As politicians and Think Tanks start shaping future policy ahead for the 2015 General Election, we argue that literacy should become a priority for policies to tackle Child Poverty and social exclusion.
Labour and the Coalition have set the goal posts for future policy. The level of spending outlined in the recent Spending Review will remain low, with Ed Miliband committing a future Labour government to it. Localism remains high on the agenda alongside a desire to tackle inequalities in outcomes as a result of poverty. Once of the last acts of the outgoing Labour government was to fast-track the Child Poverty Act 2010 and to leave the Coalition with a legal obligation to report on progress to tackle it and for councils to assess local need and develop a local strategy to address those needs.
So despite reduced funds, it is certain that national and local policies must aim to reduce Child Poverty year-on-year. This is no mean feat with unemployment rates and cuts to state support mitigating against increased household incomes for both working and workless households.
So where next?
Earlier this year we chaired the first meeting of the National Literacy Forum, a twice yearly meeting of organisations from the public, voluntary and business sector. The group also includes representatives from both the government and the Shadow Cabinet. We discussed how policy could be shaped to take account of inter-connectedness of low literacy and poverty.
Discussions explored how literacy is more than an educational skill. By addressing low literacy in national policy, this country has the potential to more fully engage with the causes of inter-generational cycles of poverty and to ameliorate the experience of poverty over people's life. Low levels of literacy and living in poverty create a mutually reinforcing cycle that is difficult to break. People with low levels of literacy are more likely to earn less and experience poverty. Moreover, their opportunities are limited in all aspects of life, including education, employment, and access to services. The cycle continues to subsequent generations, with their children having an increased propensity to leave school without achieving any qualifications.
As a result of that discussion we are publishing a paper which outlines the reasons why policy makers should engage more with the issue of low literacy. It also proposes simple and practical ideas which could be included in developing national policy. In the next year we will be exploring other relevant areas of policy and will be disseminating our analysis to politicians, Think Tanks and political advisers.
We believe that, to date, policymakers have been missing a trick in their efforts to reduce Child Poverty and its effects. Hopefully, this is the right moment for them to consider this issue anew.