Friday, June 12, 2009

Laws And Sham Targets Won't End Child Poverty

A window-dressing wheeze of grandstanding laws, targets and quangos has been dreamt up to tackle child poverty from a fag-end government which has failed miserably over the last decade. Finding a new found 'vision', the centre-piece is an obsession with targets, while poverty is brushed under the carpet.

Tackling child poverty has been reduced to heartless number-crunching target-setting with no soul.

New work and pensions minister, Yvette Cooper, reckons this is being "bold about what a future Labour government's vision represents", at a stroke setting the electioneering tone and delivering just what the spin doctors ordered for a born-again Brown bounce.

Meanwhile, even using the government's own figures, 2.9 million children are living in poverty in a land of stark contrasts between the filthy rich who get the pleasures and poor who get the blame.

The Cooper bill sets out four targets, placing a legal duty on all future governments to abolish child poverty by 2020. And that means the Tories.

No governments should be allowed to wriggle out of responsibilities and move the goal-posts. But this smacks of a government using child poverty to try to wrong foot the Tories. In a crafty move and a sign of things to come, Cooper threw down the gauntlet - support this bill or risk being exposed as a greedy, uncaring cost-cutting bunch.

But a law which ties the hands of future governments begs the question: Why didn't they do that before?

The poverty bill plans to set up targets and a quango. But where in the proposals are the core social, health and welfare policies which would go some way to actually cutting down the number of kids in dire poverty?

The whole issue is fraught with double standards and clap-trap. Using the indices of disposable income belies the poverty beneath and what it means for families and children.

It means living in a squalid council flat, living off cheap crap food, in an area riddled with crime and decay with no hope of a job and no dignity or self-respect.

Once again the government is obsessed with a target culture instead of getting down and dirty tackling the real problem.

That won't be achieved by another quango stuffed with a well-fed bunch of do-gooders dreaming up strategies and campaigns, obsessed with tick-box targets while ministers pass the buck and duck responsibility.

Kids on the bread-line cannot eat strategies. Targets and campaigns don't lift them out of the depths of despair and despondency.

Once again it is the culture of the process - meeting targets - rather than the end result which is the obsession. Tick the boxes, fiddle the figures and hey presto the problem disappears.

All that will be left is a useless set of targets which a government, any government, may or may not meet. And if they don't they can always change the goal-posts.

Reducing poverty to a cold set of statistics and figures means people spend their time chasing targets while kids live in squalor. It's not as if the government hasn't had enough time to have a stab at it.

It's all a tad too little too late. Where has the government been for the last ten years?

Ending child poverty by 2020 was just one of Blair's broken promises of 1999 which has fallen by the wayside. The audacious target hadn't a cat in hells chance of being achieved without some brave and bold ideas.

The government says it has 'lifted' half a million children out of poverty but that will still leave a damning indictment for 2007/8, with the number of children living in poverty put at 2.9 million.

Child poverty has been reduced to a set of meaningless statistics based mainly on income, those who live in households with an income of less than 60% of the average. But the problems and root causes of poverty are far more complex than mere reliance on state benefit.

It boils down to giving people hope and something to live for. Some hope to cling on to, a purpose in life and a way out of the poverty trap.

The government needs to wake up and get a grip. Simply relying on means-tested benefits to tackle child poverty is a numbers game for a cold, uncaring treasury but it is living in a fools paradise.

Putting a legal duty on councils and hard-pressed services including the police cuts no ice with staff already stretched to the limit.

Instead it's the root cause that must be tackled. And that means getting to grips with a high quality education for all kids not just the rich. Tackling family breakdown, the mountain of personal debt, dealing with rising heroin abuse and shocking street crime.

Laws and targets do not do that. A State with the power to change the huge amount of unevenly distributed wealth can. A government which wakes up and recognises that while child poverty is rife it merely serves as a sad indictment of society. A government which gets off its high horse and actually does something.

A meaningful job for parents and a roof over their head in somewhere safe and pleasant to live would be a start. A State welfare system which recognises the need for a safety net and security blanket for the weak and vulnerable who cannot help themselves.

There's something very wrong with a so-called wealthy country where you can see such high levels of child poverty. Why do poor children have to grow up and suffer the worse health care, lower life expectancy and no chances to get on in life.

To cap it all, even the useless action won't start immediately. The bill will receive its second reading in a fortnight and is due to become law by the end of the year. Just in time for a general election while child poverty is kicked into the long grass and a new government left to tackle the thorny issue.

No comments: