Historically, we have made strides in reducing child poverty in this country, but it is now rising. Currently, four million children live in poverty in England and two-thirds are from working households. This figure is set to exceed five million in the next few years. Just last year, Professor Philip Alston published a damning report on poverty in Britain which brought to bear the sobering reality for many – and this in one of the richest countries in the world. The Government’s response was disappointing to say the least, with several spokespeople disagreeing with the unequivocal analysis.
You only have to look to see that poverty is real. Up and down the country, the number of food donation boxes alongside collection points for sanitary products and warm clothing for the homeless in our local supermarkets is growing. Children are arriving at school hungry, families are queuing up at food banks and schools are buying coats and even washing clothes for pupils and their families. I fear these things could become part of the wallpaper.
Every child deserves the opportunity to succeed but poverty robs them of this. Children living in poverty are more likely to have poorer health outcomes than those living in less deprived communities as well as poorer nutrition – both of which influence their ability to succeed in school.
Poverty is front and centre of the work that local authorities do with children and families.
When I talk about poverty, I am talking about more than simply a lack of access to basic necessities such as food and clothing, but also poverty of opportunity. This includes children with special educational needs being squeezed out of the mainstream education system or those living in rural areas having limited access to essential public services such as youth centres and libraries.
It is our job to help children through this, but a sustained period of austerity, a 50% reduction in our budgets since 2010, and rising need in our communities has impacted on the range and reach of services we are able to provide to vulnerable children and their families.
Poverty is not inevitable. For central Government, investing in strategies that reduce childhood poverty is both a smart and efficient economic policy as well as the right thing to do. We have reduced poverty before so we can make a choice to do it again. If we do nothing, we will look back in shame.
Stuart Gallimore is director of children’s services at East Sussex CC and outgoing president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) 2018/19