For several weeks now, I have been finding it hard to believe the claims that child poverty is on the up, especially as I have a distinct view of what I think 'poverty' is.
I accept that there are 2 types of poverty - one that we see in third world countries and in times of troubles, such as what we are witnessing in places like Syria. This breaks my heart and brings tears to my eyes. I give to organisations that help children in such terrible places, on a regular basis. But what I am not willing to do, is get caught up in the hype that 'relative poverty' as spouted by the likes of Polly Toynbee, is the only way to measure it.
First let me take you back a few decades. My mother barely had soles on her shoes and had to walk 3 miles to school and back again, up a mountain in Italy. She witnessed the war and how a shiny pair of boots on a young girl probably meant she gave some 'favours' in return, to a resident German soldier. Yes, bad times, but then let's go forward to my childhood, where I lived on the 5th floor of a block of council flats and the same wonderful mother fed us, kept us warm and gave us a holiday to Italy every year by doing several jobs. We didn't have a car or many luxuries but I had the best childhood anyone could have, despite constantly being in fights when I stood up to the bullies in my school. My mother is a force to be reckoned with and I, thankfully, adopted her traits. She had her priorities right. First came rent, food and warmth and then came nice clothes. I made do with hand me downs.
In the end my parents wanted out of East End and away from some of the unsavoury characters, one of whom was violent against my mother for speaking out. This gave them the motivation to save hard for a house and get us out of there. We moved to Romford (and then 5 years later moved to Ipswich). Things changed after that. I went to grammar school in Romford and my parents started earning a decent wage.
My husband, was one of six children living in London. His mother became a single parent in the 60's, held down 3 jobs to feed and house them and would walk to all of these jobs because she didn't have enough for bus fares. They have all grown up to be successful, loving, happy people and recall their childhoods with laughter and some great stories. Money is not the root of happiness in their book. They, like me, have been happy or unhappy with or without money.
Go forward again and we get into more recent times, where children demand computers, Ipads, games. designer clothes, mobiles, Nike trainers (sorry if I'm out of touch, I don't do designer necessarily) and make their parents feel guilty if they cant keep up with the Jones'. Why on earth should the criteria for poverty be measured against this?! Please don't tell me that children are getting poorer than my generation when we were children! Just don't. I know what I saw when I was small and it looked nothing like the picture we have now.
I have always been grateful for what I DID have, not what I didn't have. Life is wonderful once you can do that. My happiness does not depend on other people or events because I measure things in a way that reframes negative and focuses on the positive. The Left are doing great damage to this country by constantly giving misinformation for political gains. Child poverty is one of them.
I have used an article by Paul Ashton, a former social researcher at Greenwich University, for some of the facts and figures that follows:
He states that the most widely used figure below which poverty is defined is 60 % of median average income, adjusted for the size of the household and does not include housing costs (classed as BHC-before housing costs).
He goes onto say that the term 'child poverty' is actually incorrect because what we are measuring here is 'family poverty'. But not only that, the figure of 60% is arbitary and decided upon by the EC without any back up calculations - so it could easily have been 40% or 70% as there was no logic or any sort of relevant maths applied to this figure - how ridiculous is that?
Child poverty in some circumstances, is not a myth, but the figure of 27% of our children being in this category, based on this measurement, must surely be a myth. It has no credibility, if, as he says is just a figure plucked from the air.( I bow to his superiority on this, as he is the expert).
If we use these figures then child poverty is rife in even those households where the income is the national average. In 2010/11 a couple with 2 children could be earning £ 384 net income per week and the child would still be classed as 'poor'. This is truly mind blowing as it is the equivalent of £ 19968 net per week (BHC) or to put it as Paul Ashton did, A couple with 2 children with one partner earning £ 27000 a year with the other partner staying at home would be classified as living in poverty, once account is taken of taxes, benefits, and housing costs.
I challenge the EC's chosen level and I also challenge the view that children in this country can go without food because of the cuts, given the levels of our benefits, unless the parents have issues such as addiction problems, spending on non essentials, borrowing from loan sharks, bad budgeting or not claiming for benefits that they are entitled to. Perhaps they have a lot of credit debt, lost their job and don't know how to rebudget but I do not believe that it is because our welfare is not generous enough.
He states - welfare is now much higher in real terms than it ever was. Even those in work on £ 18k per year get around £ 145 per week in child benefit and tax credits. Wish I'd had that when I was a single parent. Wow!
Our focus needs to be on helping the vulnerable and ensuring that the money we give for children is spent on the children - until we stop arguing about this, we will not address the underlying issues.
To expect our government to have all the answers is naive and we are wasting energy on Tory v Labour v UKIP v LibDems, when it comes to our needy, by rubbishing the ability of our leaders.
Just as I think, as a country, we could all be blamed for the credit crisis (how many wanted something non-essential now and pay later? Weren't the banks responding to their customers wants?) A simplistic view perhaps but the point I am making is, I also think we will all be to blame for neglect of our children, if we do not knuckle down and find out what really needs to be done. Having things like food banks is a plaster. Of course eligible people will go to get free food, even if they don't need to, because that will be the nature of some. Then this just leaves the very needy to fight again amongst themselves.
Instead we should be eradicating the problems that parents have when they are unable to spend the money on whom it is intended - their children.
I will conclude with Paul Ashton's conclusion. I quote;
'Given the level of financial support the state provides for low income families, it seems we should perhaps be looking elsewhere for evidence of child poverty. The most likely candidates are poor housing, poor schooling and poor parenting'.
Note to clarify- this article is in Mensa magazine April 2013 and not available online as far as I can see. Paul Ashton is currently co-editor but was formerly an economics researcher at University of Liverpool and a social researcher at Greenwich Uni. He has written about poverty and income distribution for various publications.