Councils need help to beat child poverty rise

Derren Hayes
Monday, April 28, 2014

Projecting what will happen to child poverty figures between now and 2020 is a difficult task for the statisticians and number crunchers, let alone politicians and campaigners. So pronouncements on what the future holds have to be treated with a hefty dose of caution, particularly with a general election not far away.

As if to highlight the difficult nature of the task, analysis about what has happened with child poverty in recent years paints a conflicting picture: government figures show the percentage of children living in poverty fell in 2010/11 and 2011/12, while the Institute for Fiscal Studies records a rise over the two years.

The discrepancy could be down to differences in what each measures, but logic suggests the huge slowdown in public sector spending, combined with static economic growth over much of the past four years must have pushed more families onto the breadline. For local authorities working at the sharp end, such prosaic arguments are largely irrelevant. Devoid until recently of an overarching government strategy addressing the issue, they have been working hard to develop new ways of tackling the causes and consequences of poverty for children and families.

By tapping into central government programmes encouraging parents into work; bidding for charity grants to set up money advice services; using the pupil premium to reduce the attainment gap for poorer children; and setting up state-funded breakfast clubs, local authorities and their partners are leading the fight to prevent the projected rise in child poverty materialising. But they can only do so much. What is needed is for the government to supplement its recent child poverty strategy with concrete commitments on what it will do to ensure it doesn't come to pass that 1.2 million more children are living in poverty by 2020, as has been projected by the number crunchers.

Time to revisit age of criminal responsibility debate

It was refreshing to hear the new chair of the Youth Justice Board express his desire for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised from its current level of 10, and in so doing spurn the chance to sit on the fence on this most contentious of issues.

Let us hope his views can act as a catalyst for reigniting the debate on the issue, which has been on the political backburner since 2012 when more than 50 children's experts and organisations signed a letter calling for the government to review it.

In one of his earliest speeches as Conservative Party leader, David Cameron urged understanding of young people by "hugging a hoodie", and since becoming Prime Minister his government has shown it is not afraid to champion issues that go against the grain of party politics. A cross-party debate should be convened about raising the age of criminal responsibility before the next general election, so that whoever forms the next government has a mandate to act quickly on the issue. At the very least, it should bring England and Wales in line with Scotland, which three years ago raised the age from eight to 12.

derren.hayes@markallengroup.com

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