On Monday 17 October – the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty – the TUC’s Unemployed Workers’ Centres will host the annual TUC Poverty Conference. A number of different campaigns and charities have helped organise this year’s conference, which is looking at the myths and stereotypes around poverty. In this post, Dan Kenningham from ATD Fourth World looks at child poverty – what it is really like, not the stereotypes.
Hunger, stigma and education. These were the words that sprang forth when ATD Fourth World recently held a discussion on the theme of child poverty. The words were all the more forceful for coming from people with personal experience of poverty.
Being in poverty does not make one a bad parent. It is not that simple. One can live in poverty and be a good parent, just as one can be wealthy and be a bad parent. One father and grandfather spoke for many when he said, “We always say our priority is making sure our children have a better education than we did. Because it is.”
And yet this desire to educate the next generation out of poverty is impacted upon by the wider situation. According to one young participant, “Our schools are determined by where we live, by our estates. That’s not the case for everyone. If their child’s school isn’t great, middle-class parents can pay for a tutor. Poor families can’t.”
As this last point proves, children do not live alone but with parents. So why is the issue of child poverty often framed away from the issues affecting the needs and the situation of both the family and the community in which the child is growing up? It is done this way so as to not only tug at society’s heart strings but also to make it possible to blame the parents for the poverty of the child. The upshot of this is that society can absolve itself of any responsibility for child poverty.
It is surely positive that the issue of child poverty is seen, even by government, as something to be tackled. The challenge for all of us, I believe, is to overcome the short-termism encouraged by focusing only on child poverty when it is part of family poverty and community poverty. To tackle these wider issues we need to invest in people, not just children. Eradicating poverty means making a long-term investment in real education and real adequate housing. At some point, a child stops being a child and becomes a young adult and then an adult. What then if the only challenge to inequality we can muster is to focus on children alone. Child poverty goes so much further than that.