Category Archives: childcare

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



A change in circumstance

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.

Kind regards,


Weekly Round up 23/03/2012

Apologies for missing the weekly round-up last week but time was a bit tight and basically everyone was talking about what might happen in the Budget so we thought it might be better to leave it and let everyone talk about what did happen in the budget before posting again……

News in Brief


It’s been covered in great detail elsewhere so we won’t spend too long on the Budget here. But, JRF produced a very good briefing on what the budget meant for child poverty and IPPR looked at the impact of the budget on the North.

The Guardian asked a panel of experts, inclduing Alison Garnham, Chief Exec of CPAG. for their views and The IFS produced a good summary of the whole thing in 13 slides. The figure below is taken from the chapter on the impact on Households within the Budget document (available here), which shows that the poorest quintile of households suffered the most, with exception of the richest quintile

Regional Pay was a Budget issue that concerned people in the North East and The Journal and the Shields Gazette and the Sunderland Echo all covered this issue from a North East perspective, The Guardian suggested it could lead to regional shortages of teachers and the TUC launched a Pay Fair campaign on Twitter


JRF and Women Like Us produced a very interesting piece of work on the benefits (and challenges) of building a sustainable quality part-time recruitment marketwhile, coincidentally, Salon published a piece by Sara Robinson which suggested that 150 years of research proves that long hours at work kill profits, productivity and employees.

The TUC published their latest Employment Blackspots and the North East was , unfortunately, well represented. Middlebrough was the second hardest place to get a job with approximately 24 claimants for every vacancy and threee other Local Authorities in the North East in the top 10 for youth unemployment.

Education – pupil premium

The Guardian published some data obtained by David Lammy MP that suggested that the Pupil Premium was ending up in places where it might be hard to argue it was most needed. The Full Fact website checked out this assertion a few weeks ago….

General comment

Lots of comment this week to distract you from the Budget….

Fraser Nelson argued in The Telegraph that ‘At the heart of the Child Poverty Act lies an agenda which has arguably done more damage to Britain’s social fabric than any idea in modern history’ 

David Brady argued for a wider view of the welfare state in The Guardian, who also featured articles on ‘the working poor’ in the UK today and the supposed ‘culture of poverty’ in the US – all worth reading.

The Centre for Research on Families and Relationships published a report on Parenting on a Low Income and The Nuffield Foundation published a report exploring the role of informal childcare in the UK.

Graphics of the week

An excellent graph from the New Economics Foundation who called the the budget one ‘for the 1%’. The graph, which will get bigger if you click on it, suggests that it is not the size of our public sector debt that should be the primary concern of our nation….

Best wishes,


Weekly Round up 02/03/2012

News in Brief

Welfare Reform

The Welfare Reform Bill finally became law this week and was hailed by David Cameron with predictably robust language:

‘These reforms will change lives for the better, giving people the help they need, while backing individual responsibility so that they can escape poverty, not be trapped in it. ‘Past governments have talked about reform, while watching the benefits bill sky-rocket and generations languish on the dole and dependency. This Government is delivering it. ‘Our new law will mark the end of the culture that said a life on benefits was an acceptable alternative to work.’

A letter to The Guardian earlier in the week had pointed out that ‘over the last 40 years unemployment benefit has been cut by 50% as a proportion of average earnings, to just 10%’ and that, out of 27 EU countries, only Estonia had a higher level of poverty amongst unemployed people than the UK and the BBC reported that the welfare reforms would mean an extra 6,000 children living in poverty in Wales next year alone.

Next week sees the launch of a report to Save Child Benefit, organised by CPAG.

Childcare costs

The Daycare Trust published the findings of a survey in a report on Monday looking at the rising cost of childcare that received widespread media coverage including in The Telegraph, The Huffington Post and The Independent.

Child poverty measure

It was reported that Nick Clegg and Sarah Teather had to block plans by senior Conservatives to scrap the 60% relative poverty measure. Downing Street suggested that measuring poverty using a relative measure was ‘a narrow approach that can fail to tackle deep-seated problems’


The CIPD suggested that there was no need to cut employment rights to stimulate the labour market, in direct contrast to a claim made in The Telegraph last week and Daniel Knowles identified that low pay was as much of a problem as unemployment, also in The Telegraph. Meanwhile, David Cameron suggested that business could help ‘smash poverty’

Signpost(s) of the week

A special pullout in the New Statesman from last week, looking specifically at different approahces to tackling child poverty is now available on the Webb Memorial Trust wesbite.

A very interesting post looking at the impact of stress on parenting, especially in low-income families

An article in The Week suggested 3 ways to fix America’s child poverty problem

Graphic of the week

The DWP published figures for the cost of fraud and error earlier this month and this graphic shows the relatively small amount lost to benefit fraud (in pink in the image) in comparison to fraud elsewhere in the system. Benefit fraud accounts for approximately £1 billion out of a total of approx £21 billion, with tax evasion costing approximately £7 billion. The midweek post next week will be on the portrayal of benefit fraud and error and we may be asking for your help with some suggestions for a social marketing campaign.

Breakdown of Public Sector Fraud Loss

Best wishes,


Weekly Round up 10/02/2012

News in Brief

The impact and implications of Welfare reform have again dominated the news. The week began with a number of national disability charities warning that ‘benefits cuts are fuelling abuse of disabled people’. The Guardian also published the views of four disabled people who had experienced abuse and Ian Birrell wrote a typically strong piece claiming that disabled people were ‘at the mercy of ministers and the media’. Emma Harrison, the Chief Executive of A4E and who also heads up the Working Families Everywhere project warned the Prime Minister that the benefit cap ‘could be too crude a tool’ especially for some of the most vulnerable families

Northumberland County Council highlighted the effects of some of the reforms on their residents and highlighted how they could access help if people were affected by the changes.

Meanwhile, both the New Statesman and the Huffington Post, among others, highlighted that HMRC had written off £10.9 billion in unpaid tax last year, according to the Public Accounts Committee. Many readers will be aware that benefit fraud is estimated at around £1.5 billion per year.

The Work Programme

The Guardian produced a video looking for jobs in response to Maria Miller’s suggestion that ‘there isn’t a shortage of jobs’. Action 4 Employment, who are one of the firms delivering the Work Programme, were slammed for their ‘abysmal record’ by the Public Accounts Committee, who appear to have been quite busy this week.


The Social Market Foundation called for a ‘use now, pay later’ scheme for childcare, which received extensive coverage in the media, including this supportive article in The Telegraph. IPPR produced these two graphs showing the role of childcare in Nordic countries while The Daily Mail argued that it might ‘make more economic sense to pay families to look after their own children instead, during their early years at least’ . On Friday morning, it was reported that David Cameron, speaking at a Nordic summit, was ‘examining the idea of tax breaks for people who hire cleaning or other household services, as a way of generating extra jobs and freeing more women so they can join the workforce’


When the schools performance data was released a couple of weeks ago, we highlighted that some of the language in the accompanying press release was quite robust. The New Policy Initiative blog this week picked up on this and analysed some of the data that was released in relation to pupils eligible for Free School Meals.

An excellent couple of resources from Schools North East were also produced – a Special Update and an analysis of secondary schools by Local Authority area in the region

Also in education this week, The Guardian covered a report that suggested that a ‘quarter of children were performing poorly at school due to problems at home’, the OECD produced a report which ‘put the UK 25th out of 35 developed nations in terms of the numbers of 25 to 34-year-olds who did not stay in education up to the age of 18’, a Barnardo’s report called ‘Staying the course’ suggested that the Bursary Fund, the replacement for Educational Maintenance Allowance had been ‘disastrous’ and Channel 4 reported that child poverty was behind a ‘Breakfast Club boom’ in primary schools


The Northern Echo’s ‘Foundation for Jobs’ campaign was hailed by David Cameron as ‘a brilliant initiative’

Friday 10th February 2012 is Fuel Poverty Awareness Day

Signpost(s) of the week

The ACEVO Commission on Youth Unemployment, headed by David Miliband published their report ‘the crisis we can’t afford’ this week

An interview with an OECD analyst warned that ‘income inequalities have reached a level not seen for the past 30 years’

JRF have appointed Kate Bell as a new Child Poverty Consultant and are now sending out monthly updates. You can subscribe to these here

And here is JRF’s Chief Exec Julia Unwin arguing that the ‘welfare reform debate ignores the facts about poverty’

Northumberland County Council have set up a website looking at parenting, poverty, prevention and participation which is worth a look

Graphic of the week

Our blog post next week will be a summary of the child poverty figures for the North East from the recently produced ‘Child Poverty Map of the UK’. Here, by way of a quick taster, is the map of the region by Local Authority area.

%d bloggers like this: