If we take care of the future, the future will take care of us.
By Martin Kerin
WE are living in uncertain times, the like of which have not been seen since the 1920’s. Yes, there have been more dangerous times since then. However, economic, constitutional and international uncertainties are dominating the national debate in a way not seen since the early 20th century. It is, therefore, with great concern, that two major issues that will affect the future shape of our country are rearing their ugly heads in the early 21st century: child poverty and cuts to school budgets. These twin tributaries are contributing to a river that is rapidly flowing too fast in the wrong direction.
With the issue of child poverty, 4 million children (that’s 30% of children) are currently living in poverty – this is the highest level since 2010. Even more shocking is that of this number, 67% are from working families. Yes, working families. If work isn’t the route out of poverty that it is meant to be, then urgent action is needed to ensure that work is the route out of poverty that it is meant to be.
There is a moral duty to ensure that no child is living in poverty. Aside from this moral obligation to eradicate child poverty, there is a selfish, ‘national interest’ reason to eradicate child poverty, too. No one knows how our nation will look when the current generation of children become a generation of working, taxpaying and contributing citizens. The perfect storm of the economic after-effects of the Crash of ’08, the constitutional impact of Brexit and rising Scottish nationalism, and instability in the world (especially among our key strategic allies) will, without a doubt, leave an indelible mark on our country – at just the moment a cohort of children living in poverty attempt to make their way in the world as adults. In the words of the Barnsley MP and child poverty campaigner Dan Jarvis: “Britain’s place in the world of tomorrow will be brighter if we focus on poverty today.” This view is backed by Alison Garnham, of Child Poverty Action Group, who states: “[there is] no greater danger to our long prosperity than failing to invest in our children.”
The other issue causing concern is school funding. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), some schools are facing a 6.5% cut – the first real terms cut since the mid 90’s. The Education Policy Institute is reporting average losses in funding for secondary schools of almost £300,000. Primaries are braced for losses in the tens of thousands. As with child poverty, it is entirely self-defeating for a country facing uncertainty to cut its most crucial resource – children. Thurrock schools cannot afford to lose six-figure sums from their books. However, this is a consequence, as put by the National Governors’ Association, of “[a] cake [that] simply isn’t big enough to educate the pupils that we have across the country.”
To make it in the globalised world, we must create an economy that is high-skill and high-wage. Dr Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers warns that: “if the government doesn’t increase the overall amount of funding for schools, a generation of children will have a severely restricted education…” In a fast-changing, globalised world, the last thing we need is a generation of children emerging from a restricted educational experience. Put simply, it is not in our national self-interest.
The river I described earlier needs a dam. In my opinion, the dam must come in the shape of a Beveridge Report for the 21st Century. The original Beveridge Report of 1942 identified the five evils of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. This report, published during the height of war, and implemented by the post-war Attlee government of ’45 changed lives for the better. In fact, it changed Britain for the better.
I believe that there are, today, five main challenges facing us:
1. Eradicating child poverty;
2. Ensuring a continued and non-negotiable investment in pre-schools, schools and colleges;
3. Investing in secure, stable and affordable housing for all renters and owners;
4. Establishing a new deal for workers in the gig economy and insecure employment;
5. Guaranteeing dignity in old age with world-class adult social care.
We have reached a moment in our history where the above issues cannot be ignored. The best place to start is with number 1 and 2. Why? Quite simply, the children are our future. If we take care of the future, the future will take care of us.