EARLIER THIS week, we published the latest stats on child poverty in the borough. We asked members of each party to put their thoughts on paper.
Today, Conservative leader, cllr Phil Anderson reflects on the issue in Thurrock in 2012.
Cllr Anderson said:
“Child poverty is, quite rightly, a priority for the current government and for the Conservative Party as a whole, including here in Thurrock, with Ian Duncan-Smith stating the following in his Foreword to the Government’s Child Poverty Strategy: “Around 1.9 million children in the UK grow up in homes where no-one works – roughly one in six. As a proportion, this is higher than in almost any other European Union country, despite being one of the richest countries in the world”. This is nothing other than a scandal. It is a national problem, not simply a local one, and whilst local authorities can play their part, this is an issue that also needs tackling at national level. I am pleased to see that this is recognised by the two governing parties.
Ending child poverty is also not as straightforward as many would have you believe and is not simply the case that throwing monies at it will do the job. “The previous Government attempted to hit child poverty targets by paying out record amounts in welfare payments … [but] between 1998 and 2009 poverty for working-age adults actually increased by 800,000”. Their intentions were good, but their solutions didn’t work.
What is needed is a diverse approach that addresses the causes of child poverty, to help stop more children ending up in poverty, and that also tries to help those already in poverty. There are a number of ways that local authorities can help;
By supporting local schools, whether independent or LEA, we, as a local authority, can help ensure that all children get a decent start in life and are able to have a fair chance of attending university or taking up a trade. We need to ensure that financial poverty does not equate to a poverty of aspiration.
With regards to housing we can give a priority to helping families who want to work but all too often find that work doesn’t pay. Most parents who can work want to work, and we need end the perverse incentives that encourage people not to work – something that can dull aspirations and help perpetuate child poverty through multiple generations.
There is a strong case for local government to work with national government to help strengthen families. The Government are very clear on this point: “We believe children who grow up in strong, stable families with quality relationships in the home stand the best chance of a positive future”. I believe that this analysis is right, and that local authorities can help in this regard by ensuring that our policies and practices are designed to help support strong families and are not helping to encourage the opposite.
In terms of development and regeneration we, as a local authority, have the ability to improve the environment in our wards and communities, and whilst the benefits are indirect, when an area looks good it helps people feel good about themselves and their community. It is also proven to reduce crime and it encourages pride and community cohesion.
We also work with other public sector bodies within Essex through the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA). This strategy recognises that there is a link between poverty and health and in seeking to address these issues in a joined-up way we can help to make a real difference to children’s’ lives.
There is also another role for any local authority – which is to support efforts by charities, faith groups, private companies and volunteers to help tackle the issue. The public sector doesn’t have all the answers, and in all honesty probably won’t be able to offer all the solutions, and we should recognise that. Local authorities are responsible for a number of local services and we are not able to direct our attention onto one issue to the exclusion of all others. If a charity believes that it can make a difference in part of the Borough then we should actively encourage them and ask how we can help. If a church believes that it can help regenerate an area and improve the life chances of children in poverty we should welcome them with open arms and ask whether we are doing anything that might hinder their work. If volunteers want to give up their time to help their communities for free we should take steps to clear any bureaucratic hurdles in their way and give them our support.
Ending child poverty is something that I am sure all politicians wish to do, and we are tackling it on a regular basis in many aspects of our work as councillors. When we bring jobs to the Borough we are helping to tackle it; when we are school governors we are helping to tackle it; when we help a family to get a decent, affordable house we are helping to tackle it; when we can help a community project we are helping to tackle it; and when we unanimously approved the Core Strategy last December Garry Hague stated that we were “building confidence and opportunities within our communities” – we were helping to tackle it.
This is a key issue for the Conservative Party in Thurrock, but I wouldn’t want that statement to be taken to suggest that it isn’t a priority for other parties. We may have different approaches, and we won’t always agree about the best way forwards, nor would we be expected to, but I think I can safely say that all councillors and all candidates at any election will want to help end child poverty – but perhaps we need to spell it our more clearly and more often.