Thursday, December 7, 2023

Child poverty in Thurrock: A view from Tilbury

AS part of our series in child poverty, we asked Tilbury councillor, Steve Liddiard to give his reflections on an issue that affects his ward more than any other.

Cllr Liddiard said: “Child poverty, I see as a general term that describes those conditions that affect young lives in poorer families. These conditions are often but not exclusively around diet, education, aspirations, practical restrictions, travel and transportation, petty crime, antisocial behaviour, low self esteem, truancy, gang culture, violence and drug dealing.

“I think poverty is a key factor and I am reminded daily of the impact that has. I am not surprised when I hear that 90% of a local authority’s resources are targeted at 10% of the population.

“In government, Benefits, Tax credits and Child Protection is done to us and laid down by statutory arrangements. Before a law is passed, a great many experts are consulted. Councillors use their Local Government Associations and their MP’s to channel their views into parliament.

At ward level, Councillors listen to family problems and debt issues, often directing them towards the professional or agency that can best deal with their issues (Citizens Advice, Benefits Advisors, DWP, Legal rep.) In many instances, the Councillor, who is easily accessible and seen as a local representative and friendly contact, can explain, diffuse and mediate where there are difficult issues. In extreme cases, the Councillor may gain the help of more senior politicians, MP, CEO, Police Authority etc.

“Providing better housing and other social benefits is important but cannot solve the problem that some families experience, alone.

In Tilbury, we have some of the worst housing conditions in the borough and in Essex. I find this extremely frustrating as Thurrock is limited on what it can spend on refurbishment. The waiting list for social housing gets longer each year.

Councillors have a role in supporting policies that regenerate deprived areas, ensuring conditions are right for businesses to prosper and create better paid jobs for locals. Also, through education, families can lift themselves out of poverty, gaining skills that earn higher salaries. More recently, Councillors have agreed to create 200 apprenticeships internal to the council, primarily for young people not in employment. All Councillors must be committed to their borough being a place where residents can reach their full potential regardless of gender, race and disability.

As parents, we don’t get much training bringing up children into this tough world. We are often stressed or looking for relaxation ourselves when our kids need most time and attention. Poor parenting and poverty (sometimes mental ill health and family break ups) can be a dangerous combination.

Schools and local authorities get involved when children are seen as “at risk”. For many, this is too late to prevent unsatisfactory cultures developing. Social worker interventions often cause resentment, fear, embarrassment and denial. I think Surestart and Family Centres do a good job, teaching parenting skills but sometimes it’s too little, too late. As a former Specialist Foster parent, I know kids need love, discipline, support, encouragement and learning from 0-5 years old. What a parent does later in their life is mainly cosmetic.

“You can see how I feel about child poverty. This and other factors affect child behaviour, having an impact on society. Child Poverty is a complex subject and I guess there are many experts who can provide suitable advice to this government. My advice would be to teach simple parenting skills at ante natal classes as prevention is better than cure.

Ensure that benefits for poorer families are simpler to understand, more timely and more easily accessible, especially for single parents. Encourage and reward community mums as champions at parenting skills in deprived areas. We should allow teachers, doctors and child health practitioners greater freedoms and powers to recommend interventions that could tackle the deprivation, lack of development, behavioural problems etc.

“Society cannot afford to have hundreds of young people, (NEETS= not in education, employment or training) with very little money and too much time on their hands. It is a recipe for serious social problems. The employment/benefits balance needs to be reviewed to ensure that these people are fully skilled for the upturn in the economy when or wherever it may be. A small minority lack the motivation, attitude and fitness to work. They need to be helped and encouraged to work even if it means volunteering.


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