Listening to BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show yesterday left me feeling deflated.
In a debate about the archaic cliché “the deserving and undeserving poor” the overwhelming message coming back from callers and interviewees seems to be that we should stop giving out state benefits to those who are not deemed to be deserving of them, i.e. those who do not actively try to secure work, those who have ‘too many’ children, those with addictions and endemic social problems.
One particular caller spoke of her belief that the children of these so-called undeserving poor were not at fault for their situation and therefore should not be deprived of the benefits afforded to their parents to care for them. This was met by a counter argument that this was not the way to support these children…but not followed up with any productive suggestion of how the state should intervene to support them and break the cycle of poverty and benefit dependence.
What struck me throughout this debate was people’s inability to make the link between the children in question who are often lacking in balanced diet, education and opportunities; the “deserving poor”, and the adults being described as “undeserving”. These deserving children are the undeserving adults of tomorrow and I can’t help but wonder when and how exactly these callers and politicians will nail down the transition from one to the other? Taking benefits away from this group of people is not going to miraculously fix society’s ills, but rather exacerbate them. So long as we live in a society that seeks to deprive those without skills, opportunities and education, there is always going to be a need for the support workers in organisations such as Simon On The Streets. It will be a fantastic day when there is no need for our service!
Helen, Simon on the Streets
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According to a report out today: “The gap between the poorest pupils and their better-off peers in struggling schools in England is wider than in other schools, research suggests.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14082644
In schools below the national average standard a Sutton Trust study found that primary school children eligible for free school meals were half as likely to achieve their targetted standards as other pupils and by secondary school this had dropped to one third as likely. The BBC news report commented that “these attainment gaps are significantly larger than the gaps between free school meals-eligible pupils in all schools and their peers who are not eligible for free school meals” .
It seems, from the news report, that this is to cause a high level of focus on these underperforming schools, and through them target the children who are struggling. Although this is a necessary measure there is little or no mention of interventions outside of school. From our experience of working with adults who have been undeperforming poverty stricken children it seems obvious that support needs to be offered in the homelife to give any chance at all of positive changes in the school life. It’s a bit like focusing on achieving housing for a rough-sleeper without taking account of any of their other issues. But sadly it seems by the time someone has ended up sleeping-rough or similar they are fairly used to having their life divided up into silos of support need instead of being treated as a whole person.
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The local Government Ombudsman has expressed concerns around how Local Authourities behave when people seek help and advice around their homelessness issues in the current economic climate. ‘Gatekeeping’ is the term that keeps popping up. We certainly find it frustrating that the people we support who really struggle to engage well with support services and have many complex support needs can find themselves not only wanting help but needing to be motivated enough to fight hard in order to get what they are entitled to.
Dr Jane Martin, Ombudsman and Chair of the Commission for Local Administration in England, said:
“The complaints we receive suggest councils should consider how they meet their responsibilities to homeless people. We see too many cases where individuals have suffered injustice at a particularly precarious moment in their lives when they most needed help.
“Often extremely vulnerable, they can find themselves sleeping rough or on people’s sofas, struggling to find the foothold that would allow them to change their circumstances. When councils fail to give them a helping hand at that key moment, it can affect that individual for years.
“I am concerned that more people could now suffer injustice because of the combined impact of a tough economic climate and the serious budget pressures on councils. It’s really important that councils are alert to this very significant risk. We want to help them understand the dangers and take action to avoid mistakes.”
For more info: http://www.lgo.org.uk/news/2011/jul/lgo-highlights-councils-failings-legal-duties-homeless-people/
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Posted in Poverty, tagged poverty on July 5, 2011|
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Further to yesterday’s blog post (Fairness?) the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have released a report on income standards for 2011. (see the full report at http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/minimum-income-standard-2011-full.pdf ). The part that fits with what we were saying yesterday, in summary is:
“For families with children, by contrast, the earnings required to make ends meet have risen much faster than living costs, because Child Benefit has been frozen and tax credits reduced for many families. Most importantly, tax credits helping low-income families to cover childcare costs have been cut. Typically, families requiring childcare would have to earn over 20 per cent more in 2011 than in 2010 to meet the shortfall. ”
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The recently leaked letter from the office of Eric Pickles (the full letter is available at http://www.bradfordspeakout.org/documents/LeakedletterfromEricPickles.pdf ) has certainly caused lots of questions to be asked regarding the predicted knock on effects of the ‘Benefits Cap’. Whilst being seen as a good thing for ‘fairness’ it is feared that the measure will cause an additional 40,000 homeless families (those families with dependent children being most likely to be capped). The letter also expresses concern that the measures will be a cost to the treasury rather than a saving.
I think the point here is that the concept of fairness is being sold to us as a constant, when it is actually purely subjective. It seems that the people who are likely to be in receipt of benefits that need to be capped (are above average earnings) are those with more children. So the elephant in the room in this debate is a very old question indeed – should those who are reliant on state benefits have the number of children they are allowed to have capped? Almost a hundred years ago there was a serious lobby for a eugenics programme to ensure this didn’t happen (more specifically ‘negative eugenics’ – sterilisation to prevent reproduction- aimed at ‘criminals, paupers and undesirables), and now we are simply trying to price people out of having ‘too many kids’. Is that change good progress, bad progress or simply staying the same?
My concern in all of this is that if we continually try to deal with these kinds of issues by capping, restricting and finger wagging types of strategies, attitudes simply stay the same or become compounded. Surely we need to find ways of breaking cycles not repeating them. If poor kids keep getting poorer the numbers at risk of severe social problems will keep getting worse and we’ll keep seeing a high number of adults with horrific backgrounds.
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It’s really tough trying to find absolutes in defining causes of homelessness. But one theme that is hugely common amongst our service users is having challenging childhoods. There’s a bit of a myth around homelessness – that it ‘could happen to anyone’. Strictly speaking that is true, but in reality the overwhelming majority are from poverty striken backgrounds. Perhaps Tuesday 7th June’s BBC1 show at 10:35 will shed some light on this.
Documentary telling the stories of some of the 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK. It is one of the worst child poverty rates in the industrialised world, and successive governments continue to struggle to bring it into line. So who are these children, and where are they living? Under-represented, under-nourished and often under the radar, 3.5 million children should be given a voice. And this powerful film does just that.
Eight-year-old Courtney, 10-year-old Paige and 11-year-old Sam live in different parts of the UK. Breathtakingly honest and eloquent, they give testament to how having no money affects their lives: lack of food, being bullied and having nowhere to play. The children might be indignant about their situation now, but this may not be enough to help them. Their thoughts on their futures are sobering.
Sam’s 16-year-old sister Kayleigh puts it all into context, as she tells how the effects of poverty led her to take extreme measures to try and escape it all.
Poor Kids puts the children on centre stage, and they command it with honesty and directness. It’s time for everyone to listen.
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