The launch of a new Child Poverty Strategy, by the coalition government has engaged the country in debate over the living standards of a significant minority of young people in UK today. The Government announced they were restating their commitment to tackling poverty at its source, relating those sources to be worklessness, family breakdown, educational failure, addiction, or debt. These are identified as the problems that blight the lives of vulnerable families and the strategy is an attempt to draw together the action we are taken on these fronts.
Findings suggest that 6.6 per cent of benefit claimants in England are problem drug users.
While drug misuse may prove to be a key reason for this group of people to escape poverty, it clearly has no explanatory power for the other 93.4 per cent of claimants.
Further, more working households were living in poverty in the UK last year than non-working ones - for the first time. It is clear from statistics that getting a job is no longer an automatic route out of poverty.
In the UK we have one of the highest levels of low pay in Europe, and we are amongst the highest levels of low pay in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). The UK has over five million workers earning less than the 'living wage'.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said low pay and part-time work had prompted an unprecedented fall in living standards. Just over half of the 13 million people in poverty - surviving on less than 60% of the national median (middle) income - were from working families, it said.
Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of Joseph Rowntreee Foundation, said: "We have a labour market that lacks pay and protection, with jobs offering precious little security and paltry wages that are insufficient to make ends meet.....while a recovery may be gathering momentum in the statistics and official forecasts, for those at the bottom, improving pay and prospects remain a mirage."
Alan Milburn MP reflects on these points when interviewed by the Child Poverty Action Group by adding that it is the responsibility of any party trying to make Britain fairer, more socially mobile and less poor to recouple earnings growth and economic growth.
It is imperative that the needs of children are paramount in this debate. Losing oneself in ideological or philosophical debate can distract from what this debate is really about - young, vulnerable children in challenging situations with potentially high risk outcomes.
Living in a poor family can reduce children's expectations of their own lives and lead to a cycle where poverty is repeated from generation to generation. As adults they are more likely to suffer ill-health, be unemployed or homeless, and become involved in offending, drug and alcohol abuse, and abusive relationships.
Resilience is a typical part of child development. A resilient child can resist adversity, cope with uncertainty and recover more successfully from traumatic events or episodes.
We often see the star, business leader or politician who has lived through adversity as a child to achieve great things in adulthood whilst the vast majority of their peers have not had that experience. These characters are often described as resilient, often described as having 'bounced back' from childhood adversity or 'doing well against the odds'. It is a model around which a child's living with and recovery from trauma can be structured
Daniel and Wassell 2002 describe six key factors:
Intrinsic Factors: A secure base; good self-esteem and a sense of self-efficacy
And Extrinsic Factors: One secure attachment relationship; Access to wider support be it family or friends and good experiences in nursery, school or community.
With children living in poverty we see a poor prognosis for development and only by helping to look at building resilience can we see improvement for such children and young people? A governmental imperative has to be to look at stabilising housing and the prevention of homelessness which is shockingly unstable at present. With as many as one in 60 households in Nottingham under threat of repossession or eviction (Shelter2013) and with one of the highest poverty indexes in England there are some important issues to be examined.
By blaming those in poverty for their own plight the government is creating a dangerous whirlwind of opportunistic media responses such as 'benefit street' and banner newspaper headlines blaming those on welfare benefits for the economic crisis.
Those families and children living in poverty need to be and nurtured to begin to believe there is a better future, to have faith that supporting their children in education will help in the long run and to understand that they are not to blame for the all social ill. They are people with stories to tell and stories which people will listen to, with a right to dignity and respect.
Those involved in the cause of the recession seem to have paid a miniscule price as we see RBS banking bonuses justified and paid out of a company overwhelmingly shored up by the tax payer, yet the cleaners in the building on Canary Wharf, London, fighting for the living wage.
Poverty is not an abstract concept, it is a daily destructive force which needs challenging. It is not a neutral phenomenon which will always be with us but in the words of the great Mandella:
"Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom."
"Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings."