Birmingham Child Poverty Commission Report Launched

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Birmingham should be a city where every child has the opportunity to fulfil their potential and not let poverty be a barrier to success – that is the ambition of the Birmingham Child Poverty Commission’s report launched on 30 June 2016.

The report provides a series of recommendations aimed at reducing child poverty in Birmingham and focusing upon the drivers of poverty including the economy, unemployment, low wages, education and health. The report also explores the circumstances that create poverty and the impact it can have on families.

The independent Commission established by Birmingham City Council and chaired by Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of national charity The Children’s Society, included experts from the public, private and voluntary sectors, including the University of Birmingham and Barnardo’s who all have a part to play in preventing children growing up in poverty. The Commission set out to look at ways to tackle child poverty in Birmingham and ensure all children have access to opportunities that will help improve their life chances.

According to official figures, more than 100,000 children in Birmingham (37%) live in poverty after housing costs have been taken into account. This is the third highest rate in the country.

The Commission gathered views from across the city including people who work with children and families, health experts, business representatives and faith groups but most crucially spent most of their time listening to the real-life experiences of more than 200 parents and more than 600 children and young people from low-income families.

Representatives from the Commission listened to and recorded the views of those who were willing to share their experiences and sought to understand poverty from their perspective, bringing to life the stories of children and families behind the hard statistics.

A survey of 200 Birmingham parents, carried out for the report, found:

  • Parents living in poverty in the city are more pessimistic about their children’s future, with over half believing their children will have a worse life than their own. By contrast only 30% of wealthier parents feel this way
  • Children in poverty are four times more likely to miss out on a meal during school hours than their classmates who are not in poverty
  • Children living in families in poverty are almost twice as likely to miss out on school trips during term time.

The report makes 24 recommendations which the Commission will be asking the City Council and partner organisations to adopt and commit to delivering. The recommendations, which will go to a meeting of the full Council on 12 July 2016 for endorsement, are focussed around raising aspirations, breaking the cycle of poverty, sharing responsibility and mitigating the impact of existing poverty. The recommendations include:

  • By July 2017, all schools should adapt their uniform policy to ensure affordability
  • By January 2019, Birmingham City Council should work with local businesses to make the city the first ‘Living Wage City’ where all employers pay the minimum amount
  • By January 2018, there should be a planning restriction in place preventing new fast food outlets within 250 metres of schools
  • By April 2017, Birmingham City Council should exempt care leavers from paying Council Tax up to and including the age of 25
  • By April 2017, Birmingham City Council should explore subsidised transport for young people within city localities
  • By September 2017, a mentoring scheme should be set up so local businesses can help raise aspirations and provide advice and support for 15 and 16-year-olds living in low-income families.

Matthew Reed, Chairman of the Birmingham Child Poverty Commission and Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said:

“Any child living in poverty is one too many, but the scale of child poverty in Birmingham, with nearly four in ten children living in poverty, is truly shocking. Our research has shown that as well as affecting children’s immediate well-being and happiness, growing up in poverty can also damage their long-term aspirations and life chances.

“Commissioners have listened carefully to children and families, as well as community groups, schools, employers and people involved in areas like health and housing which are linked to poverty.

“These conversations have helped us to develop a series of recommendations which, although ambitious, we believe are achievable with the support of the city council and other people and organisations, including across the public, private and voluntary sectors.

“While there is no silver bullet which will end a complex deep-rooted issue like child poverty overnight, we believe these proposals have the potential to make a real difference to the lives of children, young people and families in the city. It is in everyone’s interest in Birmingham that we do all we can end child poverty across the city.”

Councillor John Clancy, Leader of the Council said: “Every child matters in Birmingham and no child growing up in this city should have their childhood or future life chances scarred by living in poverty.

“Tackling child poverty is one of the key priorities as we work to create a fairer city and the Child Poverty Commission was set up to remove some of the barriers which lead to poverty and inequality.

“This is a young, diverse city and our children deserve the best possible start in life. We’ve made our ambitions and priorities clear in setting up this Commission and we will now work with partners to increase prosperity and aspiration for all young people in Birmingham.”

The report is available here 47.51_ChildPovertyCommission_Report_WEB version FINAL

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‘Overlooked’ and ‘Left behind’ young people can lead to poverty

House of LordsToday saw the announcement of a report compiled by the House of Lords Social Mobility Committee: Overlooked and left behind: improving the transition from school to work for the majority of young people

From the outset the report recognises that the transition from school into work is a vital point in the lives of young people. And that making a successful transition through a high quality and valued pathway can mean a successful career or the alternative of becoming trapped in poor quality and under-valued alternatives can lead to a lifetime of poverty.

Emphasis is also given to the fact that not much attention has been given to the young people between two groups; those who progress in Further Education or at the other end of the scale, not in education, employment or training (NEET).

The ‘forgotten’ or ‘overlooked’ group by policy-makers is the largest group of young people. In 2013/14, England’s total population of 16 and 17 year-olds was 1,285,800, only 47 per cent of young people (601,500 people) aged 16 and 17 started A-Levels, whereas 53 per cent (684,300) did not do so.

The report calls for Government to make eight recommendations to support the development of a coherent and navigable transition system for those aged 14–24.

The recommendations request a cohesive system: a core curriculum for those aged 14–19, with tailor made academic or vocational elements, a gold standard in careers advice, and careers education in schools that empowers young people to make good decisions about their future. Underpinning this system, the committee request that reliable and publicly available data is needed that is properly funded, owned by a single Minister, and monitored for success.

It also recognises that there is a growing gap in income between the richest and the poorest and that this gap makes it all the more difficult to access top high earning jobs which command high wages. In addition to negative impacts on individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, OECD analysis suggests that income inequality has a negative and statistically significant impact on medium-term growth

Labour market changes are also called for; it understands that the types of jobs available are very important to social mobility. That with changes to the economy that provide more and better jobs with better pay and more security can have a positive impact.

Many of the ‘overlooked’ group from the middle cohort are often caught in part-time, low-paid, low-skilled and temporary jobs. After leaving school or college they take on are jobs such as kitchen and catering assistants and serving staff in bars and restaurants, as well as roles in sales and customer service. Ways to progress from these roles is often not clear or achievable, meaning that the young people are disadvantaged from those with degrees.

Further in the report it adds, “Children who are exposed to certain factors in their background are more likely to have poor outcomes later in life. Some of these problems of access are exacerbated by ‘opportunity hoarding.’ Parents naturally want their children to have the best chances of a successful life.”

The committee conducted a series of engagement activities gathering evidence including focus groups and surveys.  Some of the young people they heard from told them how their backgrounds had affected them: “When I left School I wasn’t able to complete college courses as there was no fixed home address.”

Ibid, another survey participant was quoted “Due to staying at home to help my mum one occasion, I was stripped of my bursary and so unable to travel to college. It was the only college to offer the course I was on. I wasn’t allowed to sit the end of unit assessments and as such, unable to progress to the next level course. I am now in the situation where I cannot get … funding due to studying a different course. As my options of education have now run out I have been forced to apply for universal credit.

I have been doing unpaid work experience for the past three and a half weeks while waiting the 35 days before I receive any payment. Growing up in a poor family anyway, it has been very difficult to find the means to travel to and from the job centre, so I already owe a lot of money to family members.”

Education

Calls for a clearer policy framework and more effective delivery mechanism

(Recommendation 1)
A need for more coherence in the UK Government’s policy governing the transition of young people into the workplace. The policy should set out a framework for school to work transitions from age 14 to age 19 and over. It should explicitly address the middle route to work, and the decision-making that takes place from 14 onwards, and set the standard for sharing best practice across the UK.

(Recommendation 2)
The transition stage should be considered to be from age 14 to age 19. Learning during this stage should include a core curriculum with tailor-made academic and/or vocational courses. It should aim to get as many people who can, up to a Level 3 qualification. There are three important strands to the framework:

(a) Clearer routes to good-quality work for those in the middle, brought about by local collaboration, to enable .

  • vocational routes to work which are robust and high quality, do not close down future opportunities, and lead to worthwhile destinations. The work of the Sainsbury led review should contribute to this.
  • meaningful experiences of work, organised between the student, the school and a local employer, including work placements and work-based training. Any work experiences undertaken must have a clear aim and objective to prepare young people for work and life.

(b) A new gold standard in independent careers advice and guidance, supported by a robust evidence base and drawing on existing expertise, which moves responsibility away from schools and colleges (which would require legislative change) in order to ensure that students are given independent advice about the different routes and qualifications available, to include:

  • independent, face-to-face, careers advice, which provides good quality, informed advice on more than just academic routes, so that individuals are able to make decisions based on sound knowledge of what is available.
  • a single access point for all information on vocational options, including the labour market returns on qualifications.

(c) Improved careers education in schools, to empower young people to make good choices for themselves to include;

  • information on labour market returns, which would include information about the financial prospects of different options, to inform and motivate young people.
  • data on local labour markets to inform the teaching of Life Skills, skills for life, and careers education.

(Recommendation 3)
This transition framework should be owned by, and be the responsibility of, a Cabinet-level minister, who will assume ultimate responsibility for the transition from school to work for young people.

(Recommendation 4)
Transitions from school to work should be supported by publicly available data, compiled by the relevant Government departments. This data should be made available to researchers so that they have access to earnings data, study patterns, and different demographic patterns, brought about by legislative change if necessary.

(Recommendation 5)
Recommend that the responsible Cabinet Minister should report on progress annually to Parliament.

(Recommendation 6)
Increasingly local labour markets and skills needs are being seen as a devolved responsibility, whether it is to conurbations such as London, Manchester or Leeds, or to rural areas such as Somerset or Lincolnshire. However, because administrative structures are so much in flux, there is often no focal point for action. The most valuable role the Government can take is to act as a facilitator, coordinating the efforts of its existing structures, and brokering collaboration between existing local bodies such as further education colleges, schools, local authorities, local enterprise partnerships and employers.

(Recommendation 7)
The Government should keep under constant review the degree of success of transitions into work for those in the middle. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission should play a strong part in monitoring these transitions.

(Recommendation 8)
That the Government should commission a cost benefit analysis of increasing funding for careers education in school and independent careers guidance external to the school in the context of 110 IMPROVING THE TRANSITION FROM SCHOOL TO WORK social mobility. A report providing this analysis should be made to Parliament before the end of its 2016–17 session.

How many low income families can afford their 5-A-day portions?

5 a day

It’s great to see a recent reminder of our 5-A-DAY portions for adults and children by Change4Life, but how many of the families on low incomes in Birmingham can realistically achieve this?

Whether the parents are working or receiving financial support, for many ensuring that their children receive a meal can be a challenge, let alone a balanced diet!

37% of Birmingham children were estimated to be living in poverty after housing costs in the Child Poverty Needs Assessment 2015 based on 2013 figures; which is 12% higher than the national average (25%).

Obviously several fact0rs need to improve at the same time to help families improve the quality of life for our young Birmingham citizens enabling them to have better life chances, such as:

Increase in income

  • Better rates of pay for employees through initiatives like the Living Wage,
  • Fairer equal pay for lone female parents who may be working part time;
  • And effective ways to reduce the impact of the Welfare Reform and Work bill 2015/16 on those receiving benefits.

Individual factors

  • The need to improve cooking skills and knowledge, plus understanding the nutriental benefits of fresh and varied foods.
  • There may even be a lack of storage due to not being able to afford a fridge or even living in temporary accommodation with limited facilities.

Accessibility and affordability

  • Families need to be able to access local affordable shops that have a range of good quality fresh food,
  • Improved transport links, such as affordable public services,
  • Also, parents are physically well enough to make the shopping trips themselves,
  • And food producers need to make sure that goods are at a fair price. Food Statistics Pocket 2015, on page 24 it states that all food groups rose during 2007  -2015 from between 22-42%!

Why not share your views on what else needs to change to give the young people a great healthy start in achieving their potential. Why not contact us : childpovertycommission@birmingham.gov.uk or Twitter @fairbrum

 

 

Better transport links and community design can help reduce child poverty

Bristol transport coverWe all know that where we live, affects how we live. Humans tend to be creatures of habit and looking for the easier way. So if we live in a built up area, wide open spaces can seem like a million miles away and we never venture from the concrete jungle, and for some people in the outskirts of a city they may never actually travel to the city centre.

So obviously how our towns and cities are designed impacts how we access schools, work and leisure. Therefore, there is a need to enable an individual to improve their life and that of their family with journeys to services that are not hard work, off putting or financially difficult to meet through high cost, time consuming public transport or heavy commutes.

In a collaborative approach “A-Good-Transport-Plan-for-Bristol-2016-PDF” has been launched with an aim to show how getting around Bristol could be cleaner, cheaper and more efficient over the next five to ten years.

Bristol transport objectives

The plan recognises that the current city structure and use doesn’t work for everyone and the document sets out nine objectives to help make the necessary changes to make the city more resilient, sustainable and accessible.

Birmingham, as a city can use Bristol’s transport plan to remind itself and its partners, that there is a need to maintain and retain its focus on transportation, community design and structures and its importance on improving the quality of life for our citizens.

These changes for example can mean that our young people have access to safe, clean open spaces near where they live, instead of unattractive concrete and rubbish littered play areas. And parents have access to good affordable regular public transport, instead of one bus that touches the outskirts of a housing estate every 30 minutes which doesn’t run on time.

There is no quick fix, as change on this scale has to take into account current established settings, other public priorities and of course budgets. Each step though, can go to making a positive impact on the lives and experiences of our children and their families, reducing child poverty and removing the likelihood of future generations living in the same conditions.

Everyone should play their part to make child poverty unacceptable across the city. Anyone who lives or works in Birmingham and wants to share their views can contact email: childpovertycommission@birmingham.gov.uk or Twitter @fairbrum

Difficulty speaking English increases chances of poverty

A previous study, Poverty across ethnic groups through recession and austerity was produced by Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2015 looked at how ethnicity and poverty are linked. The research examined the impact of the recession which started in 2008 and subsequent austerity measures on different ethnic groups’ economic well-being.

The study:

  • compares economic well-being measures (household income, access to
  • goods and services for achieving a reasonable standard of living, poverty status) of different ethnic groups;
  • investigates for each ethnic group which components of income contributed to these changes;
  • considers whether changes in employment rates among men and women in these groups contributed to these changes;
  • compares persistent poverty across different ethnic groups and identifies factors associated with persistent poverty.

For full details of the study go to: Poverty across ethnic groups through recession and austerity

Do you have personal experience or work with people who are directly impacted by languages barriers that make it difficult to move out of poverty? If so, why not share them with the commission and tell us what would help to improve the situation for you or them?