Our challenge – Eradicate child poverty

English: British school children in London, En...

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“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

Nelson Mandela, (1918 – ) First South African President and Inspirational Leader

There are times when you watch something on television so profound that it just pulls at your inner being. On 7th June, something very similar happened. I usually record my television programmes and watch them as I get time but on this particular occasion, I was browsing and came across BBC’s programme, Poor Kids.

For readers outside the UK, who cannot view the programme on BBC iplayer, please visit Jezza Neuman’s blog, titled Poor Kids: A child’s view of growing up in poverty

Journalists often get slated for all sorts of reasons but here was proof of true journalism and its power to present facts in an innovative way through poor children’s eyes and the effects of poverty on children, as they view them. The programme’s innovative approach of presenting key facts all through the programme and the children’s viewpoint was not only moving but heart wrenching. How could we as a society, let this happen?

I usually blog on a variety of topics within business/IT management and technology, while occasionally covering topics that I feel I should cover, such as Nurturing future IT Professionals and leaders and a ComputerWeekly reader’s response, Boring’ label shows industry is ignorant about GCSE ICT.

This time it was different, compared to the ones above. Having witnessed the power of individual’s in the Middle East, I want to do something about it and play my part, in eradicating child poverty, from the UK and indeed globally. Over many years, since I was a kid, I have heard from successive governments and organisations such as Unicef that they have these wonderful five, ten, twenty year plans to eradicate child poverty, yet having grown up listening to these promises, the fact is that child poverty still exists. I cannot eradicate child poverty on my own but if enough people raise their voice against it, even as individuals, it will happen. It is unacceptable to me as a Brit to have child poverty within the UK, in 2011. What should we do to eradicate child poverty? I present my answer below followed by facts that support my hypothesis. My hope is that other bloggers, social media groups and charities can join me in ‘Action’ rather than compiling mere documents, strategies and Acts that have no effect on child poverty. The floor is yours, as they say….

The simple plan to eradicate child poverty (within the UK):

  1. International aid: One of my readers, found it quite ironic that, “We spend millions of public money on the olympic games when we cannot pay for families wo are on the bread line (or below) to live in decent housing stock”. Anyway, we have to reduce International aid, to countries such as Pakistan (£600 million in 2010/11). This cannot be justified when 3.5 million UK children suffer from child poverty. I recognise and accept the UK’s role to support other nations that need our support (My parents were from Pakistan). I cannot justify that aid when I am not shown any accountability as a UK citizen on where and how that money is spent (the UK government is knowledgeable about the rampant corruption among government officials). Especially, when their PM orders a custom built Range Rover and Rolls Royce Phantom (£800k) & pays no tax on any income for that year and one of their richest citizens (who is also an ex PM and current minister), pays only Rs 5000 (£50) in taxes annually (Source ARY News Channel report, Off the record programme on YouTube, titled – Kashif Abbasi, Off the Record, No Tax from Pakistan leaders – IN URDU UNFORTUNATELY). This is while child poverty within Pakistan is probably in figures that would eclipse UK figures!
  2. School Uniform: As highlighted by the programme, the child was wearing his sister’s shirt as his family could not afford the school uniform. This opened the floodgates for ridicule by fellow pupils. School uniform in schools is quite expensive and ranges from approx £15 – £70). Poor families cannot afford these costs and are sometimes reluctant to admit that they cannot afford them. Let’s help these families to keep their ‘self-respect’ by abolishing individual School uniforms across the UK, replaced by a national standardised school uniform available at a standard cost across the country.
  3. Child Vouchers: In addition to the school uniform suggestion above, redistribute a proportionate amount of the International aid (or all of it) in child care vouchers for school uniforms (if the suggestion above is not acceptable) and/or clothes. These vouchers can only be used for clothes.
  4. School curriculum: The national school curriculum, although standardised is taught with a great deal of variety and subject availability, across the UK. Some schools are better than others and are graded every 5 years approximately. Leadership, inspirational  and aspirational aspects are alluded to by some schools, while in others there is a severe lack of these aspects. In order for these schools to produce the future of our country, these three elements need to be incorporated within the curriculum. Curriculum and subject availability standards need to be taught and raised to those expected from private schools. Teachers salaries need to be raised as currently the best pupils end up in the private and public sector and the teaching profession is only chosen by either very special individuals who have aspired to become teachers or who cannot get many other jobs.
  5. After school classes: These should be available on a ‘needs’ basis, regardless of whether one student requires assistance or whether many do. Poorer students are usually the ones that need additional support but additional support for these children, is currently unavailable.
  6. University fees: Many students from poorer or middle class backgrounds will not go to university if they have to pay fees. We need to support our country by producing the people required to manage our country in the future. We will experience extensive brain drain, as we lose our students to foreign universities, after all, if university fees have to be paid, students may choose to go abroad and never return! According to the BBC, “History professor Robert Gildea (Oxford university) said the changes to university funding were “reckless, incoherent and incompetent”.Professor Gildea warned the changes would turn the university system into a “red carpet for the rich” which would take Oxford “back to Brideshead”.
  7. Employment opportunities: Poorer children’s parents need to be supported by the wider community and that cannot be done by government alone. A quota system should be created for every organisation (over a certain size), where priority MUST be given to ‘poorer families/unemployed’ including the chance to cross train.

APPENDIX OF FACTS

FACT ONE:

We, as a society, have become experts at compiling documents on child poverty, that run into hundreds of pages that are either discussed until no more discussion can happen and then both the document and the will of the people and organisations to orchestrate and meet the objective of eradicating child poverty, just dies. When I was researching this article, I have come across child poverty acts and strategies (View links at the end of the post) written by the public sector (UK Govt) and charities, yet I remain convinced that none of these will make an aorta of difference. The reason, I am convinced is backed by facts and the fact that once government is involved, they are experts at writing reports and lack the will for action, due to their bureaucracy.

Tom Peters, sums up very well the problem of inertia. “The magnitude of potential simplification is ….staggering.

Jim Champy, co-author along with Michael Hammer of the bible on reengineering (titled Reengineering the corporation), keeps executive audiences enthralled as he recounts tale after tale after horrid tale of critical business processes gone to flab. Consider a process for verifying an insurance claim. It takes 23 working days. Yet when Champy looks inside with an electron microscope, he discovers that, literally, 17 minutes of actual work are performed. The rest is all about scraps of paper flying (crawling is more like it) from here to there. Sitting on Desks. Unnecessary complications to forms to be filled out. And initialled. And initialled again. And so on.

Yes, it is that bad.

23 days.

17 minutes”. Excerpt from Re-Imagine, Tom Peters, page 156

FACT 2:

Facts courtesy of BBC programme, Poor Kids

  • 3.5 million children live in poverty within the UK.
  • Out of 12 Rich countries studied, kids in the UK have the lowest chance of escaping poverty.
  • In November 2010, the UK came 18th out of 22 European countries ranked by Unicef for Child Poverty. Only Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Italy were lower.
  • Child poverty under current policies is set to rise 11% in the next 3 years.
  • Poor children are 2½ times more likely to suffer chronic illness.
  • 85% of children living in damp flats suffer breathing problems.
  • 47% of children with asthma are from the poorest 10% of families.
  • Poor kids are 5 times less likely to have access to a safe outdoor play space than rich kids.
  • Credit Interest and higher fuel charges cost poor families an extra £1,280 per year.
  • Poor Kids director Jezza Neumann on the lack of hope for the children he spoke to: “I believe so many of the children we met while making the film could go on to great things in life, if given the right chances.”
  • Save the Children, who worked with the makers of Poor Kids, warns the number of children living in poverty is expected to rise over the next couple of years.
  • Recent research by the OECD revealed that children growing up in poverty in the UK are the least likely to be able to escape deprivation compared to children in other rich countries.

FACT 3:

Facts, courtesy of Time Magazine, 16/5/11 and how they relate to child poverty and Education:

  • By the age of 3, a poorer child tends to lag his wealthier equivalent in terms of personal development by 12 months.
  • At 18, the rich kid, who, like a mere 7% of Briton’s, has enjoyed the benefits of a private education, is 6 times as likely to go to university and 55 times as likely to get into Oxford or Cambridge.
  • More than 60% of the 29 Ministers around the Cabinet table were privately educated, and as many as 7 in 10 Ministers are alumni of Oxford or Cambridge.

FACT 4:

I have included below, a comment that highlights the reality of child poverty by covering a real situation where government guidelines fail children. Similar situations can happen for many reasons including the fact that parents maybe on the threshold of poverty but may not actually declare that to the authorities, as they may for example, be in denial as a result of for example, a recent redundancy or job loss.

A comment from Jezza Neumann’s blog: At 18:47 7th Jun 2011, Boilerbill wrote:

“When I was a teacher in a large school in South Bristol, there was one 11 year old girl in my tutor group who was always late. One day, on her return to school after one of her rare weeks off (on reflection I should have noticed that she was off for a week, never for the odd day, but there was always a letter), she said to me, “My Dad loves me really.” By chance a social worker was talking to the Head of Year. I told her about this rather strange comment. She said that she would see what she could find out.

The result. As I knew already, this girl walk across a mile of derelict ground to get to school. But every morning she took her 3 younger siblings to their Primary School – they were always on time in clean clothing. But it turned out that at home the girl would be given money every day to cook for and feed the family. If the meal wasn’t ready when her parents wanted feeding she got beaten (explains the absences). The children all ended up in care.

But my point is that this problem had remained hidden. The primary school (which had a good record at identifying children at risk) didn’t notice any particular problem. When the girl was in my school she was hard working in lessons, showing none of the indicators we had been asked to look out for. She was skilled at covering up what was happening in her life.
How do you find these children? They are all around us”.

I would like to end this post with a poem by Khalil Gibran, titled – Your Children are not your children:

Your Children are not Your Children

They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

Further Info

UK Department for Work and Pensions – Child poverty policy

UK Department for Education – Child Poverty Strategy

UK Department for Education – A new approach to child poverty – Tackling the causes of disadvantage and transforming families lives

UK Legislation.gov.uk – Child poverty Act 2010

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)

Joseph Rowntree Foundation – Education and poverty in the spending review

BBC News – Main site for Education and family

BBC News – Education and family – Q&A University funding

BBC News – Education and family – Oxford dons vote against Willets

BBC News – Education and family – Oxford dons declare ‘No confidence’ in Willets

BBC News – Education and family – MPs warn over tuition fees funding gap

National Children’s Bureau (NCB) – Ending child poverty – Making it happen

End Child Poverty.org – Poverty in a land of plenty – Five years on

Action for Children – Child poverty

Barnardos – Child Poverty

The Guardian – Severe poverty affects 1.6 million children, charity claims

Gazzette Live – Charity calls for action on child poverty within the UK

Joseph Rowntree Foundation – Can current policy end child poverty in Britain by 2020?

Child Poverty Action Group – Ending Child Poverty – A manifesto for success


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