Plan to cut child poverty is a dose of doublethink

21st March 2008 at 00:00
Spring is in the air and thoughts turn to daffodils, frolicking lambs and budgets. Our photocopying budget is used up already. Heaven knows what we will do between now and July, but as teachers we are creative and will find a solution.

Chancellor Alistair Darling's been doing his Budget as well. Initially, headlines such as "Darling to make child poverty his priority" were encouraging. Financial resources were going to be devoted to fulfilling the Prime Minister's pledge to halve child poverty by 2010. Great news. I ignored the nagging concern as to why we were only going to halve it, but I thought Mr Darling would also be creative and find a solution.

Why do we have 1.5 million poor children living in one-parent families struggling to get by, even though the parent is working? Why do Scandinavian countries have child poverty rates of about 5 per cent when in 1997 Labour inherited rates of 27 per cent from the Tories?

Yet even before the Budget was announced, the Department for Work and Pensions admitted it was unlikely to meet the target. Hold on a minute. Am I being stupid? If officials know in advance that the target will not be met, why not take corrective measures now to ensure it is? Why is government only "aspiring" to reduce child poverty? Where's the commitment? The action? The pledge?

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported recently that 14 per cent of the variation in a child's performance at school can be accounted for by school quality. It's children's social environment that matters.

We know that. We have all helped the children who come to school in winter with no coat, trying to pretend they are being casual; those who use carrier bags to take their books home; those who faint from lack of food; those 130,000 children who "sofa surfed" in December (a coy phrase to describe being homeless and sleeping on a sofa, an activity that has risen by 128 per cent in the past decade). Tackling child poverty isn't a "sexy" issue, and poor children don't have powerful people to lobby for them. Perhaps that explains why the post-Budget front pages were devoted to the issues of alcohol duty, car and road tax, but not child poverty.

Treasury officials say they won't know if they have reached the target until 2011 - after the next election. How convenient.

If they really want to know, all they have to do is come into our schools and see for themselves the social deprivation faced by some children. Children's performance during their school years is aligned closely to their social origins and conditions. For the disadvantaged, what happens across their whole lives is the nub of the problem. Joining up school improvement and early intervention are fine when we teachers are going above and beyond what is required to help those in our care. The Government? Shamefully and depressingly, it is already admitting defeat.

Julie Greenhough, Teacher at a boys' secondary school in London.

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