Posts Tagged ‘sure start’

Today sees the publication of Frank Field’s report on poverty in the UK.  Although it isn’t yet available to read in full as far as I know, its contents have been widely reported in the daily newspapers.  His advice that government should stop trying to boost the income of poor families and freeze child benefit and child tax credits, will no doubt be music to the ears of this ConDem(ned) government. Apparently, income will be redistributed by the improved job prospects of disadvantaged children helped by better public services during the ‘foundation years’ 0 to 3.

The money saved by freezing welfare benefits would be used to improve ante-natel and pre-school care, to finance children’s centres and provide parenting classes throughout school life.

Judging by the current fashion for cutting anything and everything, I can’t see any savings made being re-invested in services.  Cameron and Co. prefer cutting to spending. Sure Start Childrens Centres have been an extremely successful service and are very popular with those that use them. But thanks to the savage cuts in local government finances, many are under threat.  In Stoke-on-Trent, half of the existing centres could be closed. (Check out the campaign to save them, SOCC) Frank Field also believes that private companies should be able to bid to provide Sure Start services.

I am in agreement with much of what the report apparently says.  Poverty, social exclusion, disadvantage, whatever label you wish to use, is much more complicated than simply a lack of money. Poor education,  a restricted paradigm in which no other life can be envisaged and low aspirations, all help to build the walls that trap individuals, families and communities in poverty.  The Guardian quotes Frank Field as saying

“A healthy pregnancy, positive but authoritative parenting, high quality childcare, a positive approach to learning at home and an improvement in parents’ qualifications, can … trump class background and parental income.”

It will take financial investment and plenty of time to make a difference.  But we already knew that. Didn’t we?

I’m not sure that there is anything actually new here. Surely these are the kind of differences, things like Sure Start,  EMA, university outreach programs, cash payments to women during their pregnancies, were designed to make?

Oh! I forgot! They have had to go.

We can’t afford them.

And if that’s the case, what are the odds on more money being spent on increasing services, even it child benefit and child tax credits are frozen?

I worry that this report could lead to disadvantaged families becoming even more disadvantaged, not less so,  with its suggestion to  cut welfare even further than it has already been cut in the recent spending review.  Low income might not be the sole cause of disadvantage, but I believe that it is at the very heart of poverty.

It is very difficult to concentrate on ‘positive parenting’ when the most important thing on your mind is how to keep your children warm, or fed or clothed.

Your education and your future are a long way off when your class mates laugh at you because you don’t have a washing machine to keep your clothes clean or you don’t dress the ‘right’ way, or you stomach grumbles in class because you’re hungry.

With all the current changes to welfare in the pipeline, social mobility is more likely to mean trying to keep a roof over your head rather than improving the life chances of our  countries most vulnerable children.