Category Archives: services

Tackling child poverty locally – whose responsibility?

Today sees the publication of our first ‘Working Paper’ which looks at whose responsibility it is to tackle child poverty locally.

Local authorities and their partners are central to efforts to tackle poverty, and have been for many years. In the preface to South Riding, written in 1935, Winifred Holtby remarked that local government was ‘in essence the first line of defence thrown up by the community against our common enemies’ and identified poverty as the first of these enemies. In the 1990s, researchers noted that a growing number of local authorities were actively engaged in anti-poverty work with local citizens, many as part of a formal corporate strategic commitment to this’ (Alcock et al. 1999). More recently, the local duties in the Child Poverty Act (2010) have required all local authorities to co-operate with partners to reduce child poverty and to prepare a Child Poverty Needs Assessment and a Child Poverty Strategy for its area and the government at the time argued that ending child poverty was ‘everybody’s business’ . The Coalition government emphasis on localism and decentralisation led to non–statutory guidance being issued in support of the local duties and this allowed local authorities to develop child poverty work in different ways and with different approaches.

The paper draws on evidence from reviews of current child poverty work and from work in the 1980s and 1990s which explored ‘anti-poverty’ work taking place in local autorities. The working paper can be accessed by clicking the link below.

NECPC Working Paper 1

If anyone would like any more information regarding the Working Paper, please do not hesitate to contact me.

There will be more to come….

Best wishes,



Written out of the picture?


This week we launched a report exploring the role of local services in tackling poverty amongst asylum seekers and refugees.

The Poverty and Social Exclusion website very kindly offered to host a guest blog on the topic for us and so we’d like you to click here to find out more about the report and to get a copy of it. You an also get a copy by clicking directly on the image above

The report was jointly authored by the North East Child Poverty Commission and the Regional Refugee Forum North East and was funded by the Big Lottery and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Best wishes,


“Erring on the side of kindness…”


Yesterday, along with Sara Bryson from Children North East, I presented at a FUSE / ASO conference on school meals, inequality and obesity. The event was called ‘Could I have some more please, sir?’ and the focus of our presentation, which can be found by clicking the image below, was on the administration of Free School Meals (FSM) within the school environment.

Stigmatisation discrimination and the administration of FSM

The main part of the presentation focused on Sara’s work with children and young people, staff and parents from four schools in the North East as part of the ‘poverty proofing the school day’ project they are currently carrying out, with support from the North East Child Poverty Commission. This work has highlighted how children are generally very easily able to identify who receives FSM as a result of the way in which they are administered: some schools administer cash-less systems but when these break down, children receiving FSM are identified by being given a different coloured ticket to their friends who pay for their meals; some schools still collect dinner money with register at the start of the week (those receiving FSM stay in their seats while those that pay give their money to the teacher); and some schools have separate tills for FSM pupils despite having cash-less systems.

The presentation focused on the stigmatizing effect that this has on the children. These are, after all, the children of ‘scroungers’ or ‘shirkers’, the children whose parents are probably still in bed by the time school starts, still ‘sleeping off a life on benefits’. Children in receipt of FSM are easily identifiable as a result of a stigmatizing, discriminatory and divisive national policy which is often implemented in a stigmatizing, discriminatory and divisive fashion at the school level. Sara’s findings highlight the role of street-level bureaucrats as the ‘ultimate policy makers’. The work with children, involving them in the design and the carrying out of the research, has also highlighted how children are able to negotiate and resist nutritional standards in schools through the provision of alternatives, with a thriving ‘black market’ in ‘non-permitted items’ a consistent feature in secondary schools.

What is unsurprising is that this stigma is nothing new. Other presenters highlighted that the provision of FSM to certain sections of the school population pre-dates the turn of the last century and one of the slides we used in the presentation contained a quote from a study carried out by John Veit-Wilson in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1971:

‘There is no doubt that this stigma is both ascribed by widespread public values and experienced by recipients. It is bad enough to have to admit that one cannot feed one’s own children by one’s own labour – but that indignity can be kept within the family. It is worse to have to apply for public assistance in feeding them – but that indignity could perhaps be kept a secret between the family and the Local Education Authority. However, the greatest indignity is when one’s children are publicly displayed in the classroom or dining room as the children of a financial incompetent – one who cannot even earn enough to pay for their food’

And stigmatisation within public programmes has consequences. Professor Mike Miller, writing in the introduction to a book on Richard Titmuss writes:

‘Stigma threatens the person stimgatized, the programme, and the society which condones stigmatization. The stigmatized person experiences the fact of being separated from the rest of society, of being treated as someone different, marginalized, as less than others, as not worthy of the everyday exchanges and transactions that make up the community. This experience often produces a ‘spoiled identity’, a self-image which is damaged and diminished, impeding the autonomous actions of the individual.’

He goes on to argue that ‘programmes aimed at stigmatized people tend to be of low quality’ and that funding is often inadequate. We know this to be the case for FSM as many children who are living in poverty (including some who, by the DWP’s own estimates, are in the ‘deepest’ poverty) are prevented from receiving FSM as a result of the criteria which largely excludes children who have a working parent in the household. Miller argues that, in cases such as this, ‘Inhumanity becomes a social policy because it keeps the costs down.’ (p16) One might think, as Titmuss himself argued, that ‘the primary purpose of the system and the method of discrimination was, therefore deterrence (it was also an effective rationing device)’ (p153).


We ended the presentation by suggesting that the best way of addressing this situation was by providing Universal Free School Meals and Universal Breakfast Clubs. Campaigns such as the current Children’s Society ‘Fair and Square’  which aim to extend FSM to all children living in poverty run the risk of simply giving all poor children the opportunity to be singled out and stigmatized at school. Universal Free School Meal pilot projects, started by the last government, in Durham and Cornwall (with an extended FSM programme running in Newham) have suggested that the provision resulted in an increase in uptake of school meals across the board. Evidence from the qualitative case studies indicated that ‘this may be because universal provision decreases the stigma attached to taking free school meals’ (p11). There was also an increase in attainment across the board, with the largest increases being seen by children who would were previously eligible for FSM. The Impact report for the pilot project suggested that, as attendance at the schools had not been affected, ‘the increases in attainment evident in the universal pilot areas must arise as a result of improvements in productivity whilst at school’ (p9) which highlights the crucial role of food in ensuring that children are ready and able to learn.

Titmuss argued that there could be ’no answer to the problems of poverty, ethic integration, and social and educational inequalities without an infrastructure of universalist services. These are the essential foundations’ (p139) Of course, universal FSM provision would also benefit the ‘hard working families’ that the government is fond of talking about and it may also help the ‘welfare system’, which currently divides, become more binding, something which David Cameron has (sort of) expressed concern about in recent days. Universal services may also be the most efficient and cost-effective way of targeting services at those most in need. In a book entitled ‘Not Only the Poor: The Middle Classes and the Welfare State’, Goodin & Le Grand make the point that:

‘If our concern is primarily with reducing poverty and making sure everyone achieves certain minimum standards, then targeting might simply not be worth the cost. From that perspective, there would be nothing fundamentally wrong with ‘erring on the side of kindness’ and paying benefits to some people who do not strictly need them, if that is the least cost way of guaranteeing that they reach everyone who does need them.’ (pp217-218)

The philosophy of welfare : selected writings of Richard M. Titmuss, London: Allen & Unwin

Goodin, R.E. & LeGrand, J. (1987) Not Only the Poor: The Middle Classes and The Welfare State, London: Unwin Hyman

Those of you on Twitter can see some of the audience comments by searching for clicking here or searching, on Twitter, for #schoolfoodchat

We will provide a link to the FUSE website were all of the presentations can be found once they are uploaded.

We’ll also provide a link to the digital story that one of the young people involved in the project produced, exploring the entreprenurial side of food of schools.

“The first line of defence…..”

“Local government (is) in essence the first line of defence thrown up by the community against our common enemies – poverty, sickness, ignorance, isolation, mental derangement and social maladjustment”

I sometimes use the above quote from Winifred Holtby in presentations to local authorities. One local authority director appreciated the quote but stated that, at the present time, it felt like they were fighting with one arm tied behind their back. He obviously wasn’t feeling the ‘freedoms’ that central government have promised to local authorities in the name of localism and de-centralisation.

Last week, we saw evidence of what this ‘first line of defence’ could look like in the region when the Leader of Darlington Borough Council, Bill Dixon, declared that there would be no evictions in Darlington as a result of the bedroom tax’ and he warned that the tax – or spare room subsidy – was ‘in danger of destroying families’. Other local authorities across the country, including Islington and Brighton and Hove have made similar commitments and a campaign group called No Bedroom Tax NE are calling for other local authorities in the region to make similar pledges.

This may appear to be a political (or moral?) position but one could also mount a fairly strong case for adopting this position on financial grounds as well. Evicting people for arrears, especially families, is rarely a progressive or helpful stage in their lives, it isn’t cheap and it can be a fairly lengthy process, with few benefits for anyone. If the tenants evicted are made homeless, the local authority still has certain responsibilities and (re)housing people in temporary accommodation is a lot more expensive each week than the cost of an unpaid ‘spare room subsidy’. Pledging not to evict people because of arrears relating to the ‘bedroom tax’ could even be construed as an ‘efficiency saving’…..



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

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