Posts Tagged child poverty

Signing the pledge

Signing the pledge used to refer to going teetotal (not something I’m about to do, although I respect those who have). But there are now pledges a gogo for us all to sign up to.

Today is the last day to vote in the Power2010 ballot on which reform pledges you most want the next government to fulfil. As I’ve blogged before, these include lots of excellent ideas, including fairer votes, fixed term parliaments, ending ID cards, and the right to recall corrupt MPs.

Another pledge vote is for the top House Proud pledge, promoted by Inside Housing. I’ve already signed up to their petition pledging to make housing a priority in the next Parliament.

Housing is a vital issue in communities like Islington South & Finsbury. Islington Council is building new council homes which is great but we also need work to make existing homes greener, and action to bring the thousands of empty homes into use.

But what should the top policy be? There are three candidates for the pledge: to continue the investment in decent homes; to retrofit existing homes to make them greener; or to put residents ahead of the bottom line. I’ve gone for option B, green retrofitting. Why? Well, option C is nice but vague, and option A, the decent homes programme, is retrospective anyway.

Option B, a programme to make existing homes greener, would fight climate change, provide sustainable local jobs and give people warmer homes with lower fuel bills. It’s a brilliant idea. Just a pity it’s one the Labour government vetoed when the LibDem-backed Fuel Poverty Bill came to the vote last year….

Last week I had a really good meeting with UNICEF-UK. They happen to be based in this constituency, and are well worth a visit if only for the great gift shop at reception, all in aid of their excellent work promoting children’s rights around the world.

UNICEF are promoting three pledges for parliamentary candidates:

1. UK Child Poverty: Around 4 million UK children are denied a childhood free from poverty. Living in poverty has a profound impact on children’s health, education and well-being.
I agree to take urgent action in Parliament to end child poverty in the UK by 2020.
2. International Development: Millions of children living in low-income countries are denied their rights. They lack access to healthcare, education, fair treatment and ultimately a childhood.
I agree to champion the rights of children in low income countries and highlight the urgent need to meet the Millennium Development Goals.
3. Child Rights: Most people do not know about the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This means children are often denied their right to be heard and have their views taken into account.
I agree to listen to young people in my prospective constituency and provide them with opportunities to make their voice heard on decisions which affect them.
I’m very pleased to have signed up to all three.

It is a disgrace that the Labour government has failed to hit its own child poverty reduction goals. Liberal Democrats are committed to tackling child poverty at home, through policies such as the pupil premium, and globally through effective international aid and development. It is my aim to work with existing programmes such as ‘Listen Up!’ in Islington to give my younger constituents their chance to air their views.

I also support votes at 16 (another of the Power2010 ideas) to give more young people a real say in the democratic process. It’s daft that at 16 you can pay taxes, and join the armed forces, even get married, yet not have a vote.

There’s no age restriction on the Power2010 and Inside Housing pledges, so get voting!

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Inequality: bad for our health?

New figures from the Office of National Statistics report that London’s children are the most deprived in the UK.

One in four London children is growing up in poverty, and we already know that for Islington it’s nearer half all children.

The growing gap between rich and poor is not only a terrible failure by the Labour government; it makes society more stressed, less healthy, trusting and secure, than societies where wealth is more equitably distributed. Although it’s arguable that redistribution is the consequence, rather than the cause, of a happier society.

In the midst of this, an invitation arrives from the Rev Chris Brice in Gospel Oak (what a great name for a parish!):

Professor Richard Wilkinson acclaimed author of: “The Spirit Level – why more equal societies almost always do better”

Is speaking in London On: July 5th At: 6pm at St Martins Church Gospel Oak NW5 4NL

Followed by a Question and Answer Session after his talk


Come and hear about the pernicious consequences on millions of UK citizens of Britain being one of the most economically unequal countries amongst the 23 richest democracies.

Prof Wilkinson has carried out a number of studies on the effects on inequality on health, and the links between inequality and racism – highly topical given the rise of the BNP. It is, after all, just a short train ride from Gospel Oak to Barking.

Gross and growing inequality is certainly bad for society’s health. That’s not to say it’s avoidable. Like sugar or sunlight, it’s excess that’s bad for us. I don’t believe total equality is achievable – and certainly not by means that are acceptable to liberals (or Liberals).

Liberal Democrats are pledged to fight poverty, ignorance and conformity, not inequality per se. But the extremes of rich and poor, and the growing gap between rich and poor, both globally and within communities, undermine the conditions in which liberalism can flourish and breed intolerance. To quote Barack Obama, money is not the only answer, but it makes a difference.

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The transforming power of education

Last night we had an inspiring evening debating education and social exclusion.

The other week, my parents reminded me that my first ever political demo was against education cuts – in my pushchair! As the daughter and sister-in-law of teachers; a school governor; a former youth worker; and a scholarship girl at university, I am steeped in a commitment to the transforming power of education and the importance of seeking excellence for all pupils.

But as I’m a Lib Dem you’d expect that. What was special about last night was debating the issues with our guest speaker, Stephen Williams MP. Stephen is not only part of our Education team in Parliament, he embodies what we are campaigning for. Stephen told us of his background: a kid getting free school meals, the son of a road worker and a dinner lady, who became the first in his family to get to university – and now an MP.

And unlike the Labour MPs – who broke Blair’s tainted promise and pulled up the ladder of achievement that helped them, by introducing tuition fees – Stephen and the Lib Dems are still looking at ways to extend opportunity. Like the pupil premium, and cutting class sizes (launched in Islington!) to give the poorest infants the same pupil-teacher ratios as prep schools. And like the truly radical proposals on parental leave.

With the sad death of Ivan Cameron, parents in politics are in the news for tragic reasons. I now believe that the big divide in politics is less between men and women (although it’s still there) and more between people who have caring responsibilities (usually women) and those without.

I’m so proud that Lib Dems have serious plans to address these equity issues and to power up the transforming effect of education. This is just what communities like Islington need.

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More on Lib Dems’ education plans

More coverage of the Lib Dem schools’ policy – launched in Islington – in the Guardian, and the Indy.

At the heart of the plans is cutting primary school class sizes to just 15, to give state school infants the same good start as their peers in private schools: as the Indy points out, a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development revealed that the gap in class sizes between state and private schools was larger in the UK – at 13 pupils per class – than anywhere else in the world. Internationally, the difference on average is between one and two pupils per class.

Setting low minimum class sizes would particularly benefit boroughs with a high turnover, like Islington. As a school governor myself, I know how the official number of pupils – recorded each January and on which school funding depends – varies dramatically from term to term. A lower number of pupils to start with means schools could handle an influx of pupils mid year much better.

Investing in schools isn’t just about improving education, important though that is. It’s crucial for children’s life chances and those of their whole family. Social class still dictates the education you’ll have and the life you’ll lead, not your intelligence or commitment. That’s wrong, and it’s Labour’s shame that it’s still the case.

I’m proud that my party is proposing something that will really change it.

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Social mobility no better under Labour

I remember years ago meeting a councillor from one of the leafier bits of Sheffield.

We compared notes on our patches, including advice surgeries and casework. Most of mine was housing or planning; she agreed about the planning, but said she had hardly any housing casework. It turned out that was because she had hardly any council housing in the ward.

Nowhere’s like that in Islington. Part of the charm, and the challenge, of our community is that all kinds of people live side by side. In my row of council and ex-council flats, there are everyone from young professionals flat-sharing to respectable pensioners, to large families making do on small incomes. We share a postcode but our life chances are all very different. And Labour’s grand plans to tackle social exclusion and inequality, and improve mobility and opportunity, have failed.

As Martin Narey, Chief Executive of Barnardos, reported recently, “Britain today is a society of persistent inequality. The life chances of children remain heavily dependent on the circumstances of their birth. Children born to poorer families have less favourable outcomes across every sphere of life.”

He was writing in his role as independent Chair of the Liberal Democrats’ Social Mobility Commission. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg set up the Commission because as a party we care passionately about social mobility. Many Liberal Democrat supporters from a social democrat background have joined us because they feel angry and betrayed by Labour’s failure to deliver on what could have been a common agenda.

Instead, over the last five years, many of the key indicators of social exclusion have got worse, not better, according to research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Meanwhile, the extra money Labour has put into schools has largely benefitted children from better-off backgrounds. And the poorest families have been excluded from university because of tuition fees. Liberal Democrats are calling for a pupil premium, as extra money to support the poorest pupils, to try and redress the balance.

I’ve blogged before about child poverty. Islington-based charity the Child Poverty Action Group is running the 2 Skint 4 School campaign to highlight how poverty and bad education are linked in a vicious circle.

The waste of opportunity – for individuals and our country – is a tragedy; investing in the best start for young people is the right thing to do morally, socially and economically. The cost of crime, unemployment and poor health from doing nothing, is far greater than the cost of doing the right thing now.

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Spotlight on ‘Invisible Islington’

A new report from the Cripplegate Foundation – Invisible Islington – highlights the experiences of poor people in Islington, and the way different agencies are trying to tackle this.

Islington has far above average levels of lone parent households and of mental health problems. Both absolute and relative poverty are problems here: Islington has some of the most extreme polarisation between rich and poor in the country.

We already know about the health inequality in London, that GP services in poorer areas are underfunded, that half Islington’s children are growing up in poverty, and that 1 in 10 households are on waiting lists for affordable homes. It’s a terrible verdict on 11 years of Labour government, with Gordon Brown in Downing Street throughout. But the statistics don’t always have an impact the way individual stories do.

Cripplegate’s report covers real individuals in depth as well as looking at the policy headlines. It focuses on debt, unemployment and poor health as key problems – but also praises the crucial role family and close friends play in people’s lives. One reason why housing policies which keep family and community networks in place is so important in Islington.

Writing in the Evening Standard, Nick Cohen says:

“Around the corner from its Georgian terraces is some of the worst poverty in Western Europe: people of all colours who are crushed by debt and joblessness.

“The Cripplegate Foundation, which commissioned the study, dates back to 1500 and there is a medieval feel to the inner London it describes. On the one hand, we have super-gentrifiers in Barnsbury who are among the top earners on the planet. One hundred yards away in the King’s Cross estates are men with the lowest life expectancy in London.

“Perhaps we will soon feel more affinity with them. The chaos in the markets has made all but the most secure realise how precarious their wealth and status are, and how easy it could be to lose everything. Millions have had a reality check. About the only good thing that could come out of the crash is the realisation that poverty isn’t a joke.”

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Keep the promise march today

I’ve blogged before about End Child Poverty’s ‘Keep the promise’ march, which takes place today.

Despite the media image, Islington continues to have some of the highest levels of child poverty in the country, affecting 48% of children in Islington South & Finsbury.

So much for 11 years of Labour government….

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