Today, the End Child Poverty campaign published their Child Poverty map of the UK and it contained some fairly depressing reading for people across the country, but especially here in the North East. The region was identified as the one place where the ‘situation has deteriorated. We have four local authority areas (Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool & South Tyneside) all in the top 20 local authorities nationally and all showing an increase from last years figures, the ONLY areas (with the exception of Strabane) in the top 20 to do so.
There was, predictably, lots of reaction to this and the issue received a lot of press coverage in local newspapers, (one- The Journal – stated that the North East ‘needed help’ after the publication of the figures) on local radio and on local and regional television, with many people asking why the region was faring so badly. On the same day, employment figures released suggested that the numbers of jobs created in the region was cause for celebration – and it is, in part. I can’t do better than this excellent blog by Alex Snowdon in The Guardian last week about why the North East is still struggling – we have been hit particularly hard by the recession and by local authority cuts and our recovery has been slower than some other regions.
The End Child Poverty report suggested that ‘there are three key areas in which Local Authorities should take action on child poverty:
1) Protect families with children in decisisons about local benefits
2) Ensure that in England they are meeting their duties under the Child Poverty Act to publish a child poverty strategy
3) Ensure that child poverty is a priority for health and wellbeing boards in England
I’m not entirely sure how much difference the ‘publishing’ of a strategy can or will make, although I do understand that it is important for the issue of child poverty to be taken seriously by local authorities. We highlighted in a report exploring the approaches of the 12 local authorities in the region that the establishment of Health & Wellbeing Boards was an excellent opportunity to prioritise the health of children and young people. In October of last year, at the launch event of the report, we highlighted three similar ‘small steps’ that local authorities could do to improve their efforts to tackle child poverty. These were:
1). Use – and add to – the evidence base
2) Examine institutional behaviour – ‘do no harm’
3) Give people living in poverty a voice.
So, where do we go from here? If poverty is the result of political and economic decissions (and I, along with the North East Child Poverty Commission, believe it is) then it can be tackled using political and economic decisions. So, employers in the region can pay a Living Wage. And politicians in the region can – and should – do absolutely everything they can to reverse the impact of decisions that are currently being taken in Westminster. And in many cases they are trying to do this. Members of the public – as well as public institutions and media companies – can also ensure that they do add to the stigma or marginalisation of people living in poverty by resorting to cheap stereotypes. But we can always do more, as today’s report shows.
Regular readers will know that I like a good quote to end with, generally because other people are more articulate and eloquent than I am so, with politicians (local, regional and national) in mind, here are three which seem quite appropriate tonight:
“The real challenge is to look at, and change as necessary, the whole of local authority activity, in direct relation to the needs of the community it is there to serve. With a focus on the community – both the individual and collective needs – it is logical to respond in an integrated (corporate) way … rather than responding in a piecemeal way.” (Local Government Anti Poverty Unit)
“Today’s politicians insistence on massive and rapid reductions in public spending will not be able to claim ignorance about the likely impact of their decisisons…. No scientific or technological breakthroughs are needed to deal with any of the deprivations or domains of poverty … What is lacking (as it has always been) is the necessary political will to prioritise children’s needs and to choose to spend the resources required” (pp 569-570 Minujin, A. & Nandy, S. 2012, Global Child Poverty & Well-being, Bristol: Poverty Press)
“Any political program that fails to take full advantage of the possibilities for action (minimal though they may be) … can be considered guilty of nonassistance to a person in danger” (p629 Bourdieu, P. et al, 1999, The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society, Cambridge: Polity)