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I came across this blog from Paul Spicker recently and he has given us permission to re-blog it here. The reason for highlighting it is quite simple, it shows that there are alternatives to some of the mainstream economic proposals currently being discussed – and ones which could potentially have a positive impact on child poverty levels.


Weekly Round up 05/02/2012

News in Brief

Welfare reform continued to dominate much of the political news during the first hald of last week as the government suffered a seventh defeat in the Lords (relating to charging separated parents to use the Child Support Agency) and the bill returned to the Commons (full text of the discussion in the House is available here), where the government chose to overturn the Lords on all 7 amendments claiming ‘financial privelege’, as Iain Duncan Smith had predicted.

In related news, Liam Byrne wrote an open letter to Nick Clegg, an e-book – ‘The dread of things to come’ was published by campaigners against the reforms, Nick Seddon accused wealthy families of ‘treating the welfare state like an ATM machine’, and Sonia Poulton wrote an incredibly powerful article in The Daily Mail which included a message from a disabled person that she had received:

“You want my Motability car? Have it. You want my DLA care component? Have it. You want my incapacity benefit? Have that too. But also have my Cerebral Palsy, my inability to vocalise my thoughts and feelings, my inability to hear yours. So, if in spite of all this you still want everything I have, then take it all and let me have your life and your freedom of choice.”

Much of the focus of welfare discussions centred around the proposed benefit cap, which Labour ‘supports in principle’ whilst also suggesting regional differences and a ‘localised cap’. Declan Gaffney called the cap a ‘confidence trick’ on his blog

The Work Programme was the theme for an interesting post on the Social Market Foundation’s website, which suggested that new government figures “show a dramatic rise in the  number of people it thinks will come onto the scheme compared to the estimates on which Work Programme contractors’ initial bids were based a year ago”

The IFS released their Green Budget this week which included some alternative proposals for removing child benefit from better-off families. It was also reported on the Working Mums website that the government may be about to introduce childcare vouchers for ‘mumpreneurs‘.


The Leader of Newcastle City Council, Nick Forbes, wrote a blog about the Council’s attempt to ‘set an example on pay’ which includes work on pay ratios and the Living Wage. Two North East newspapers also highlighted work taking palce in the region to tackle inequality: The Journal promoted the January Declaration again; and The Northen Echo launched a  Foundation for Jobs with the support of the Bishop of Durham, who guest edited the paper for a day.

General comment

An opinion piece in The Independent suggested that the government, whilst holding a hard line on those at the bottom, was making concessions for those at the top, and that ‘fairness is a bogus agenda’

Neil O’Brien asked if the ‘squeezed middle’ really existed in The Telegraph

The BBC chose to illustrate the potential impact of the benefits cap on one family, which happened to be a family of eight where the father had been jobless ofr 10 years and where the weekly shopping bill of £240 was described as ‘ Includes food and household goods, 24 cans of lager, 200 cigarettes and a large pouch of tobacco’. You can imagine the comments beneath the article….

An interesting blog on the New Start website looking at the potential impact of Localism on poverty

Signpost(s) of the week

An interview with Tony Stoller, the new Chair of Joseph Rowntree Foundation

What have we learnt from a century of anti-poverty policies? The Smith Institute has tried to find out…

Graphic of the week

The IFS produced a graph which shows where the cuts to local government spending will hit, with London and the North East faring worst in terms of cash and percentage cuts.

Kind regards,


Aspirations! Are they a barrier to educational attainment?

‘The real tragedy of the poor is the poverty of their aspirations’

Adam Smith

(Image produced by Ros Asquith and taken from The Guardian on o3/05/20111 –

A couple of weeks ago we held an event looking at the role of aspirations in educational attainment. Professor Liz Todd from Newcastle University discussed some of the policy assumptions around this area and touched on some findings from her forthcoming research with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. This post will, hopefully, provide attendees and others an opportunity to comment on this area of work.

Liz’s work and other reports from JRF challenge a lot of the assumptions that ‘raising aspirations’ – mainly amongst young people from disadvantaged backgrounds – can lead to an increase in attainment. There is remarkably little evidence that such an approach is likely to succeed or, indeed, that poorer families have lower aspirations than more affluent families.

And yet, this lack of evidence does not stop newspaper articles like this one in The Telegraph, policy initiatives such as this one from the previous government highlighted in The Guardian under the headline ‘Government plan to raise aspirations of millions of children’ or political speeches like this one from Andy Burnham which include the lines:

All across England, you can hear the sound of falling aspiration. And it’s terrifying. Tony Blair said his priorities were education, education, education. And because of what he did we can now go further: aspiration, aspiration, aspiration.

A separate JRF report on achievement and aspirations by Goodman & Gregg found that:

The evidence on school and local-based interventions to improve young people’s social and emotional skills, behaviour, and participation in positive activities needs to be strengthened. In particular, there is very little evidence on whether these eventually lead to improved school attainment

Liz asked during her presentation ‘what do we mean by aspirations?’ and a recent study by researchers at Leeds University suggested that aspirations amongst parents from different backgrounds were not necessarily linear (low-high) but that they were qualitatively different. They suggest that different parents attach greater or lesser importance to the role of formal education in their child’s development and this was dependent on many factors. A number of parents wanted their children to be safe, to be happy or to know the difference between right and wrong, whereas other parents talked about their children’s development in more academic and educational terms

Many working-class parents were strongly exercised by their children’s formal education, saw it as necessary to a good start in life, and manifested a strategic orientation towards their children’s educational success. Other working-class parents manifested a more limited sense of efficacy in influencing their children’s educational future. This was more typically associated with greatest disadvantage, although a range of factors were evident, and disadvantage in itself did not undermine hopeful action in respect of education.

Liz also asked, with the aid of Charlie Brooker (bad language and extreme cynicism warning) at one point what kind of education system we wanted and what kind of society we wanted to live in. Another research project, looking at white middle class parents (typically those characterised as having ‘high aspirations’)who sent their children to urban ethnically diverse schools  found that:

These (pro-welfare, left-leaning) parents are also playing the educational market and capitalising on educational investments. Whilst most would claim they want a good education for all children, their actual social practices in the educational arena are still primarily about competition and trying to generate a greater profit than other parents. This paucity of aspiration comes as something of a surprise. The irony here is that it has traditionally been the white working-classes who have been judged for a paucity of aspirations: perhaps it is just that the circumscribed range of aspirations differs for different classes

So, what do you think – and how do we begin to change the tone of the discussions around aspirations? Can we get policy makers and politicians to start talking about ‘realising aspirations’ or, as Liz suggested ‘keeping aspirations on track’? Or do you have any unanswered questions regarding what you heard at the event or what you have just read above?

Kind regards,


Liz’s forthcoming work with JRF is likely to be published in March or April, along with another report exploring evidence around the role of  aspirations in educational attainment. JRF recently published a report called ‘The influence of parents, places and poverty on educational attitudes and aspirations’ and also have a wide ranging area of work looking at the links between education and poverty that can be found here:

If you would like a copy of the presentation that Liz gave at the event, please contact me at

A very timely and informative post from Ben Baumberg on the ‘Inequalities’ Blog which he has kindly given us permission to ‘re-blog’. If you’d like to read the full post, click on the hyper-link at the top of the post. Just to be clear – the post wasn’t written by me, although the format may give that impression at the top of the page


A quick research-based post today (following by a similarly quick research-based post tomorrow). As I’ve said before, the Resolution Foundation are the UK think-tank to watch – their work is research-heavy, politically-potent, and is setting the agenda about declining living standards. But it’s a graph about the benefits system that recently caught my eye.

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Weekly Round up 27/01/2012

News in Brief

Welfare reform

The Welfare Reform Bill has continued to dominate the headlines over the past couple of weeks and it is almost impossible to provide a full summary of that coverage here. So  I won’t try to. The Guardian’s coverage has been very comprehensive – including, as ever, their letters section – and the hashtag #wrb on Twitter is also very useful. What I will attempt to do here is highlight some stories or angles that haven’t received as much coverage and provide a summary of some of the different elements that have been discussed. Apologies if some of these are already out of date – the pace is pretty quick….

Social Fund – both Baroness Ruth Lister and Polly Toynbee – along with Guardian readers  – wrote in defence of the Social Fund but Baroness Lister’s amendment was defeated on Wednesday.

Benefit cap – the government suffered a very heavy defeat in relation to the proposed benefits cap of £26,000 per family although the government promised to press ahead with their plans anyway.

Delays – concerns were raised in The Telegraph that Universal Credit may not be ready for introduction in April 2013, a concern that has been noted in previous round-ups.

Cost – an excellent and timely (in the wake of the immigrants & benefits ‘stats’ coverage) JRF blog pointed out that unemployment benefits are a fraction of the welfare bill

Employment & Unemployment

Unemployment figures released this week made particularly grim reading with around 1.3 million people working part-time because they could not secure a full-time job. In child poverty strategy terms, these people are not ‘doing the right thing’ as this involves getting a full-time job. On a slightly more positive note in relation to the labour market, the Living Wage campaign continues to enjoy some successes and Tom Clark wrote a piece in The Guardian encouraging a focus on low earners similar to the current one on high earners and executives.

Financial Inclusion

The BBC provided coverage of debates on payday loans in Wales, which accused loans companies of ‘sucking money from the poor’

Child Protection

Any links between poverty and child protection issues are quite sensitive and I’m not usually keen on drawing attention to perceived links. For me, it becomes a little too easy to provide fodder for those that think poverty is a result of ‘poor’ parenting, feckless families and moral deficiencies. However, The Journal, a regional paper in the North East, highlighted local council’s concerns that child protection cases were rising as a result of the economic crisis, with domestic violence and unemployment being mentioned explicitly. It would be interesting to explore this a little more.


School performance figures were released on Thursday with the accompanying comment from School Minister Nick Gibb leaving people in no doubt where the blame for ‘poor performance’ of pupils lay:

We should have high expectations for all children regardless of their circumstances. Today’s figures reveal a shocking waste of talent in many schools across the country. All too often, pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds aren’t given the same opportunities as their peers. But there are great examples of schools achieving the best for their disadvantaged pupils. If they can get it right, then so can all schools.


News, at the start of the week, that poorer families were consuming 30% less fruit and vegetables than they were in 2006, with rising food prices and the economic situation being to blame

General comment

Gavin Poole suggested in The Guardian that he proposed benefit cap was ‘not about the money’

Mary Riddell suggested in The Telegraph that Ed Milliband would be judged on his stance towards welfare and not wealth

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian doing what Polly Toynbee does

Graphic of the week

It has to be this from Political Scrapbook that compares the average cost of fraud per benefit claimant with the average cost of over claimed expenses per MP.

Apologies for the missed week last week but we are busy elsewhere as well. Thanks for your contiuned interest and support.

Kind regards,


The Presentation of Poverty

 “I don’t know how people on benefits can say they are poor, they get everything paid for them, it’s the families on low working income I feel sorry for, as they have everything to pay for, and get no extra help, I say the work shy should all be neutered and not be allowed to have kids”

 Quote on BBC Radio Newcastle Facebook page, 23 November 2011

“We are creating a system which helps people work themselves out of poverty, a fair system that rewards responsibility, not a hand-out culture”[1]

 Iain Duncan Smith (2011)

“The Coalition is bringing in changes to welfare that will mean fewer people can abuse taxpayers’ money by wrongly claiming DLA. However, whilst we wait for these changes to come fully into effect there is a chance that more cheats have slipped through the net”[2]

 Quote from The Daily Mail, 22 November 2011 

Child poverty affects nearly 1 in 4 children growing up in the North East today; nearly 132,000 children whose health, education, experience of childhood and life chances are severely affected as a result of their family’s low income.[3] Children are at greater risk of poverty than other sections of society but, despite a relatively high political profile over recent years and the introduction of a legally binding target to ‘eradicate’ child poverty by 2020, the issue has often failed to connect with the wider public.

The quotes at the top of the page suggest that the presentation of poverty may be one of the main reasons why there is often a lack of sympathy towards families who are at risk of poverty. The Coalition Government’s ‘New Approach to Child Poverty’ places financial independence and, more specifically, work, at its core. Families who are prepared to ‘work themselves out of poverty’ and ‘do the right thing (and) take a full time job’ will be rewarded by ‘the system’[4]. The unspoken message is that families who are in poverty are not currently working hard enough and are not doing ‘the right thing’. The responsibility is personal, the failing individual. However, it is a little known statistic that nearly 6 in 10 children growing up in poverty today have at least one working adult in their household[5] and it is estimated, by the government, that nearly 14,000 people in the region are paid less than the National Minimum Wage[6].

The problem is not that people do not want to work or are not prepared to work hard enough or long enough. The problem is that there aren’t enough jobs for everyone to be employed and many of the jobs that are available are low-skilled, low paying, part-time and insecure. This situation is particularly acute in the North East, where we have the highest unemployment, the highest youth unemployment, the highest proportion of workless households and the lowest wages in the country, with some of the highest levels of child poverty outside central London. And yet research carried out on Teesside over a 12 year period has found an ‘enduring commitment to work’ in some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the area, despite labour market experiences and a ‘churning’ in and out of employment that would dent most people’s resolve[7].

Politicians from all three main political parties, undeterred by evidence to the contrary, continue to talk of a ‘something for nothing culture’ or highlight the perceived behavioural flaws of ‘problem families’ and the government’s Child Poverty Strategy talks of the need for a culture change towards ‘recognising the importance of parenting’[8]. Sections of the media – both print and broadcast – have supported and extended this rhetoric with portrayals of benefit recipients as scroungers with a particularly unpleasant campaign apparently being waged against people on disability or incapacity benefits, with many of them being branded as cheats, benefitting from a ‘sicknote culture’[9]. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, in the wake of the riots, have been labelled as ‘feral’[10].

It is therefore unsurprising that public attitudes towards child poverty remain ambiguous at best. Few people would argue against trying to end child poverty and few politicians would dare to suggest that we need to increase suffering amongst children in order to build character, resilience or a good work ethic later on in life. But, in many cases, it would appear that the welfare and public sector reforms being proposed will have precisely that effect.

As long as people living on the margins are portrayed as being the architects of their circumstances, public attitudes will remain difficult to shift. In a recent survey conducted by the European Union, 85% of people surveyed in the UK thought that ‘poverty is a problem that needs urgent action by our government’ but only 12% felt that the government should increase social benefits or pensions. Most people felt that the government actions should be around regenerating poor areas and improving training and skills for individuals[11].

Challenging public attitudes in the region is one of the key aims of the North East Child Poverty Commission, recognising that the stigma attached to being poor and the social exclusion resulting from it are devastating effects of poverty.  One of the key actions arising from a national conference on child poverty organised by Children North East in 2011 was to ‘stop blaming the poor’.

One of the best ways we can do this is to raise awareness of ‘in-work’ poverty and the Commission will be carrying out a specific project looking at improving the working conditions of people in low-paid and/or insecure employment in the region. However, we also need to change people’s views of those adults in the North East who are unable to work either through a simple and straightforward lack of jobs, through caring responsibilities for children or other family members or through ill-health or disability.

Discussions have taken place recently about ‘re-framing’ the concept of child poverty to develop a more positive and inclusive discussion around good or decent childhoods[12]. Nobody wants to be identified as being poor and few people identify themselves as being in poverty and so, for many people with direct experience of poverty, the ‘child poverty’ agenda does not resonate or connect with the families it is intending to be helping. It has been said that the ‘unemployed’ are almost unique as a group of people because no-one wants to belong to that group and everyone seeks to differentiate themselves from the other members. If families living in poverty claim not to be poor and to be morally ‘different’ to others in the same situation, the struggle to build public support will always be an uphill one.

You will have noted that the three quotes at the top of the page all come from 2011. The perception of poor people as being active agents in their own disadvantage is not a new phenomenon however. Over 250 years ago, Adam Smith noted a similar situation when he wrote in The Theory of Moral Sentiments that “we see frequently the vices and follies of the powerful much less despised than the poverty and weakness of the innocent”[13].

However, there is growing public resentment at the increasing gap between the richest and the poorest, new opportunities exist for communicating through social media and there is a lack of trust in more traditional media as well as politicians. Maybe, just maybe, we can now begin to ‘re-frame’ the debate about the causes of – and solutions to – poverty.

[1] A New Approach to Child Poverty: Tackling the Causes of Disadvantage and Transforming Families’ Lives, DfE, 2011

[3] HMRC: The revised local child poverty measure. Accessible at:

[4] A New Approach to Child Poverty: Tackling the Causes of Disadvantage and Transforming Families’ Lives, DfE, 2011

[5] Ibid

[8] A New Approach to Child Poverty: Tackling the Causes of Disadvantage and Transforming Families’ Lives, DfE, 2011

[13] The Theory of Moral Sentiments, A. Smith, 1790. Accessed at:


This post is an amended version of an article that appears in VONNE’s special edition of The Vine magazine, exploring the state of the North East in 2012 and looking ahead to some of the challenges and opportunities that the region faces in the coming year. The magazine is well worth a read for anyone interested in the region and contains contributions from a very broad range of persepctives.

Weekly Round up 13/01/2012

News in Brief

Welfare reform

The publication of the ‘Spartacus Report’, written, funded and researched by disability rights campaigners their friends and families, and the subsequent defeat of the government in the House of Lords on issues relating to ESA received widespread press coverage this week, including articles in The Telegraph and The Guardian. There was also a lot of comment in other areas as well: Liam Byrne wrote attacking the government; the Guardian letters page again provided a range of views; Iain Duncan Smith issued a form of apology over some of the political language used relating to benefit fraud; Nick Clegg spoke about the need to continue with welfare reform; and Sonia Poulton wrote two articles in the Daily Mail attacking the presentation and substance of the reforms

Elsewhere, but still related to welfare reform, the Children’s Commissioner suggested that the impact of welfare reform could adversely affect children, after carrying out a Children’s Rights Impact Assessment on it and, on Friday morning it was reported that David Cameron might be hinting at re-looking at the intention to withdraw child benefit from higher rate taxpayers. This position has understandably been contrasted with the government’s desire to pursue their welfare reforms which will see people on lower incomes potentially end up with even less money.

Child Poverty Map

End Child Poverty released their Child Poverty Map of the UK this week and it recevied widespread coverage including The Guardian, The Huffington Post and on BBC Radio Newcastle, where John Veit-Wilson spoke on the breakfast show. (available until 17/01/12) 


The Children’s Society released a report looking at ‘good childhoods’ in the UK and which things were important to children in making them feel happy and secure. The issue most picked up on in press coverage was the figure of 500,000 children who were unhappy, at any one point in their lives , although The Daily Mail lamented the fact that the role of marriage wasn’t given a higher profile. (Stability of relationships was prioritised over structure)


A number of campigns around poverty and inequality related themes have received press coverage this week. The British Youth Council asked young people to contact their MP’s to make ending child poverty their New Years Resolution. In The Journal, a number of influential people in the North East wrote a letter urging a ‘January Declaration’ to tackling inequality in the region and it was a good week for The Living Wage as Ed Miliband suggested he would like to work with Labour Councils to ensure as many of them as possible paid a Living Wage, and a report in The Independent highlighted the business benefits to paying a Living Wage

General comment

4Thought TV have been running a series of short programme on child poverty from the perspective of children this week and a report from Greece suggested that some parents were ‘giving up’ their children as they could not longer afford to look after them.

Signpost(s) of the week

A report on an ‘asset based approach’ to tackling poverty from the Poverty Alliance in Scotland

A very interesting article on the success (in terms of international comparative studies) of the Finnish education system which is set up to ensure equity rather than excellence


This week’s blog was a bit rushed (and next week’s may be similar) but hope you still find/found it useful

Kind regards,


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