Category Archives: wellbeing

New Working Paper – Child Poverty & Public Health

“The foundations for virtually every aspect of human development – physical, intellectual and emotional – are laid in early childhood”

Professor Michael Marmot

“Poverty is the greatest preventable threat to health, and tackling it is fundamental to addressing health inequalities and boosting life chances”

Professors Donald Hirsch & Nick Spencer

 In July 2013, a joint letter was sent by to the Lead Members for Children’s Services and Chairs of Health and Wellbeing Boards, calling for local authorities to do everything they can to improve children’s health. The letter included a request to sign up to a ‘Better health outcomes for children and young people’ pledge.

We have today published a new Working Paper – DUBS_ILG_NECPC Working Paper 3 – from the North East Child Poverty Commission, based at the Institute for Local Governance, in Durham University Business School. The paper highlights the links between child poverty and health, provides background information on the situation in the North East and identifies ways in which local authorities can help to tackle poverty and mitigate its effects. There is much that local authorities can do to improve children’s health. Policies relating to education, employment, housing and welfare support can – and should – all have a positive impact on children’s health. However, in a report exploring the ‘prevalence, characteristics and distribution’ of child poverty in the North East, Professor Jonathan Bradshaw noted that “Most local authorities in the NE have worse child health than you would expect given their child poverty” (p2, 2009) and “on health, it is striking how many areas in the NE are doing much worse than would be expected given their material well-being rankings” (p29). The paper draws on research that argues that attempts to tackle health inequalities and improve the health of disadvantaged communities ‘needs to move beyond ‘bad behaviours” (Katikreddi et al 2013)

As well as the information and resources provided in the Working Paper and the Appendix to the joint letter, further resources and information relating to public health can be found on the FUSE website  (FUSE is the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health in the North East) and the Wolfson Research Institute for Health & Wellbeing, based at Durham University. The Wolfson Research Institute has a specific Research Theme of Tomorrow’s Healthy Adults which focuses on children and young adults, specifically targeting issues that will determine their long-term health and wellbeing’.

If you have any questions about the Working Paper, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best wishes,

Steve


“Ways of extending the welfare state to the poor”

‘Words make things, because they make the consensus on the existence and the meaning of things’ said Bourdieu and the language that is often used to discuss the causes of poverty and the circumstances of people in poverty has helped to construct an apparent consensus amongst certain sections of the population that people on low incomes are ‘masters of their own misfortune’ as Bowley noted, way back in 1915.

So, the need to re-frame the debate or change the rhetoric is often discussed at present. Part of the problem, in my view, is the ‘sloganization of social policy’ outside of academia, which leads to politicians framing the discussion as being a problem between ‘shirkers and workers’, ‘strivers and skivers’ and ‘hard-working families’ vs ‘troubled families’. We also have their ‘lackey intellectuals’ talking about ‘dadlessness’, ‘welfare dependency’ and ‘benefit ghettos’. Titmuss argued that:

Generalized slogans rarely induce concentration of thought; more often they prevent us from asking significant questions about reality. Morally satisfied and intellectually dulled, we sink back into our presumptive cosy British world of welfare’

But what if generalized slogans could induce concentration of thought? What if, instead of trying to beat the sloganization of social policy with reasoned arguments, we joined in the fun? Here’s some suggestions (some old and some new) to get the (dumbed-down?) discussion going….

Illth – a term used by Ruskin and others to highlight that much of what passes for ‘wealth’ is actually no such thing and the concentration of economic power in the hands of small number of individuals and families is a social illness, not something to be celebrated:

Whence it appears that many of the persons commonly considered wealthy, are in reality no more wealthy than the locks of their own strong boxes are, they being inherently and eternally incapable of wealth; and operating for the nation, in an economical point of view, either as pools of dead water, and eddies in a stream (which, so long as the stream flows, are useless, or serve only to drown people, but may become of importance in a state of stagnation should the stream dry); or else, as dams in a river, of which the ultimate service depends not on the dam, but the miller; or else, as mere accidental stays and impediments, acting not as wealth, but (for we ought to have a correspondent term) as ‘illth,’ causing various devastation and trouble around them in all directions; or lastly, act not at all, but are merely animated conditions of delay, (no use being possible of anything they have until they are dead,) in which last condition they are nevertheless often useful as delays, and ‘impedimenta (Ruskin, Unto the last, 1860)

Diswelfare – there is much discussion and concern about the use of the word welfare rather than, say social security but there should be no such problems with talking about ‘diswelfare’ and the ‘diswelfare state’, as Titmuss did in 1967:

The emphasis today on ‘welfare’ and the ‘benefits of welfare’ often tends to obscure the fundamental fact that for many consumers the services used are not essentially benefits or increments to welfare at all; they represent partial compensations for disservices, for social costs and social insecurities which are the product of a rapidly changing industrial urban society. They are part of the price we pay to some people for bearing part of the costs of other people’s progress; the obsolescence of skills, redundancies, premature retirements, accidents, many categories of disease and handicap, urban blight and slum clearance, smoke, pollution, and a hundred and one other socially generated disservices. They are the socially caused diswelfares; the losses involved in aggregate welfare gains.

What is also of major importance today is that modern society if finding it increasingly difficult to identify the causal agent or agencies, and thus to allocate the costs of disservices and charge those who are responsible. It is not just a question of benefit allocation – of whose ‘Welfare State’ – but also of loss allocation – whose ‘Diswelfare State’

In the same vein, we could, potentially, begin referring to what many politicians like to call ‘handouts’ as ‘bailouts’ highlighting the fact that people living in poverty are in a precarious, dangerous position. Why do banks get ‘bailouts’ whilst individuals get ‘handouts’?

The Corporate Welfare State – this leads us nicely on to Kevin Farnsworth’s work on ‘corporate welfare’ which deserves far greater coverage in social policy discussions, especially in light of recent announcements regarding Amazon getting more in grants than it pays in taxes. It was also interesting to hear Ed Milliband comparing large corporations to ‘benefits cheats’ recently, although he missed the opportunity to highlight the difference in the scale of the two problems.

Benefit philanthropy – based on the idea of ragged trousered philanthropists helping out the ‘illthy’ people in our society by providing them with cheap labour, we could attempt to turn the argument about benefit ‘cheats’ and ‘fraudsters’ – you know, the ‘scroungers’ – on its head and highlight the substantial amount of money that people on low incomes ‘gift’ back to the state through not taking up the benefits they are entitled to. This is estimated to be between £7billion – £12 billion per year – a substantial contribution to our economy and this, in a time of ‘austerity’ should surely be ‘acknowledged’ appropriately.

Tax evasion/avoidance as a lifestyle choice – George Osborne has suggested that, for some, being on benefits, is a ‘lifestyle choice’ which may be true, but the extent of this is probably greatly exaggerated and the ‘benefits’ to be accrued from any such choice are likely to be relatively small. However, tax evasion or avoidance is most certainly a ‘lifestyle choice’ and one which potentially brings with it much greater benefits.

Tackling the cycle of privilege – we hear a lot about the ‘cycle of poverty’ but a lot less about the ‘cycle of privilege’. The same could also be said about a ‘culture of privilege’ or ‘intergenerational advantage’ for example.

‘Landlord subsidy’ / ‘low-pay subsidy’ – these, again, are not my ideas and readers may be familiar with suggestions to re-name Housing Benefit’ as ‘Landlord Subsidy’ to clarify who it goes to and why. Similarly, calling tax-credits and/or other in-work benefits ‘low pay subsidy’ would be a lot more honest and might lead to some employers reflecting on their business practice. It might also make employees think differently about their relationships with both employer and the state.

A new ‘behaviourist paradigm’ – much of the above links back to Tawney’s suggestion that

‘what thoughtful rich people call the problem of poverty, thoughtful poor people call with equal justice the problem of riches’ and ‘Improve the character of individuals by all means – if you feel competent to do so, especially of those whose excessive incomes expose them to particular temptations’.

I’ve argued before, using Peter Townsend’s work in particular, that, in trying to improve the situation of ‘the poor’, we should spend more time studying the decisions and actions of ‘the rich’. In effect, and in a desperate effort to link this back to academic parlance, I think I’m arguing for a new behaviourist paradigm in poverty research and analysis, partly inspired by John Veit-Wilson who, in a recent e-mail to me, stated that ‘the only behaviours I’m interested in are the behaviours of the rich.’ So, rather than swimming against the current of public opinion which appears to believe that poverty is the result of individual behaviours we should perhaps use the strength of that current to encourage and challenge people to see where such a view ultimately takes them.

*The title of this blog comes from Richard Titmuss who suggested that we needed to look at social security and housing (‘these instruments of change’) ‘with new vision’. He argued that ‘we might then entitle our journey ‘Ways of extending the Welfare State to the poor’.

Please do use the comments facility below to offer your own suggestions…

Best wishes,

Steve


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.


Lacking the necessaries of life…..

A couple of weeks ago Jeremy Cripps, the Chief Executive of Children North East wrote a powerful blog about how funding cuts passed from central government to the local authority and then to his charity meant that they were unable to afford to provide a meal for some children in temporary accommodation over the summer holidays that they work with. Jeremy wrote:

here we have a Government without the humanity to care for very vulnerable people until they are deported by giving them even a minimal amount of money to feed their children; a local authority providing shelter for those families but forced to cut back on its spending by the Government; passing that cut on to a  charity which too has to economise; the buck passes to the charity’s staff who cannot stand by and do nothing while in daily contact with children in basic  need of food; so they take it upon themselves to make sure children do not go hungry. This is the reality of the so-called ‘Big Society’ in ‘austerity  Britain’.

This story was picked up by the Guardian Cuts Blog which ran it under the headline ‘who pays for lunch when the state does a runner?’ and another similar story was posted earlier today

Earlier this year, as part of a blogging day during Volunteers Week, Carrie Brookes of VONNE asked readers to ‘imagine if we all stopped volunteering tomorrow’, noting that the value of unpaid care in the UK had been calculated at around £87bn. She finished her blog thus:

The fact is that much of the work undertaken by volunteers and charities saves the state a huge amount of money.  Prevention of problems such as poor health, teenage pregnancies, helping people get back into the workplace, support for homeless people, advice and guidance, drug rehabilitation, they all save the state an awful lot of money.  A lot more than the £87bn mentioned above. We cannot afford to deal with the consequences to society if that support for volunteers and activity they support is stopped. (my emphasis)

The last line of Carrie’s blog provides a flip side to a couple of polemic paragraphs from one of my favourite books, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Robert Tressell, writing in the early 1900’s suggested it would be better if we all did stop volunteering tomorrow in a section which touches on a number of issues relevant to the situation above:

Meanwhile, in spite of this and kindred (charitable) organisations, the condition of the under-paid poverty stricken and unemployed workers remained the same. Although the people who got the grocery and coal orders, the ‘Nourishment’, and the cast-off clothes and boots, were glad to have them, yet these things did far more harm than good. They humiliated, degraded and pauperized those who received them, and the existence of the societies prevented the problem being grappled with in a sane and practical manner. The people lacked the necessaries of life: necessaries of life are produced by work: these people were willing to work, but were prevented from doing so by the idiotic system of society which these ‘charitable’ people are determined to do their best to perpetuate.

If the people who expect to be praised and glorified for being charitable were never to give another farthing it would be far better for the industrious poor, because then the community as a whole would be compelled to deal with the absurd and unnecessary state of affairs that exists today – millions of people living and dying in wretchedness and poverty in an age when science and machinery have made it possible to produce such an abundance of everything that everyone might enjoy plenty and comfort. If it were not for all this so called charity the starving unemployed men all over the country would demand to be allowed to work and produce the things they are perishing for want of, instead of being – as they are now – content to wear their masters’ cast-off clothing and to eat the crumbs that fall from his table’ (my emphases)

It is, of course, very obvious that the state can afford to provide funding for these families. Central government can also afford not to cut funding to local authorities. Local authorities can also afford not to cut their grant to charities by 10%. The fact is they choose not to do these things, choosing instead to spend money on other things or choosing not to increase the amount of money at their disposal, leaving Jeremy and his staff with little choice but to dip into their own pockets. John Veit-Wilson, in his ‘Horses for Discourses’ paper makes this point better than anyone:

Ensuring that all the members of society, residents in or citizens of a nation state, have enough money is a clear role which governments can adopt or reject, but they cannot deny they have the ultimate power over net income distribution.

I don’t necessarily agree with Tressell’s proposal or his representation of charitable organisations (which were very different when he was writing), but I do agree with his analysis of the system of society. How can we call ourselves civilized when we deliberately and knowingly let families live without, as Tressell puts it, ‘the necessaries of life’ when the world has never been richer? At what point will we stop and realise that we have accumulated enough ‘stuff’ and wealth’ and sit down and work out how to divide it up better?

Thoughts, as ever, are welcome……

Steve

ps – in the interest of full disclosure, I’m running the Great North Run this year and am raising money for Children North East. Feel free to donate here


Surviving or Thriving?

Organisations working with children and young people in the North East

Earlier this year, we worked with VONNE to develop a survey aimed at understanding how austerity measures were affecting voluntary organisations delivering services to children and young people in the North East. 39 organisations from 10 out of the 12 local authority areas responded to the survey and whilst the findings of the survey therefore aren’t particularly robust, the responses we received painted a very complex picture of how the cuts to service providers are impacting on large and small charities that work with children and young people every day.Rather than producing a report based on the findings, we discussed the potential with VONNE of doing something a little bit more interactive and, with their support, we are hoping to post a series of blogs over the coming 10 – 12 weeks exploring the situation facing organisations working with children and young people in the North East. These blogs will include some posts relating to the responses from the survey, some case studies of organisations that responded to the survey and some interviews and guest posts with some reasonably influential individuals who work with children and young people in the region. We may even get some young people to contribute their thoughts….

The National Picture

The future for voluntary organisations does not look particularly bright and there is some evidence that children’s services in local authorities and small youth charities are faring particularly badly when budget decisisons are made. The North East is also disadvantaged as research carried out by JRF suggests that “Government spending cuts are hitting poorer northern councils much harder than their richer southern counterparts”, according to the Northern Echo. Meanwhile, IPPR North produced a report last year which questioned, from a North East perspective, whether the ‘Big Society’ could be a ‘fair society’. The report noted that:

“the withdrawal of public funding and a move to greater reliance on philanthropy could doubly disadvantage organisations in some areas, such as the North East”

The North East perspective

VONNE have been carrying out their Surviving not Thriving surveys since 2009. (They also run a very informative and thought provoking blog – one recent post asked ‘Is the sector crying wolf’ in relation to the responses to the Surviving not Thriving surveys). These surveys have attempted to understand how voluntary organisations across the region are coping with changes to their funding and how they are organising for a future that, at best, appears uncertain. The survey has been adapted on a number of occasions to provide a focus on a specific geographical area within the North East and we decided to develop a survey specifically for organisations working with children and young people in the region. Here are some of the headline findings from the organisations who took part:

  • 76% worked with ‘children’ and 72% worked with ‘families’
  • 20% relied on public sector contracts for over 50% of their funding
  • 84% received less than 10% of their income from charitable donations or fundraising

These initial responses suggest, as the IPPR report noted, a move to a greater reliance on philanthropic investment in charities and voluntary sector organisations does not bode well for organisations in the region.

Questions looking at the future brought the following responses:

  • 66% thought their funding would decrease
  • 79% thought there would be an increased demand for their services
  • 50% thought they would engage with additional volunteers
  • 35% thought they would have to close some of their services

When asked to decribe the long term future of the organisation, a number of people responded with ‘Bleak’, but there were some bright spots in amongst all the gloom and the picture was far from clear. Many organisations felt that there was still a great deal of uncertainty over how the future may pan out and we hope that the blogs in the coming weeks will provide an opportunity to explore some of the issues in more detail, as well as providing an opportunity for people working with children and young people in the region to take part in the discussion.

The next post in this series will look in more detail at how the cuts have affected organisations, communities and children and young people in the region, drawing on the responses to the survey. It will be published here on Wednesday 1st August.

As always, we’re keen to hear your views.

Best wishes,

Steve

(The photographs were taken as part of the Children North East photography project that took place last year)


Northern TUC guest post: Regional Pay risks a spiral of decline

Guest post by Neil Foster (not Stephen Crossley)

George Osborne’s Budget announcement that the Government is seeking to support regional and localised public sector pay risks institutionalising the region as an area of low pay and widening inequalities. The Chancellor’s decision to back this proposal has been taken despite no independent economic analysis on the long-term impact of repeatedly reducing real terms pay on low pay areas. It is a policy that should worry and be opposed by all those in relatively low pay regions and who have a positive vision of increasing prosperity and reducing poverty.

The theory, supported by some Conservative ministers along with some right-wing newspaper commentators is simple, but flawed. The argument is that in regions such as the North East the entire public sector should sustain further real terms pay cuts because they are ‘crowding out’ the growth of the private sector. It is said that nationally determined public sector pay is on average higher than private sector workers and it is this which prevents firms from recruiting. It overlooks the fact that many low paid public sector jobs have been outsourced to the private sector or that many jobs cannot be found in the private sector. It ignores that fact that many national private sector firms also use national pay bargaining. Comparisons are weak since many of jobs in the public sector do not exist in the private sector. However the fundamental flaw in all of this is that this ‘crowding out’ theory could ever only have a significant impact in an era of full-employment where most people have a wide range of job offers to pick and choose from.

Anyone in the North East can look out of the window and see we are a million miles away from a scenario of full employment. We currently have the highest unemployment rate of any region in the UK with 9 jobseekers per job vacancy and the public sector shedding 2,000 jobs per month. Private sector employers repeatedly report huge quantities of job applications. Where this is not the case, it is down to a specific skills shortage which making nurses, teacher and social workers poorer will not solve. Instead this policy represents another round of austerity on ordinary public sector workers who are being asked to pick up the tab for a global banking crisis they did not cause. Prior to the crash, between 2003 and 2008 the growth in the North East’s private sector employment was in fact 9.2% and stronger than the public sector at 4.1%. Properly funded public services are the friends of private sector growth, not its enemy.

The consequence of regional pay will be to compound many of the problems facing low pay regions and risk a spiral of decline with an ever-increasing squeeze in the living standards of three million workers in low pay regions in England and across Wales. It won’t make anyone working in the North East better off but will actually threaten high street jobs as more and more wages are reduced and withdrawn from the economy. The region is facing a prolonged demand crisis caused by increased hardship and very low consumer confidence. Taking more money out of people’s pockets will not help kickstart growth. Investment in skills, infrastructure and growth industries to generate jobs will.

It may not be a complete surprise that this regional pay policy is being actively promoted and supported by the right-wing Policy Exchange think tank. In 2008 they published a controversial paper claiming that Northern cities didn’t merit regeneration and were ‘beyond revival’. Instead those in the North should be expected to ‘migrate’ to the South. Enthusiasm for regional and public sector pay may be a consequence of this thinking – it certainly incentivises key public sector workers to desert poorer low pay economies and work in the wealthier areas instead. The impact on teaching could be most severe. Now more than ever we need children and young people in the North to have fair access to the best quality teachers and services to overcome barriers and have an equal start in life. Yet instead there is increased risk of a brain drain where our region finds it harder to retain and attract the best key public sector professionals.

Looking beyond the features of this policy, the thinking behind this and other Government measures reveals a miserable vision where the bulk of UK is configured to service the interests of just one region. The only region outside of London that will in effect be exempt from regional pay policy is also the most prosperous – the South East of England. Many will ask how it can be acceptable that the pay of Northern nurses or Yorkshire’s youth workers should be in any way determined by how many stockbrokers share their postcode. The public are not convinced by it either. A recent UK opinion poll by Survation showed that only 28% of voters saw regional policy as fair with just 17% believing it would help regional economies outside of London and the South East.

The Northern TUC with unions, business figures and council leaders believe this policy is divisive and damaging. It will make it harder for the North East to create jobs, growth and prosperity we need and deserve. Regional pay isn’t just another Government attack on local public sector workers, but represents an active discrimination against the North, Midlands, South West regions and devolved nations. Our region has a lot to lose if this policy is allowed to go ahead, but the most gain if we can stop it. As a country we need to unite and all pull together. It’s time for the Government to play fair and pay fair for both current and future generations.

Neil Foster

Policy and Campaigns Officer

Northern TUC

@northerntuc

To support the campaign please email nfoster@tuc.org.uk for more information and follow @payfairnow on twitter.


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,

Steve


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