Child Poverty is more than economic disadvantage

Patrick Shine

For anyone concerned about systemic inequality and exclusion child poverty has to be one of the most serious concerns. Despite huge energy by governments, little progress has been made over the last 10 years, and the IFS recently predicted that poverty will increase in the coming years due to a weak economy and impact of the last year’s budget. However, a more nuanced view of poverty arguably painted an even gloomier picture.

Recently I was invited by the Children's Society to participate in a consultation (at the St George’s House centre in Windsor Castle) on their work on child poverty and how they might inform practice and policy. Participants included academics, leading church representatives, together with the leadership team of Children’s Society and representatives of Citizens UK.

The key finding from a fascinating set of presentations and discussions is that the state of being “in poverty” is far more complex than a simple financial equation. It depends on social and subjective factors – and the Children’s Society is doing pioneering work in this area - but also the level of family and community resources that can be drawn upon.  The recent UNICEF report highlighted the desire of children for more time with parents and the contrast with the pressures society placed on parents to buy more material goods.

At Shaftesbury we think Sure Start centres are one of the best ways to build the local resources to support families with children in poverty, and we’ve been taking a look at how they work. Performance information suggests that, on average, centres run by charities or community groups can be more effective at this than those run by Local Authorities or schools. This supports our view that neither stronger public sector interventions nor higher benefits will, on their own, lift families out of the complexity of poverty.  At the more fundamental level, hope, trust, and better human relationships within families and within communities give people something more to live for.  Any genuine solution for complex families will need to find ways to work at this deeper level.

In the final session at Windsor Castle we were challenged to highlight what could be achieved in a really good centre, and promote it as an example for others. This is a great challenge, but many practitioners  will experience difficulties in trying to emulate that best practice. So at Shaftesbury our next step is to explore ways to make it easier for centres to do this, by pioneering a social franchising framework that will scale up the impact of the best children’s centres and make the most difference to the children that need this kind of support the most.

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