Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Child Poverty = Family Poverty

A large part of today seemed to be taken up with consideration of poverty in one form or another.  A conversation this morning with someone whose reaction to the statement on future child benefit changes was to feel it was hugely unfair on those poor single parents earning over £42K who were being unfairly targeted.  My response that my sympathies were with the women for whom child benefit is their main or sole source of income was met with a blank look.  But I'll never forget when I was teaching having a child in my tutor group whose mother was in that position.  His father drank away most of the household income but once a week when he was sleeping off that drink she could get the Family Allowance as it was called then, and buy some food for the children and herself.  Eventually she couldn't do it any longer and when her son went home from school one day he found her in the kitchen with her head in the gas oven.  So, much as I'd like it to be a universal benefit, if it comes to crunch time I'd rather see it removed from someone who has a decent income than from my pupil's mother.
This evening started with a special meeting with representatives of many different groups to discuss how Stockton Borough should tackle the problem of child poverty in this day and age.  There are still far too many children in the borough living in families who can't afford to do the things that most people take for granted - take an occasional trip out to a leisure centre or cinema for instance, or buy enough fruit for everyone to have some each day.  After years of "interventions" we're still nowhere near to solving the problem.  So is the answer more of the same or something very different?  Lack of cash has to concentrate the mind but it was difficult to work out things that could be done in those circumstances. 
We heard from Thrive, a group working in some parts of the Borough empowering just such people to fight back and get themselves established on the path out of grinding poverty. We listened to people who had taken those steps and are now helping others to take them.  We heard about the value of the Credit Union in giving the chance of loans at a more affordable rate of interest.  Then it was our turn, in groups, to look at ways in which poverty could be tackled in the borough.
I was part of a group discussing the advice and guidance available to families, especially trying to help them avoid being taken in by companies offering loans at exhorbitant rates to buy even the most basic goods such as washing machines.  By the end of the session we had some ideas but they needed a lot more work and a lot more partners sitting round the table to thrash out detail.  I hope the work is done but I don't have the power to ensure that it is.  All I can do is rely on others carrying on with the same enthusiasm as they showed today in the hopes that at least some families can be saved from this grinding poverty.
As one of the speakers said, quoting Proverbs "The poor man is hated even by his neighbour but those who love the rich are many.  He who has no respect for his neighbour is a sinner, but he who has pity for the poor is happy".  The question for all of us in that room was, which are we?

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