Saturday, 14 January 2012

IN THE KNIGHT'S GARDEN

After all the merriment of discovering Roger Gale MP had been gifted a Knighthood by Her Majesty the Queen, our Knight in shining armour rode into town and cast a chivalrous eye over his constituency. Upon looking in his own back garden with a noble glint in his eye, can you imagine how Roger must have felt to discover that 23% of children in North Thanet are living in poverty?

According to statistics published by the Campaign to End Child Poverty, North Thanet is one of the worst constituencies in Kent to be blighted with impoverished minions, as reported by the Kent Messenger Group last week. The soon-to-be-Sir Roger Gale must be feeling rather sheepish now his royal accolade has been blighted by the revelation that his 'subjects' are all traipsing round with begging bowls. 

Needless to say, putting these stats into context with the rest of the county, it's quite appalling that Thanet is being described as one of the worst for child poverty. In this instance, poverty is considered as being confined to "families claiming out-of-work benefits or in-work tax credits where their income is less than 60% of the average" and though living standards in the UK are an enormous improvement on Dickensian levels of destitution from the Victorian era, it's still an unseemly reminder that we still have work to do.

Sorry to be brusque here, I mean no offence, but perhaps one of the first steps to making sure that child poverty can be eradicated is by giving some parents a kick up the arse. It's easy to blame the problem of poverty on economics, or low wages, or broken households – all of which can be key components – but I do wonder whether this report fails to take into account just how much parental dysfunctionality is a factor too. After all, some children may indeed live in poverty, and I truly sympathise with parents who are trying to do the right thing but finding it difficult. But parents who claim to be struggling to feed their kids while at the same time spending more than £50 per week on fags and booze are, let's face it, the lowest of the low.

In spite of this, I am a big believer in facing up against social injustice and combating child poverty. Indeed, it pains me to admit that the weight of responsibility on household incomes these days is unbearably high. Food prices are rising, energy prices continue to soar, and the amount of financial responsibilities an ordinary UK citizen now has – being expected to pay for gas, electric, water, TV licensing, home insurance, a car, petrol, car tax, road tax, phone bills and internet broadband – means that it can often feel impossible to keep your head above the water. But if it came to a choice between throwing a crate of Carling Black Label in a shopping trolley or taking home a good nutritious meal for my child, I know which one I'd choose.

I don't think people should be afraid of making moral judgements and saying to some parents: "Hey, well, if you didn't buy all those cigarettes and bottles of wine your kids might actually have a square meal each day of the week." Obviously, most parents are decent human beings who are trying to do right by their children, working in low-paid jobs, spending every penny as wisely as possible but still finding themselves out of pocket or short on change through no fault of their own. But the sort of parents I'm talking about are the ones who don't make things easier for themselves financially, usually due to a particular nicotine, alcohol, drug or gambling habit of some sort.

As problems go, North Thanet's child poverty statistics are probably linked to the high numbers of unemployed people (and, ergo, benefit claimants) and the dire shortage of jobs in the local area. If those issues were addressed, it's possible child poverty could be remedied, but as for the dysfunctional parents, I don't quite know what the solution is. All I know is it's not as simple as sweeping it under the carpet and saying it's all due to laziness, which is utter nonsense. It's not quite as black and white as that – we're talking about children's futures here, so they fully deserve our help. But I think it'll take more than giving Roger Gale MP a Knighthood to solve this one, don't you?

7 comments:

  1. Personally I consider a car to be a luxury rather than essential (especially for those that are on benefits), though I guess I'm biased because I don't drive...

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    1. Peter I would be even more isolated without it. The furthest I walk now with the zimmer is to the car.

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  2. It's a fine line, Peter. The job I have requires me to drive so I imagine having a car and a driving license is something of an asset to any prospective jobseeker. Internet is pretty much a necessity too, given that most employers require people to apply for jobs via e-mail.

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  3. Maybe, but I was thinking of those that use it to take their kids to school & do the shopping, & have no intention of getting a job.

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  4. Thanet's problems are complex and many so that it is easy to slip into attributing blame variously at MPs, Council, parents, police or even schools and social workers.

    A recent article revealed that a couple of wards in Thanet have amongst the highest rates of winter death at the other end of the spectrum to child poverty. Many of these involve elderly people, often asset rich, but strapped for income and thus unable to heat their Victorian piles.

    Of course they could down size except that property sales are flat and some die before finding a buyer. Sometimes, when you hear of some elderly person alone in a cold house, you have to wonder where are the younger relatives.

    Overall we seem to need much greater social responsibility all round. Taking proper care of our kids and aged relatives and looking out for neighbours. Too much materialism coupled with an area light on work, yet high on social depravation, does not make the best of environments.

    It could all be so much different with just a bit of thoughtfulness. It is, after all, people who create and make society and it is the people who should carry the can when it screws up.

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  5. I worked for a couple of years at a Children's Centre.

    It soon became apparent that the families on benefits had the latest mobiles, designer trainers, widescreen tv's, could afford to smoke etc. At the same time, the poor staff who worked flat out looking after their kids were on minimum wage and couldn't afford the same luxuries.

    As a child in the 60's we didn't have central heating and were told to wear layers and didn't have a TV or phone. I grew up in an age that you saved until you could afford something and not an era where you must have the latest gadget now, even if it means taking out a loan.

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  6. I still don't have a mobile phone, & I rarely have the heating on (hot water bottles & lots of layers is far cheaper!).

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