Having spent more years than enough in employment support and regeneration, before taking on this role in tackling child poverty, I was never going to miss the launch of two reports on how employment and regeneration contribute to reducing poverty, part of the ambitious work by JRF to build an Anti Poverty Strategy for the UK to be launched in 2015. The reports make good reading, here they are:
To save you time in reading these excellent reports, it turns out that big, national schemes that give poor people more money(national minimum wage, tax credits) are much more effective at reducing poverty than smaller local initiatives to create jobs and help people access those jobs.
No surprise there then. But read a bit deeper and two further messages come through: that demand-side interventions (to create more demand for labour by supporting employers and providing subsidies) are generally more effective than supply side ones (improving the supply of labour by encouraging job search for example); and that local interventions have been hugely under-funded compared to national tax and benefit programmes.
At the launch event, Richard Crisp suggested there was a case for local ILM schemes to stimulate demand for labour in disadvantaged areas. This led me to revisit a recent discussion about recreating local community programmes. The logic runs like this:
Disadvantaged areas are being hammered most by welfare 'reform' and the impact of sanctions, which are taking money out of communities and causing deep poverty and destitution.
The 'recovery' is not benefiting disadvantaged areas
Jobs are still hard to come by in most disadvantaged areas, and forcing people to improve their job searching just lengthens the queues and polishes the CVs for the few jobs on offer.
There is a crying need for investment in disadvantaged areas, where shops are still closed, parks are neglected, fly tipping left uncollected, play areas left vandalised. And there is no local regeneration funding any more. None.
So, people in disadvantaged are bearing the brunt of the pain, and seeing little of the gain, in recovery from an economic crisis that they didn't cause. Jobs need doing and people are needing jobs.
The solution would be a community programme (a welfare-to-work type scheme from the 1980s, similar to the Fuure Jobs Fund but for all ages) that would invest in creating local jobs to deliver local services, improve local areas etc.
This would be paid for by recycling a proportion of the estimated £19bn that welfare 'reform' is set to take out of local communities.
What has this to do with tackling child poverty? Well, it would help create more opportunities for parents to 'work their way out of poverty', and it would provide improved services for disadvantaged areas, where most children in poverty live. It might show that being 'all in it together' is about sharing the gain, not just the pain.
Work has to be a better route out of poverty. Most poor children have a working parent.