|Blurb of 'Born to Fail?' 1973|
Sympathetic school staff found some biscuits and fruit to keep him going until dinner time. Apparently it wasn't the first time he had made that appeal.
Inevitably schools are the first to see the direct impact of economic pressure on families, not just hunger but inadequate clothing, worn out shoes, tiredness caused by lack of sleep through living in one room in a bed and breakfast or shared housing. We are also seeing children disappearing from the school roll as they are rehoused out of London away from family and support systems.
Although the Coalition is keen to shift the blame on to 'work shy' families, fecklessness and dependency culture in an effort to divide and rule the working class, the truth is that 62% of children currently in poverty have one working parent. However the Coalition seem determined to punish children for the perceived sins of their parents.
Coalition policies including the Housing Benefit cap, the Universal Benefit cap, and the move to restrict child benefit to the first two children, will reduce disposable income and thus amount available to buy food.
The Coalition are taking food out of children's mouths.
There has been some progress recently in closing the gap in educational achievement between the poor and the rich, a gap so vividly illustrated by the National Children's Bureau in 'Born to Fail' in 1973. More recently the Child Poverty Action Group has listed the impact of child poverty:
- There are 3.6 million children living in poverty in the UK today. That’s 27 per cent of children, or more than one in four.
- There are even more serious concentrations of child poverty at a local level: in 100 local wards, for example, between 50 and 70 per cent of children are growing up in poverty.
- Work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty in the UK. Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of children growing up in poverty live in a household where at least one member works.
- People are poor for many reasons. But explanations which put poverty down to drug and alcohol dependency, family breakdown, poor parenting, or a culture of worklessness are not supported by the facts.
- Child poverty blights childhoods. Growing up in poverty means being cold, going hungry, not being able to join in activities with friends. For example, 62 per cent of families in the bottom income quintile would like, but cannot afford, to take their children on holiday for one week a year.
- Child poverty has long-lasting effects. By 16, children receiving free school meals achieve 1.7 grades lower at GCSE than their wealthier peers. Leaving school with fewer qualifications translates into lower earnings over the course of a working life.
- Poverty is also related to more complicated health histories over the course of a lifetime, again influencing earnings as well as the overall quality – and indeed length - of life. Professionals live, on average, eight years longer than unskilled workers.
- Child poverty imposes costs on broader society – estimated to be at least £25 billion a year. Governments forgo prospective revenues as well as commit themselves to providing services in the future if they fail to address child poverty in the here and now.
- Child poverty reduced dramatically between 1998/9-2010/12 when 1.1 million children were lifted out of poverty (BHC).This reduction is credited in large part to measures that increased the levels of lone parents working, as well as real and often significant increases in the level of benefits paid to families with children.
- Under current government policies, child poverty is projected to rise from 2012/13 with an expected 300,000 more children living in poverty by 2015/16.This upward trend is expected to continue with 4.2 million children projected to be living in poverty by 2020.
'Born to Fail' in 1973 concluded:
...if it is accepted that many parents are expected to cope with impossible burdens and that their material circumstances provide a major contribution to those burdens then there is much to be said for tackling more earnestly the poor housing and low income that our study has revealed, Arguably it could eliminate a large part of many families' difficulties. And on humanitarian grounds alone large numbers of children need a better chance to grow, develop, learn and live that they currently received...
Are we more interested in a bigger national cake so that some children get a bigger slice eventually - or are we ready for disadvantaged children to have a bigger slice now even if as a result our personal slice is smaller.
How many of our pleasures are bought at the expense of the disadvantaged.It is not just the immediate hunger that a child might feel today but the way that will affect their life chances in terms of education attainment, health and income. For society it raises questions about polarisation, alienation, disaffection and conflict.
In 2011 the Institute for Fiscal Studies in Child and Working Age Poverty 2010-2014 modelling the changes ahead in welfare and fiscal policy concluded:
There is no shortage of evidence about the damage that is currently being done and that will increase over the next few years. The only conclusion I can reach is that the Coalition is prepared to see children suffer as they pursue their aim to destroy the welfare state.The results therefore suggest that there can be almost no chance of eradicating child poverty - as defined in the Child Poverty Act - on current government policy.Although this project did not assess what policies would be required in order for child poverty to be eradicated, it is impossible to see how relative child poverty could fall by so much in the next 10 years without changes to the labour market and welfare policy, and an increase in the amount of redistribution performed by the tax and benefit system, both to an extent never before seen in the UK. IFS researchers have always argued that the targets set in the Child Poverty Act were extremely challenging, and the findings here confirm that view. It now seems almost incredible that the targets could be met, yet the government confirmed its commitment to them earlier this year, in its first Child Poverty Strategy, and remains legally-bound to hit them.