog thus:

The fact is that much of the work undertaken by volunteers and charities saves the state a huge amount of money.  Prevention of problems such as poor health, teenage pregnancies, helping people get back into the workplace, support for homeless people, advice and guidance, drug rehabilitation, they all save the state an awful lot of money.  A lot more than the £87bn mentioned above. We cannot afford to deal with the consequences to society if that support for volunteers and activity they support is stopped. (my emphasis)

The last line of Carrie’s blog provides a flip side to a couple of polemic paragraphs from one of my favourite books, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Robert Tressell, writing in the early 1900’s suggested it would be better if we all did stop volunteering tomorrow in a section which touches on a number of issues relevant to the situation above:

Meanwhile, in spite of this and kindred (charitable) organisations, the condition of the under-paid poverty stricken and unemployed workers remained the same. Although the people who got the grocery and coal orders, the ‘Nourishment’, and the cast-off clothes and boots, were glad to have them, yet these things did far more harm than good. They humiliated, degraded and pauperized those who received them, and the existence of the societies prevented the problem being grappled with in a sane and practical manner. The people lacked the necessaries of life: necessaries of life are produced by work: these people were willing to work, but were prevented from doing so by the idiotic system of society which these ‘charitable’ people are determined to do their best to perpetuate.

If the people who expect to be praised and glorified for being charitable were never to give another farthing it would be far better for the industrious poor, because then the community as a whole would be compelled to deal with the absurd and unnecessary state of affairs that exists today – millions of people living and dying in wretchedness and poverty in an age when science and machinery have made it possible to produce such an abundance of everything that everyone might enjoy plenty and comfort. If it were not for all this so called charity the starving unemployed men all over the country would demand to be allowed to work and produce the things they are perishing for want of, instead of being – as they are now – content to wear their masters’ cast-off clothing and to eat the crumbs that fall from his table’ (my emphases)

It is, of course, very obvious that the state can afford to provide funding for these families. Central government can also afford not to cut funding to local authorities. Local authorities can also afford not to cut their grant to charities by 10%. The fact is they choose not to do these things, choosing instead to spend money on other things or choosing not to increase the amount of money at their disposal, leaving Jeremy and his staff with little choice but to dip into their own pockets. John Veit-Wilson, in his ‘Horses for Discourses’ paper makes this point better than anyone:

Ensuring that all the members of society, residents in or citizens of a nation state, have enough money is a clear role which governments can adopt or reject, but they cannot deny they have the ultimate power over net income distribution.

I don’t necessarily agree with Tressell’s proposal or his representation of charitable organisations (which were very different when he was writing), but I do agree with his analysis of the system of society. How can we call ourselves civilized when we deliberately and knowingly let families live without, as Tressell puts it, ‘the necessaries of life’ when the world has never been richer? At what point will we stop and realise that we have accumulated enough ‘stuff’ and wealth’ and sit down and work out how to divide it up better?

Thoughts, as ever, are welcome……

Steve

ps – in the interest of full disclosure, I’m running the Great North Run this year and am raising money for Children North East. Feel free to donate here


Surviving or Thriving case study: Gateshead Community Network

Guest post by Amanda Hannen (VONNE)

Gateshead Community Network (GCN) supports local people to have a voice in the planning, delivery and decision making of all services for the public. It is open to all residents of Gateshead and to voluntary and community sector groups who want to have an influence on the decisions that affect them and their communities.

Following a 20% cut in funding from Gateshead Council, Gateshead Community Network is restricted in its ability to deliver the Junior Network, which engages children and young people in decision making.

In the past, the Junior Network has worked with primary schools throughout Gateshead, running conferences around themes linked to Gateshead Strategic Partnership’s Vision 2030 – The Sustainable Community Strategy for Gateshead. Through these conferences and events, young people get to learn about what the council and its partners are doing and to feed in their views. Mark Shilcock, a Community Development Officer at the Gateshead Community Network, said:

“One of our previous conferences focused on democracy. We held a ‘Question Time’ style debate where councillors addressed questions posed by the young people. Afterwards, the councillors said it was the hardest question and answer session they’d ever had!”

In the past, the Junior Network has influenced policy to reflect the needs of children and young people in Gateshead.

“We surveyed 5-11 year olds in primary schools on internet access. Within 7 days we received over 700 responses back.  These were used by the Local Authority in their Young People’s Plan.  Because we’ve got the connections and the regular contact with the schools it’s something we can do quickly and effectively.  Without a fully-functioning Junior Network, this will be much more difficult to achieve.”

The added value of the Junior Network is that the teachers who attend the conferences with the young people also gain from sharing experiences and knowledge with colleagues in other part so the borough.

Whilst Gateshead Community Network are exploring ways of providing a limited Junior Network over the coming months, they believe that further funding is needed to provide full opportunities for the young people to participate and to provide meaningful engagement in decision making locally.

Amanda Hannen

VONNE


CPAG Guest post: The death of the social fund?

Guest post by Rys Farthing

One of the many welfare reforms currently underway is the localisation of the social fund. Currently administered by the DWP, the discretionary elements of the social fund are being devolved to local authorities, who will each need to develop and implement their own localised replacement schemes by April 2013.

 However, the funding made available to each local authority to develop a localised replacement scheme represents a significant reduction in the funding that was previously provided to households in each region. Based on a sample of 12 Local Authorities who shared the details of their settlement with CPAG, the average reduction in funding for the social fund replacement schemes in 2013/14 compared to the funding for the nationally administered Social Fund in 2011/12 is 13.9%, rising to 15.6% in 2014/15.(1) However there was significant variation across regions, with some regions indicative settlements being 5.8% lower in 2011/12 than 2013/14, spanning up to a massive 20.4% lower.

The percentage reduction in “social fund scheme” spends between 2011/12 and 2013/14 and 2014/15 across 11 different Local Authorities.

These reductions continue a recent trend in reducing support available for the social fund. Reforms introduced in 2011 meant that Crisis Loans were no longer available for items such as beds and cookers (exceptions were allowable for disasters such as after a flood); the rate of living expenses was reduced from 75% to 60%, and a cap of three loans per year was introduced. These were significant changes in themselves and already represent a reduction in the support that was available to households for many years previous. If you compared the reductions indicated in the settlement letters with the amount of help available in each region in 2010/11 (before this first round of reforms were introduced), the localisation of the scheme represents an even more significant cut. For example in one local authority, comparing the indicative settlement for 2013/14 with the actual 2010/11 spend highlighted a 41.6% reduction (2). The social fund was already under pressure before its localisation.

 While Local Authorities received around 20% on top for administration (which simply reflected the costs of administering the scheme at a national level), many authorities CPAG spoke to were worried that this amount, combined with start up grants as low as £4,000, would not adequately cover the costs of developing and implementing an entirely new scheme by April 2013. Some felt that they would need to dip into programme funding during the first year to cover these costs – further increasing pressure on the funding available to develop a localised scheme.

 On top of these pressures on the scheme, settlements to authorities are not ring-fenced. At a time when councils are feeling the strain of overall budget cuts and attempting to localise council tax benefit cuts fairly, pressure on any localised scheme is going to be intense. So intense that many authorities we spoke to are worried that even referring to their schemes as “social fund replacement schemes” will set claimants expectations too high. One of the core messages authorities wanted to send to central government was to stop saying the social fund was localising and to start saying it was being abolished to help them manage expectations. As one local authority officer recently said to us, ‘The social fund is not being localised, the social fund is dead’.

 CPAG is opposed to the government’s plans to abolish the social fund and leave councils to fill the gap with fewer funds. The death of the social fund is risking the wellbeing of children and families and could potentially leave them with nowhere to go to meet exceptional needs, for example when they have no cooker to feed their children or bed for them to sleep in. Ministers will need to be ready to intervene in the eventuality that local authorities are unable to meet the need.

Rys Farthing

Senior Policy Officer, CPAG 

CPAG has produced two reports about the social fund:

How the social fund can be delivered at a local level in London and the Localisation of the social fund – and note for and from practitioners (England)

(1). Calculated by comparing the indicative settlement figures provided to Local Authorities by DWP to data about Social Fund spends in regions for April-Sept 2011/12 which have been doubled out, to estimate a full year spend. OBR CPI predictions used to keep calculations real to 2011/12 value.

(2). Compared to a 13.6% reduction between 2011/12 and 2013/14 in the same Local Authority.


Surviving or Thriving case study: The Junction

Guest post by Amanda Hannen (VONNE)

Tees Valley has some of the most deprived areas in the country. The Junction is providing more and more support to children and young people in Tees Valley as they face increasing economic and social pressures and the children they work with are coming forward with issues at a much younger age.

On one contract The Junction has lost 50% of its funding from the Local Authority and yet is working hard, creatively and successfully to meet the increased demand for their services, seeing up to 300 children and young people a month.

The Junction strives to make a positive difference to the lives of disadvantaged children, young people and families in the Tees Valley. The organisation prides itself in being somewhere that children, young people and their families feel able to approach for support when they need it.

The Junction believes the key to success is building positive relationships over time, which requires sustainable funding and continuity of provision.  Talking about the value of their work, Chief Executive Lawrence McAnnelly states:

“One young women is 17 and we’ve worked with her over a period of 8 years, that’s half her life.  When you hear this it starts to sink home that it’s more than just a contract for 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, the commitment has been for half that girl’s life, we’ve been one of the constants in what has been a complex and challenging life.

The Junction are responding to the funding cuts by working hard to demonstrate the difference they make, by being competitive and working in partnership with other organisations locally to provide the best service possible. However, funding is required to continue to deliver such a vital service.

Part of competition is essentially to drive up quality and drive down price and I see that, I recognise it’s a major part of our society but we’ve got to get the balance right.  I think for young people there is a massive danger that we just leave them behind, particularly in the North East.  I do worry that we’re going to get lots of children and young people that just get lost and their futures will be severely prohibited.

We’ve seen an increase in demand for services but I’m guarded because we’re now recording this much, much better than we’ve ever done before. For instance, our figures for last year talk about 145 young people per month, now it’s more like 250-290 per month. There are two things, we’re collecting the data better and there’s an increase in demand for services.

I think the pressures on young people are increasing– it feels like we’re going back 20 years in terms of what’s potentially happening around unemployment, complex issues they’re facing, of lack of services etc. I think it’s bubbling, I think some of the lack of services will hit home at some point in time. I do worry about the generation now planning for their future, I worry that young people may just almost give up or settle for less.

Recently we went down to London to collect an award for a film some of the young carers had made. Afterwards we walked down Pall Mall and Buckingham Palace and I realised actually, there are more affluent places than Grangetown and Southbank in Redcar. There’s no Poundland down the Pall Mall’. It’s really sad that a man of my age needs to do that to think – it hits home that things aren’t equal by any stretch of the imagination and it feels very, very much like there’s a high degree of inequality and that we’re used to dealing with people at the bottom end or towards the bottom end of that.”

Karl a young carer and volunteer at The Junction – the photo above is as he receives a Young Leader Award at the North East VCS Awards Ceremony 2011

This post forms part of a series of posts looking at how voluntary sector organisations working with children and young people in the North East are coping with austerity measures and budget cuts.


New event: Understanding welfare differently

Understanding welfare differently

Professor Paul Spicker

Friday 21st September, 9:00 – 12:00

Newcastle University Business School, 5 Barrack Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 4SE

 The cost of ‘out of work’ benefits is out of control, the benefits system in this country ‘traps’ people in poverty and welfare dependency is, for many people, a ‘lifestyle choice‘.

Or so many politicians would have us believe.

At this event, Professor Paul Spicker  (Grampian Chair of Public Policy at the Robert Gordon University and the Director of the Centre for Public Policy and Management) will provide an alternative perspective of our welfare system, exploring how it is understood and, very often, misunderstood. The event will also look at the purpose of welfare and the current policy direction in relation to the welfare reforms that are being implemented.

If you would like to book a place at this event, pleas register at http://understandingwelfaredifferently.eventbrite.co.uk/

This event is being co-hosted by the North East Child Poverty Commission and Newcastle University Business School. We expect interest to be high for this event and places are limited. If you have any questions about the event, please contact Stephen Crossley on (0191) 334 9107 or e-mail at s.j.crossley@durham.ac.uk

You can also see Paul’s excellent Social Policy blog here


Every Child in Need

Guest post by Professor Kathryn Hollingsworth

In June, the Department of Education launched a consultation to amend the legal framework that protects children in need.  The proposals came out of The Munro Review of Child Protection, which was part of the Government’s response to the death of Peter Connelly (Baby P) in Haringey in 2007.  However, although the Munro report was supposed to be concerned only with child protection – that is, children at risk of harm – recommendations were also made to change the assessment process for children in need.  The category of child in need is much wider than that of children at risk: it covers all disabled children, and can also include trafficked children, unaccompanied asylum seekers and other vulnerable children facing difficulties such as parental neglect, street homelessness, and mental health problems.

The effect of the proposals, should they be introduced, will be to cut down the statutory guidance for child in need assessments.  This is described as ‘red-tape reduction’ by the Government but it is much more than that – it will remove the requirement that a child in need assessment result in a ‘realistic plan of action’, and will abolish the existing time limits placed on local authorities to carry out child in need assessments (currently, an initial assessment must be carried out in 7 days and a full assessment in 35).  These are not technical legal issues; they are key procedural protections for vulnerable children to secure from local authorities the support needed to protect their welfare.

The issue of rising numbers of children being taken into care in the North East has featured in several articles recently in The Journal Newspaper. Three of these articles can be found here, here and here. In response to a letter from North East local authorities raising these concerns, Tim Loughton, the Children’s Minister responded by stating that “It is for local authorities to manage increases and decreases in demand from within their own budgets, and we have no plans to introduce contingency funds to manage the current pressures you describe.”

Under the new proposals, one of the ways that local authorities could attempt to manage the ‘increases and decreases in demand’ would be to spend less time on assessment if there is no requirement that any action be ‘realistic’. Similarly, with no time limit in place for carrying out a child in need assessment, local authorities could potentially not assess cases until they experience a ‘decrease in demand’, however long that may be.

The government’s own risk assessment recognises this potential and states that “there is a risk of negative impact on children if central government is less prescriptive.” As the Every Child in Need wbsite states, this is a risk we shouldn’t be taking.

What can you do?

A group of concerned lawyers and children’s rights organisations have established the Every Child in Need Campaign to try to stop these proposals.  More information about the proposals and about what action you can take if you agree with our concerns can be found on the Campaign’s informative website http://www.everychildinneed.org.uk/

There is also an e-petition that people can sign here.

Please get involved with this campaign if you can and, if anyone would like to discuss it further, please feel free to contact me at kathryn.hollingsworth@ncl.ac.uk

Professor Kathryn Hollingsworth

Newcastle Law School


What we’re up to…..

We’ve added some new information on the About Us page of this blog which provides a bit more detail on the range of projects that the North East Child Poverty Commission is involved with in the region.

The Commission first met on 8th June 2011 and since then we’ve been involved with a variety of different pieces of work including helping local authorities prepare their Child Poverty Needs Assessments and Strategies, supporting Children North East with their photography project and conference, working with a local councillor to prepare a report on child poverty for the EU Committee of the Regions and securing funding to continue the project beyond March 2012.

Currently, and despite the resources available to the Commission being reduced from last year, we are still involved with numerous different projects that we hope will help to improve the lives of children in the North East and help to end child poverty in the region. Below are some of these projects:

Working for North East Families – Around 60% of children growing up in poverty live in a household where at least one adult works. Work does not always offer a route out of poverty and, when it does, it is often on an insecure and precarious basis. Employment practices and ‘Terms and Conditions’ can all have a bearing on whether or not wrok really does offer a genuine, lasting route out of poverty. Together with partners, the Commission is developing a 3 year project looking to engage with employers in the region to make them aware of the role that they can play in ending child poverty as well as the benefits that it can bring to them, both in the short term and the long term. For more information on this project, please visit the Working for North East families page on this blog.

Poverty proofing the school day – Children North East are working with the Commission to develop a toolkit to help schools to ‘poverty proof’ the school day, from a child’s perspective. This work will include working with children, staff and governors from four schools in the North East to explore how policy and practice within these schools can inadvertently add to the marginalisation and stigmatisation of children living in poverty. This work has developed as a result of the Children North East photography project and exhibition last year and is funded by the Policy and Representation Partnership at VONNE. A copy of the project proposal can be found here

Child Poverty and Education – the Commission are developing a training session for school governors in the region on the links between child poverty and educational attainment and how the Pupil Premium and other resources might be used to help raise the attainment of children living in poverty. This work has developed following discussions with teachers and child poverty leads and governor services within local authorities. Nine authorities in the North East are taking part in the pilot programme.

Regional Seminar Series – the Commission organises and hosts seminars on topics related to child poverty on a regular basis. The aim of these events is to share research findings with policy makers and practitioners in the region. Topics explored so far have included low income families use of brands, maternal deprivation, potential uses of the Pupil Premium and how government discovered early childhood. Future topics include Understanding welfare differently (with Paul Spicker), Poverty & Ethnicity (with JRF and Gary Craig) and the Living Wage (with the Living Wage Foundation). You can be kept up to date with these events by joining our mailing list here

North East Child Poverty Policy Network –as well as supporting the work of the Commission, the regional child poverty co-ordinator also supports a child poverty policy network for local authority leads and voluntary sector officers working on child poverty. This group meets bi-monthly and discusses issues of common concern and policy developments. Officers from Child Poverty Action Group and the Child Poverty Unit regularly attend the network as well. As well as meeting formally as a group, the co-ordinator also supports local authorities with individual requests and advice and support. We have also developed strong links with CPAG and JRF which ensures that the work of these organisations-  and others – are shared with a wide audience in the NorthEast.

‘Local authorities, lcoal duties & local action’ – a report has just been completed that explores how local authorities in the North East have fulfilled their ‘local duties’ under the Child Poverty Act which requires them, along with their partners, to publish a Child Poverty Needs Assessment and a Child Poverty Strategy. The report looks at emerging themes within the region from these documents and highlights some potential policy options that local authorities could pursue. The report will be posted on our blog when it is published.

Awareness raising – the Commission also raise awareness of the issue of child poverty in the region through our own communications (the blog, the e-newsletter, Twitter, regional events etc) and those of other partner organisations such as VONNE, the Regional Youth Work Unit and the regional Children England network. The co-ordinator often responds to requests for comment and information on local media stories relating to child poverty.

If you’d like any further information on any of these projects, please feel free to get in touch with us.

Best wishes,

Steve


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