The Child Poverty Unit has provided a useful Appendix summarising consultation responses they received and the Government’s reaction to those responses (Annex E). A list of the changes made as a result of those consultation responses would have been nice (and short!). But changes there have been: some good, some bland, and some not so good. In my view, of course.
There is a much stronger recognition of the importance of mental health as both a cause and effect of poverty, a commitment to improve access to mental health services, and a plug for the “Better health outcomes for children and young people” pledge, which are all good additions to the Strategy.
There is a new paragraph on the links between poverty, health and educational attainment which, mercifully, emphasises that it is the impact of poverty on children that causes problems, not children’s behaviours. It says “Ensuring children are ‘school ready’ is a key challenge. Children who are healthy, fit and alert will benefit most from their education and be able to realise their potential. But a child born in poverty is more likely than other children to be born early, born small, die in the first year of life, die before adulthood or experience health problems in later life. Equally, children coming to school hungry or stressed as a result of their social and economic environment will be unable to take full advantage of learning opportunities.” (para 26, p44).
There is more recognition of the importance of local data in measuring child poverty, and a commitment to find a good local ‘proxy’ measure to replace the HMRC data generated through Tax Credits, which will disappear when Universal Credit (eventually) rolls out.
Living Wage gets a mention, hurrah! But just to say that employers should consider paying it. Not that they should pay it unless there is very good reason not to. A step in the right direction though.
There is an explicit statement that “Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in particular can play a vital leadership role for local partners to tackle the drivers of child poverty.” Many of us would like to see LEPs given a clear role in promoting fair and inclusive economic development, rather than growth at all costs, and this goes some way towards that. They could have gone slightly further and used the word ‘should’ rather than ‘can’. We’ll watch to see how our LEPs respond, if at all, to this gentle nudge.
There are other additions to the section on what employers can do, including looking to better understand the issues facing their workforce, and a plug for the Social Mobility Business Compact. Nice, but hardly likely to hold the attention of the CBI for long.
There is still no real strategy here, no indication of how they will hit the targets, no measureable objectives, no teeth.
Sadly, there is still a focus on blaming poor children’s lack of ‘character skills’ for any future poverty they may experience. This ignores the evidence the Government recognises (as cited in the good paragraph quoted above) of the practical impacts of poverty on education. It also ignores several responses – including our own – suggesting that a lack of ‘character skills’ was an un-evidenced and offensive explanation for poverty.
To rub salt into this wound, the only new funding commitment I could find was to "Working with the Ministry of Defence and independent schools – and providing funding – to get more cadet forces into state schools", which looks suspiciously to me like a strategy to tackle poverty by shouting at poor kids.
This is just a quick and dirty view of the Strategy. There are four other bits and pieces launched today: