At the chalkface: Child poverty

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

In 2015 there were 30,000 “excess deaths” in England and Wales, according to research. The reason? Simple. “Cuts”. Nothing else.

Teachers are in the classroom, researchers aren’t. Teachers are on the pulse of things. Researchers are busy having “findings”. Most don’t seem to go much beyond the Bleedin’ Obvious, none more so than the blizzards of academic drizzle concerning the causes and consequences of poverty.

Did you know it’s comprehensively bad for children? Yep. Terrifically bad. It ruins childhoods completely.

Relentless research shows paupers are, among other things, pale, wan, raggedy, rickety, skinny, wasted, sleepless, anxious, angry, traumatised, trembling, consumptive, famished, illiterate, innumerate, delinquent, drugged, drunk, low stream, low ability, depressed, nuts, antic, thick, morbidly obese, excluded, “disappeared” and, in very extreme cases, dead. Often the lot. Teachers know this. They see it everyday.

They’ve known it for so long.

Friedrich Engels in 1845 in The Condition of the Working Class in England described the crushed limbs of poor children in Manchester’s factories as “social murder”. Dickens in 1853 in Bleak House described the death of Little Jo as a national tragedy.

The Beveridge Report of 1942 promised so much, but was Thatchered. The Child Poverty Act of 2010 was Osborned. In 2015 there were 30,000 “excess deaths” in England and Wales, according to research from Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The reason? Simple. “Cuts”. Nothing else. And last year there was the indelible horror of Grenfell Tower. We still murder the poor.

There is increasingly less social mobility in predictable areas: our seaside towns, industrial estates, feudal, rural areas. We know.

About four million of Britain’s children are now classified as poor, of whom two-thirds are from working families. Can it get worse? Not half. Freezing benefits and Universal Credit and NHS and educational cuts will see to that. New research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies predicts that poverty will rise to 5.2 million by 2020.

And in December the government’s entire Social Mobility Commission, led by Alan Milburn, just threw in the towel in despair. So it goes. Schools can’t continue being the shock absorber for all this. They’ll simply implode.

Poverty is a perpetual insult. It feels like fate. It feels planned.

The avalanche of research on the topic continues. We don’t need any more. We need action. I know I’m being naïve, idealist, economically illiterate, Marxist and a bit like Jesus, but can’t we just tax the filthy rich and give the money to the poor? We are the fifth richest country in the world. Why not?

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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