As preparations for the next round of European programmes enter their final phase (a to-and-fro of complex negotiations over points of detail lasting an unknown number of months), my thoughts turn to how this next funding bonanza might make the biggest impact on poverty in the North East.
The numbers are impressive: around £435m for the North East LEP, and around £175m for Tees Valley between now and 2020 (assuming we are still in the EU at that point). That works out at over £4,000 per child currently living in poverty in the North East. Surely we can do something with that to make a real difference to children’s chances of escaping from the cycle of disadvantage? I worry that it will not, for 3 reasons:
We know that 2 in 3 poor children live in a household where someone works. The JRF review of Employment, Pay and Poverty concludes that active labour market policy has often just moved people from out-of-work poverty to in-work poverty. Work is too often not a route out of poverty, but the EU programmes are likely to focus on getting people into work as a key measure.
Equally, much of the ‘pre-employment support’ delivered through EU programmes is tackling the symptoms of poverty, rather than actually moving people out of poverty. This is, of course, incredibly important and worthwhile, but we have no way of knowing what impact this has on people’s level of income, and the poverty experienced by their children.
Creating more jobs and better jobs lies at the heart of the strategy for both LEPs, but there is no reason why the better jobs will go to those in poverty. Without that direct link between job creation and people in poverty, we are left hoping that the benefits of EU-funded employment growth will ‘trickle down’ to families in poverty.
None of this is new, of course. But with the recent growth in interest in anti-poverty strategies, we have an opportunity to do things a bit differently this time around. I propose a 5 point plan to each of the LEPs:
Make an explicit Anti-Poverty commitment in your strategy: Something like ‘We commit to ensure that the measures in this strategy commit to the reduction of poverty in our LEP area.’ Better yet, put some numbers to that.
Score projects’ impact on poverty: Require projects to demonstrate the contribution that they will make to reducing poverty, and only fund the ones that have the best impact.
Assess impacts on poverty: Require projects to monitor their impacts on poverty, in terms of their level of household income before, during and after their involvement with projects.
Demonstrate your impact on poverty: publish assessments of the overall impact of the programme’s impact on poverty alongside other monitoring and evaluation information such as jobs created and floorspace developed.
Support the Living Wage: require all projects supported by the EU SIF programmes to pay at least the Living Wage to all employees funded through the programmes.
Work has to be a better route out of poverty. Most poor children have a working parent.