Category Archives: voluntary organisations

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,

Steve

Advertisements

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


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,

Steve

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


Elbow room…

“All too easily the social scientist can be the unwitting servant of contemporary social values, and in the study of poverty, this can have disastrous practical consequences. He may side with the dominant or majority view of the poor. If, by contrast, he feels obliged or is encouraged from the start to make a formal distinction between scientific and conventional perspectives, he is more likely to enlarge knowledge by bringing to light information which has been neglected and create more elbow room for alternative forms of action”

Peter Townsend (1979)

Last week saw the launch of the Commission’s report exploring the approaches of the 12 North East Local Authorities in fulfilling their local duties under the Child Poverty Act. The Act requires local authorities and their partners to prepare and publish a Child Poverty Needs Assessment and a joint Child Poverty Strategy for their area.

The report can be accessed by clicking on the image below.

The report, which is primarily aimed at policy makers and practitioners, explores the priorities identified by local authority Strategies and Needs Assessments and challenges the focus of some of these documents using available evidence. The report concludes with 20 potential policy options for local authorities and regional bodies to consider when refreshing and updating their Needs Assesmments and Strategies.

The report was launched at an event at Durham University on Friday 19th October and during the presentation that I delivered, I suggested, with the aid of the Peter Townsend quote at the top of this blog, that we, in the region, had some ‘elbow room’ to develop alternative forms of action from those currentlyy being pursued. I argued that central government narratives around the causes of poverty were too narrow and focused primarily on the perceived behavioural shortcomings of a separate and distinct group of ‘poor people’. Using quotes from local authority strategies, I attempted to demonstrate that in a number of cases, local authority priorities adhered too closely to this narrative, even when the research evidence suggested they might not be the most fruitful avenues to pursue. The presentation can be accessed by clicking on the image below

I suggested that 3 small steps could be taken by local authorities when they came to update their Needs Assessments and Strategies, which would represent giant leaps from the existing position. These smalle steps were:

  1. Use – and add to – the evidence base
  2. Examine instituional behaviour – ‘do no harm’
  3. Give people living in poverty a voice

It could be argued that these steps are ‘essentially minimalist’, to use a phrase that Ruth Levitas has levied at national governmental efforts to tackle poverty, but I would also argue that they are practical steps which could result in a very different narrative around poverty being developedin the North East.

Kind regards,

Steve

If anyone has problems accessing or downloading the report or presentation, please contact me and we will send you an electronic copy of either or both. The presentation is quite large though…..


Losing control, losing services: Impact of the Cuts in the North East

Guest post by John Clayton, Catherine Donovan, Jacqui Merchant, University of Sunderland

Over the last two years we have been involved in a study looking at the impact of the comprehensive spending review (2010) and the subsequent funding cuts on our partners in the region. This year we were particularly interested to explore whether and how localism – the Coalition idea about empowering communities to take locally based decisions to address local issues – was being experienced by practitioners and service users in small third sector organisations (identified in the first year as being most vulnerable). Fifteen interviews with practitioners and six focus groups with service users were conducted. This included organisations working across education, childcare, social work, young people, disability support, with older people, health promotion, community development, self-help groups for survivors of domestic violence and a refugee and asylum seeker support group. The sample was drawn from across the region.

Our findings indicate that contrary to the rhetoric of ‘Localism’, most participants believe that local decision-making has been removed further away from local control. In particular it is becoming increasingly difficult for small community groups to get funding because of increased changes in funding criteria and consequent competition from bigger organisations including those not based in the local area (e.g. national organisations).

The lack of control over decision-making is resulting in three main impacts:

(i) The further marginalisation of already marginalised groups including older people, young people (particularly those from Black and ethnic minority groups) women, those out of employment and welfare claimants, asylum seekers and refugees, those escaping from abuse/violence and/or who are homeless. The position of these groups is worsening as projects close, ration their services, impose longer waiting lists, claimants face harsher welfare eligibility tests, as unemployment increases and as political rhetoric demonises and blames them for their own circumstances.

(ii) The emotional toll on practitioners and service users. We found increased insecurity among practitioners and service users about what the future will hold along with an emotional toll on practitioners attempting to accommodate spending cuts without any detriment to their service users. Most participants felt funders and politicians no longer care about social need, and/or the services provided. Many practitioners spoke about feeling personally and professionally overwhelmed with the increased work resulting from covering for posts deleted, services cut and hours curtailed. Expressions of despair, bewilderment, low morale, ill-health and fears about their personal and/or their professional future and/or the future of their service and the future for their service users were articulated. Service users also talked about feeling invisible, unheard and/or not understood.

Conversely, participants also spoke of their commitment to fight for and champion their work and their dedication was evidenced in the willingness of staff to do more hours and more work with less resources. All participants were engaged in processes to develop survival strategies for their agency/group.

(iii) A level of emerging resourcefulness of participants. Whilst all participants were engaged in strategies to respond to the funding context, this did not always have positive outcomes. The following strategies were identified that may be useful at some times in some circumstances for some agencies/ user groups but which may also sometimes present counterproductive challenges:

Volunteerism, now being re-branded as ‘The Big Society’ has always existed but is now under threat. The use of volunteers is positive when it is mutually beneficial and when a realistic assessment of training, support and the nature of voluntary work is conducted. This can be negative when such an assessment is not done and volunteers are treated as free labour. There is also the risk of exploitation and of jeopardising the quality of the service provided to service users and/or their safety.

Charging for services can supplement project funds. However, there can be negative outcomes when charges result in a self-help group no longer being able to meet; or when numbers attending courses drop because of cost. Income generating can also change the focus and priorities of agencies and this can be counterproductive for partnership working as erstwhile partners are perceived as competitors.

Diversifying funding streams so that agencies are not reliant on one big funder can be a useful way of developing a survival strategy. However, following the funders’ agenda can move the work away from its original aims. This strategy also demands dedicated fund-raising time and smaller agencies and community groups are often not able to invest this kind of resource.

Developing consortium bids, co-operation and partnership building can be a useful way of building local strategies about need and the provision of services. However, there is evidence that current interpretations of procurement and commissioning procedures of local authorities result in big, national agencies being preferred over local community-embedded consortia. This also has a negative impact on a multi-agency working ethos.

Campaigning and lobbyingcan be useful ways of raising the profile of the work of the agency/group. Again, this takes time and smaller agencies/community groups may not be able to compete with larger agencies to undertake this work which exacerbates the ‘competition’ between groups for funding; and leaves it open for larger local and/or national agencies to move in.

In conclusion…

The rhetoric about ‘localism’ and ‘The Big Society’ is contradicted by our findings which suggest that among the third sector there is a sense of losing control. We recommend:

  • A regional manifesto for the ethical use of volunteers
  • Monitoring by funders to assess the impact of the localism agenda on their spending decisions
  • Strengthening of the role of umbrella organisations to represent the needs of third sector organisations
  • Strategies to promote collaborative working on consortia bids
  • Long-term/in-depth research on the impacts on marginalised service users
  • Development of skills within providers of public services to produce evidence of their worth and value to use in funding bids.

Department of Social Sciences

University of Sunderland

October 2012


Surviving or Thriving case study: Scotswood Natural Community Garden

Guest post by Amanda Hannen (VONNE)

Q & A

Scotswood Natural Community Garden

August 2012

The Scotswood Natural Community Garden aims to promote learning about nature, the environment and sustainable living in Scotswood, Newcastle upon Tyne. The Garden itself is a beautiful and wild site of more than 2 acres where a range of activities for children and adults are run. The Garden’s activities include educational workshops for schools, Forest Schools, volunteering opportunities for adults, a weekly youth club and regular community open days.

VONNE talked to Chris Francis at Scotswood Natural Community Garden about the impact of the spending cuts and the recession on their youth work programme:

Can you describe the impact of the spending cuts and the recession on your organisation?

At the moment there’s been very little impact because our youth programme is funded by Children in Need and we are just in our first year of a three year tranche of funding from them, so in terms of the general work we do there has been no reduction there. We have also applied for some small amounts of funding to top up the Children in Need fund to cover some of the activities that the organisation does with children and we’ve been successful with £1,000 here, a £1,000 there – that sort of level of income. If you’ve got three years of funding then in that time you’re quite comfortable and happy to continue, it’s when we reapply that we’ll be in a more competitive market and the situation could become more critical. I guess in two years time we’ll be thinking about resubmitting when the money runs out the end of October 2012. The concern is when we go back to Children in Need in two and a half years time, we’re aware that there is going to be more demand on those funds.

In terms of the [impact on] people we work with, this part of Newcastle is fairly deprived so the fact that there are fewer jobs around, increased pressure on families and less people working for local authorities with their cutbacks, there is less support available to families out of work.

Can you tell us about changes you have seen around you which might have an impact on your organisation or your sector in the future?

We know that in the west of Newcastle there’s been a change in the city councils tender process for delivery of youth work in the area, resulting in the latest contract going to a large organisation who didn’t really have much of a presence in the West End of Newcastle. One or two smaller organisations that are based here have missed out on that funding and it’s certainly caused a bit of uncertainty and anxiety amongst those groups that had the [city councils] funding. There’s meant to be dialogue between those groups to see how all that moves forward. We didn’t have money from that source so we haven’t been directly affected.

It’s a tricky one because I’ve been here for about 11 months now and the whole tendering process is something I’ve not been involved in before this job. I’d been on a few training courses and the advice we were given then was basically follow the money. If you apply and don’t get it, and a larger or national organisation does go and talk to them to offer your help in delivering it and subcontract.

The other change I’m conscious of is the number of local authorities that are moving their services out into new charitable organisations – I’m aware that North Tyneside has done that with their leisure services – their country parks. They’ve created a new charity, which will be able to apply for sources of funding that in the past the local authority couldn’t possibly have applied for. This will obviously put them in competition with people like us for those sources of funding. So, I can see that being a problem, I can’t define the problem but it will mean there’s more demand on funding pots as they [Local Authorities] create more charities to do this work and they all apply to the same pot. That will have an impact.

What do you think your organisation might do in the lead up to the funding coming to an end?

We’ll certainly talk to Children in Need who have funded us so far, going back to them for further funding. They are impressed with what we do and I think what we do here is fairly impressive, the kids do benefit enormously. So going back to them would be the first point of call. If that wasn’t successful or we had indications that that wouldn’t be successful we would look at other grant making bodies really. We have looked at tendering but the issue is that if you do start chasing tenders you lose sight of what you’re actually good at and end up doing things that don’t quite fit so that would be a concern really. But they do sound really attractive – you put in a tender, you get paid to cover the overheads of the organisation and away you go.

We did look at a tender for alternative education provision for 14-16 year olds in Newcastle but again it’s a very complicated process to go through and we weren’t quite ready at that stage, but that would have involved working with children who either had been excluded or at risk of exclusion from mainstream education. Many of the kids we work with now are in that bracket but we weren’t quite sure how we’d deliver that, we’d need to invent some new system and it all takes time and effort really. We only had about two weeks to complete the tender so we decided to leave it. We certainly would look at tenders but I think there are dangers for organisations who deliver quite a direct service really.

How would you describe the long term future of your organisation?

I think the future is looking fairly good…I think. We’ve just got some money from the Big Lottery Local Food Programme for two years of working with local schools to develop their food grown in the schools. There’s lots of interest in the work we do because we’re linking people with nature, the value that brings in all sorts of ways. There aren’t that many organisations in this particular neck of the woods that can do that so easily and I think we do get to the heart of some of those issues.

But we are aware that Children in Need might come back in two and a half years and say ‘no, actually you’ve had your six years now, go somewhere else for your money’ and that then puts the whole youth programme at risk and for the kids involved it’s important stuff.

Lastly, what would your key messages be to central government, commissioners and funders?

They must be aware of the fact that if they reduce the amount of money being made available to local charitable organisations then they are going to increase the competition between those groups. That can be a good thing, it could make us work more creatively and in partnership to try and deliver the same for less, so I can see in some respects that will be a positive driving force for change. But clearly when it goes too far you see things being cut that are essential to the local community. Government knows the value of the voluntary sector, they know what it brings to society, and they already know that, they’ve got the figures. If all these people providing services on a voluntary basis stop doing it, it’s a massive cost to society if that wasn’t being done. I do think it is a danger when you make every decision based on the cost of it rather than the value of it. I suppose we have seen it before from government of similar colours, where you save the money centrally and pass the problem on to people further down the line, with no real thought for the impact on the communities who rely on them and who benefit enormously from the local charities who do tremendous work.

Government has all the evidence on how important it is to engage people with the natural world. We tick so many boxes from the point of view of the mental health of people who get involved, local food production is a massive part of what we do and certainly organisations now are looking at that aspect of the local area for all sorts of reasons, including sustainability of a local food supply. The Big Lottery has put a lot of money into local food projects and we just got money from them for this.

Government know the value of what we do and there is a deluge from the top at the moment to the bottom but if there’s no money there it’s not going to happen. When we talk about individuals, all of the kids benefit enormously from the experience they have and the relationships they develop with the staff and other members of the group are just so important to them. If we weren’t doing that, that would be another group of kids not getting that level of support from anywhere really. The impact of the young people involved in the project, meeting positive role models – if those things suddenly stop, the reality is they’re back on the streets doing things that kids of those age who don’t have role models get involved in. How do you pick up the cost of that?

Amanda Hannen

VONNE

Chris Francis

Scotswood Natural Community Garden

chris@sncg.org.uk

This interview forms part of work carried out by North East Child Poverty Commission, with support from VONNE, to identify the impact of the spending cuts and recession on VCS services to children and young people in the region. It forms part of the sector-wide campaign, ‘Surviving not Thriving’, led by VONNE.


Preventing the poverty premium?

On the 22nd August, the Big Lottery Fund announced that it was ‘Preventing the poverty premium’ and was investing £31million to help achieve this. I was, as one might expect, heartened when I saw this news because,as Martin Lewis, the ‘Money Saving Expert’ points out in the press release ‘it costs more to be poor’. Save the Children estimated in 2011 that the ‘poverty premium’ costs an average low income family around £1280 per year and a report by Barnardo’s at the end of 2011 highlighted the impact of high cost credit on the lives of low incomes families, calling it ‘a vicious cycle’. CPAG , in their ‘manifesto for success‘ in ending child poverty identified ‘ending the poverty premium’ as one of ten vital steps. The document states:

An authoritative analysis of the problem (with the telling subtitle: ‘the limits of competitive markets in the provision of essential services to lowincome consumers’) shows that poorer consumers get a worse deal with food, housing, water supply, telecommunications, public transport, financial services and energy.

The reason for these market failures are complex and intertwined. Access to some lower-cost goods or services may be closed to low income consumers, for example, through redlining (advertising to some groups and not to others), while access to the same cost or similar quality services may be limited because of credit records.

Differential pricing for different forms of payment exclude or disadvantage poorer groups. For example, direct debits (which exacerbate problems like fuel poverty) are more likely to be used by the well-banked majority, rather than the financially excluded. And access to cheaper goods, for example, bulk purchases at supermarkets which may need a car to access, systemically disadvantage poorer people.

However, on closer inspection of the Big Lottery programme, none of these issues are being addressed. Instead, according to the accompanying press release the focus of the projects will be on helping ‘an estimated 150,000 tenants across England become more financially aware and more confident in money management’ and it notes that ‘there has been close to a 10 per cent surge in debt relief orders since the same quarter last year’. With these comments and others throughout the document, the press release gives the impression that the fault for paying a poverty premium lies with the individuals for not being ‘savvy’ enough to negotiate what the Chair of BLF England called ‘ the maze of modern money management’. It appears to be an admission that the system is unfair and complex and the answer is to make people more aware of how unfair and complex it is, rather than making the system fairer and simpler.
There is, however, lots of evidence that suggests that the vast majority of low income families are very skilled at managing their money.Ruth Lister highlights some of this evidence in her book Poverty (2004, pp133-134), noting that Gilliat (2001)states:

many of the poor are very good managers of their poverty. They are resourceful and use their money and time with great expediency. They are precise about planning hosuehold accounts and ruthless about expenditure, savagely cutting back to keep out of debt. They set priorities and cut out luxuries. Despite this they understandably describe such work as sacrficie and relentless struggle.

Vaitlingham (2002) notes that: in general, poor people manage their finances with care, skill and resourcefulness. There is no evidence to suggest that there are two types ofpoor families – those who can cope and those who can’t although McCrone (1994) suggests that whilst a distinction can be made, it represents ‘a very fine line’.

The problem, I would argue, appears to be that there are many families who do not have sufficient money to meet their needs. An insufficient income will always be insufficient, no matter how carefully it is eked out. One might achieve, in the words of Spike Milligan, ‘a more pleasant form of misery’ with a bit of financial nous, but it is hardly likely to be life changing. George Orwell made a very good point in The Road to Wigan Pier when he wrote that we, as a society, allow families to live with in poverty and then have the cheek to tell them how to spend their limited income more wisely: ‘First you condemn a family to live on thirty shillings a week, and then you have the damned impertinence to tell them how they are to spend their money’. And it all, of course, contributes to the narrative that people with an ‘income and resources so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living considered acceptable in the society in which they live’ are somehow to blame for their circumstances. If these people are to blame for their circumstances, then it naturally follows that poverty can be solved by focusing on them, and not problems caused by wider society.

There is, however, sufficient wealth and resources in the UK to ensure that no-one lives in fear of poverty. The problem is with how the wealth and resources are distributed and used rather than a problem of an absolute lack of resources, which is in contrast with the families highlighted above. Finally, and in another example of what a strange society we live in, there is also the slightly unfortunate irony that it is left to a charitable fund whose sole source of income is from a form of gambling to support advice to low income families on how to manage their money better…..


%d bloggers like this: