Monthly Archives: November 2012

SoFI Seminar: The un-politics of child poverty?

An exploration of non-decision making in relation to child poverty 

                          Date:  16 January  2013                         

Time:4.00pm -6.00pm

Venue: Teesside University, Clarendon building, Room CL1.01

Chairman – Professor Rob MacDonald
Speaker – Stephen Crossley, Institute of Local Governance, Durham University
The Child Poverty Act (2010) contains local duties which require local authorities to produce a joint child poverty strategy for their area, in collaboration with their partners.The decision by the Coalition Government, in keeping with the decentralisation and localism agendas not to produce statutory guidance for these strategies, enabled local authorities to develop their own policy responses to producing these strategies and the Child Poverty Needs Assessments, which must accompany and inform them.
This Social Futures Institute (SoFI) seminar will explore the priorities which can be found in a number of the strategies developed by local authorities in the North East, highlighting areas of conflict with academic research and poverty theory.

Adopting a critical social policy approach and drawing on the work of Peter Townsend, Steven Lukes and Bachrach & Baratz, the session will also highlight decisions which ‘haven’t been taken’ and explore issues which are absent from central government narrative and local authority strategies, testing Matthew Crensons’ assertion that ‘the proper object of investigation is not political activity but political inactivity’.

If you would like to book a place at the event, please contact Catherine Nesbitt via email at



Perfect Storms

Guest post by Jeremy Cripps, Chief Executive, Children North East

In the weeks after storm Sandy flooded Manhattan it’s sobering to be reminded of the chaos that turbulent conditions can cause. The same goes for economic weather as meteorology. Children England, the national membership organisation for voluntary organisations working with children, young people and families, have published a report called ‘Perfect Storms’. The report models and provides case studies showing the cumulative impact of the financial crisis and subsequent austerity measures on children’s charities and their statutory partners. It describes two worrying and interrelated ‘perfect storms’ affecting the voluntary and public sectors, and those they support.

First the ‘Business Storm’ threatens the financial survival of charities – individual giving has remained static, the financial crisis reduced investment income, social enterprise income (e.g. running paid training for professionals) has fallen and the deep public sector funding cuts have increased competition for the grants made by trusts, foundations and the national lottery. Costs have risen too due to inflation, higher fuel bills and the costs involved in public fundraising.

Most importantly at the same time demand for services, both in the number of people seeking support and the severity of their problems, has increased dramatically. As a result, staff and volunteer numbers have fallen, reducing service capacity, while those remaining in post are increasingly suffering from burnout.

Second the ‘Locality Storm’ demonstrates these pressures are not isolated, they mirror and interact with pressures on local authority children’s services – both sectors are experiencing higher costs, reduced funding and increased demand.

The consequences are that local support arrangements are starting to break down, threatening the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable children, young people and families. With many services rationing the support that they provide, principally through waiting lists and raised access thresholds, and others closing altogether, people in need are being pushed towards whatever support they can find. Public sector services and contracts with charities increasingly focus on crisis support at the expense of early intervention, potentially storing up further trouble for the future.

This analysis is based on discussions with Children England member organisations all over the country. It is also a true representation of the circumstances for my organisation, Children North East. Our total income for the year 2011-2012 was 25% less than the previous year, but during the year our services reached 1,033 children, and 5,751 young people, that is 65% more than the previous year. We also worked with adults in 944 families. All this is achieved by 41 part-time, 19 full-time and 6 sessional staff and 111 volunteers.

The children, young people and families coming to or referred to us have more serious difficulties than before, for example we have noticed a marked increase in the number of young people who are self-harming, talking about or attempting suicide. Increasingly it is the norm for our staff to take responsibility to coordinate other services and professionals involved with the child, young person or family. Whilst it might be expected that trained staff take on these roles as part of ‘new ways of working’, there is a serious question to be answered about what it is reasonable to expect of volunteers in these situations.

We are seeing widening gaps in the safety net of public sector provision. For example neither local authority children’s services nor NHS child psychiatry departments have provided an effective service to families of children with behaviour problems, but as both services raise referral thresholds to limit the provision and increase waiting lists to manage demand there is nowhere for those parents to go. Some of them end up with voluntary organisations like Children North East who are not commissioned to provide that type of service but do what they can anyway driven by their charitable objectives such as relief of distress or support for the vulnerable.

In effect our services are taking the place of some of what used to be done by the public sector, but at the same time funding for our services from the public sector is declining. I do not want us to mimic public services and raise our thresholds or create waiting lists because in my opinion the role of the voluntary sector is to stop people falling through the gaps in public sector services. However it is not clear what the solution is.

Children England found their members thought the scenarios described by Perfect Storms are inevitable but unintentional, they also feel that they are deep-rooted and predate the economic downturn that started in 2008, though have been exacerbated by the recession and austerity measures. They are problems of complex systems and therefore do not have straightforward solutions. Perfect Storms concludes that solutions may be found by questioning what vulnerable children and young people actually need; the role of charities in service provision; priorities for public spending; public accountability and the ownership of risk; the future role of public services as statutory powers are devolved to local levels; and training for the voluntary sector workforce.

Jeremy Cripps

Chief Executive

Children North East

A flourishing and happy society?

I have been really impressed by the coverage that Living Wage Week has received and by some of the commitments and comments that have been made by some politicians. The Living Wage Foundation noted that at a No 10 lobby briefing on the 5th November, it was reported that a spokesman for the Prime Minister said ‘We back the idea of a Living Wage and we encourage businesses to take it up’ and Boris Johnson and the Miliband brothers, amongst others, have also spoken powerfully during the last seven days.

However, not everyone thinks it’s such a great idea. A piece in the Daily Mail called it ‘economic illiteracy’ and a very strange piece on the Spectator website claimed that a living wage was the ‘latest fad in this area of simplistic marketing slogans’ and ‘misses the point of poverty’. I wasn’t aware that poverty had a point, but I suppose, from a certain perspective, there are benefits to some people from others living in poverty.

Both articles were interesting in relation to how they framed the potential role of governments. The Spectator article, written by Ruth Porter from the IEA, suggested that the government should look at ways to reduce the cost of living in different areas of the UK and the Mail article suggested that the Minimum Wage was legislation enough and that:

The idea that somehow the minimum wage in  Britain falls short and needs to be replaced with something better is a piece of  nonsensical sophistry.
Aside from the totally false premise of its  name, which suggests the existing minimum wage does not provide a living income,  (the Living Wage) is a direct assault on the concept of free wage bargaining in a competitive  economy.

Interestingly, the Adam Smith Institute proposed raising the tax free allowance to provide a Living Wage for all, shifting the responsibility for increasing the take home pay of employees from the employer to the state, noting that the lowest paid often pay proportionately more tax than those wealthier than them.

There are, of course, lots of very good business and economic reasons why employers should pay a Living Wage, not least the reputational benefits they might enjoy but surely we shouldn’t aspire to be a society that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, one that is guilty of ‘tearing up the flowers to get at the worms’ in the words of Robert Tressell. Adam Smith himself, considered by some as the founder of free market economics, put it very well in The Wealth of Nations, when he wrote:

“Servants, labourers and workmen of different kinds, make up the far greater part of every great political society. But what improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconvenience to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged.”

The Wealth of Nations was published in 1776. Thirty years later, Robert Owen said that:

“What ideas individuals may attach to the term  “Millennium” I know not; but I know that society may be formed so as  to exist without crime, without poverty, with health greatly improved, with  little, if any misery, and with intelligence and happiness increased a hundredfold; and no obstacle whatsoever intervenes at this moment except  ignorance to prevent such a state of society from becoming universal.”

Now, nearly 200 years on from this comment, it could be argued that there hasn’t been much progress in some of the areas highlighted by Owen, at least for some people. When there are five million workers paid less than a Living Wage, millions more unemployed and yet more castigated as scroungers for being unable to work or unwilling to do because they prioritise caring for others, large inequalities in health and eduational attainment and poverty looking likely to increase, can we call ourselves a happy and flourishing society?



An idea whose time has come….

We, in the North East, are often accused of ‘lagging behind’ other regions in various ways, although I’m not entirely sure how many sleepless nights this causes in the region. One area where it would have been nice to have been leaders rather than followers, however, is in recognising the importance of paying employees a Living Wage. In case you’ve missed it, this week is Living Wage Week in the UK and the new rate of £7.45 per hour was announced by Julia Unwin, the Chief Exec of JRF, on Monday.

The Living Wage Foundation also released a list of accredited Living Wage employers which, unfortunately, did not contain any local or regionally based organisations. However, it is not all bad news (in fact there’s some very good news and reasons to be optimistic about the future pay for the lowest paid employees in the region. Here, then, are some reasons to be cheerful:

  • Scotswood Natural Community Garden in the West End of Newcastle are an accredited Living Wage employer (we believe they are the first and only organisation based in the region – although they don’t appear on the list) and, as a small charity reliant on grant funding for most of their income, they deserve praise for taking the step towards being a Living Wage employer. They have chosen to become a Living Wage employer, I understand, because it fits with their aim of promoting sustainable living.
  • Newcastle City Council have become the first public sector organisation in the region to commit to being a Living Wage employer, although they have decided not to pursue accreditation at this stage. They are also encouraging other employers in the city to also become Living age employers and one large property development company responsible for the regeneration of a large area of the city centre is exploring the financial implications of paying the Living Wage to staff in a new hotel that is planned.
  • Durham University Labour Club have started campaigning on the issue of a Living Wage to get Durham University to become a Living Wage employer. They have written an excellent blog on the subject which highlights that one of a PVC for Durham wrote in a JRF report exploring how universities could help disadvantaged communities that they can ‘also set an example to other employers by promoting good practice, such as ensuring that all employees are paid at least the Living Wage’. They have also set up a petition which will be delivered to the University and I would encourage people to sign it.
  • The Northern TUC (who have been quite busy recently with work around regional pay in the public sector) are continuing to work with a number of public sector organisations in the region to encourage them to become Living Wage employers. They are holding what is likely to be an excellent and packed event in Middlesbrough tomorrow (Friday 9th November) to discuss the reality of austerity and what poverty pay means for millions of workers across the UK.
  • This post is part of a Blog Action Day, organised in conjunction with VONNE, the umbrella body for the voluntary sector in the North East. Jo Curry, their Chief Exec, recently spoke in favour of the Living Wage at an event where the role of the institutional behaviour of organisations in producing and reproducing poverty was discussed. Carrie Brookes has written an excellent blog summarising some of the issues facing voluntary sector staff here and the issue was also discussed at the Newcastle CVS AGM earlier this week. Jeremy Cripps, the Chief Exec of Children North East is also due to publish a blog about the subject here. In other words, the voluntary sector in the region are now talking about the Living Wage and what it means for them….

So, it is rare that David Cameron and I are in agreement, but on this we are. He said that the Living Wage was ‘an idea whose time has come’ and it appears that us folk in the North East are beginning to think he may just be right.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has not felt it unnecessary to act in support of his statement since becoming Prime Minister. We, however, will extend an offer to any representatives from employers in the North East reading this blog. We, the North East Child Poverty Commission, will work with you to provide you with as much information and support as we can possibly can to demonstrate that paying a Living Wage can be a very good, sound business decision. I’m sure the Northern TUC and the Living Wage Foundation will make similar offers, if appropriate.

Kind regards,


An excellent summary of Living Wage week coverage can be found here and also using the hashtag #Livingwage on Twitter

To help kick off Living Wage week, we’re re-blogging this recent offering from Newcastle City Council who are the first local authority in the North East to commit to paying staff a Living Wage. Many thanks to the council for allowing us to re- blog the post.

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