Thankfully, there is a growing groundswell of Christian opinion forming against recent legislation promulgated by the government – the Welfare Benefit Up-Rating Bill. The secular and political opposition to the bill has not been terribly successful, and the bill now faces the Lords.
A letter in today’s Sunday Telegraph from the Archbishop of Canterbury and a host of other bishops highlights the issues and can be found here. This is an issue of immediate concern to us as a school, as churches and as a Local Authority. We have a need to know which of our families are going to be affected by this, and what the impact of it on our children will be. To quote Baroness Morris at last week’s Whole Education Conference: “we do much better if we understand that what happens outside school has a massive impact on what happens inside.”
This year’s “Truth and Lies” report from a group of UK churches – The lies we tell ourselves – Ending comfortable myths about poverty has a hard hitting message and should be read by anyone who has an interest in the social pressures that are sitting accumulating against ordinary families as a result, mainly, of bankers’ and politicians’ foolishness and determination to make others pay for the mistakes that they made. The report undermines, with seriously argued work, the common myths about UK poverty – that most are scroungers, that there have been generations of them, they caused the deficit, they are addicts, can’t manage their finances properly – all of this stuff. It is hard being a young person in the UK or the US today – there is every chance that you will not get work, even with good qualifications, and the trap of poverty is easy to get into. Easy. There is no end of material from both sides of the Atlantic about this. Save the Children got into hot water on the topic recently with an ill-advised campaign about UK child poverty, but people are struggling, more than they expected to be.
Why do I bring this up now? Well, on Thursday afternoon I was deputising for a colleague at the Primary Heads Strategy Group meeting which is held regularly to debate and discuss issues affecting primary schools in Milton Keynes. We had a guest from the Children and Families Practice who told us, amongst other things, that under the government’s ridiculous Troubled Families program, there must be 425 families in Milton Keynes that are counted as Troubled Families. The only thing was, they had only identified 120 or so of them, and could we help look? I love this. The government, bless ’em, have found 425 families classified as “troubled” in MK, but they don’t know who they are and have tasked Social Services in MK to track them down. How do they even know there are 425? Why not 426?
You see why it is ridiculous. The “truth and lies” report (pp 9-12) hammers this cack-handed nonsense and shows convincingly that this is simply another way of the current administration blaming the poor for their own misfortune. The “Milton Keynes 425” are part of a larger 120,000 that the government have identified (probably with no more success than the MK 425). A quote from the report sums up the reason why these folk are at risk:
The Prime Minister’s speech, and many other government announcements since, have linked these families to crime, drug abuse, irresponsibility and anti-social behaviour. They have been called “neighbours from hell” and blamed for a “Shameless culture”. Yet to be counted in the 120,000, a family had to exhibit 5 of the following 7 characteristics:
- no parent in the family is in work
- family lives in overcrowded housing
- no parent has any qualifications
- mother has mental health problems
- at least one parent has a long-standing limiting illness, disability or infirmity
- family has low income (below 60% of median income)
- family cannot afford a number of food and clothing items.
Despite the Prime Minister’s claims of “disruption and irresponsibility” in his speech, there is no measure of criminality included in these categories. In fact at least 90% of the children in this group had no reported involvement in criminal or anti-social behaviour. Neither is there a measure for drug abuse, or for whether they were the “source of a large proportion of the problems in society”. The largest shared characteristic of the families identified was that the mother had mental health problems. By his own measures, David Cameron’s “troubled families” are not “neighbours from hell” that he describes, but instead “neighbours in need”
The report goes on to attack and undermine the quality of the statistical analysis used to find the 120,000 nationally, to discredit the amount of money it was taking to fix the problem or deal with them, and the poor level of evidence used to find the characteristics of these familes and the supposed link to crime. I shall be sending the link to the chair of the Primary Heads Strategy Group and to the Director of Children’s Services in Milton Keynes. The way that this data is being used is an appalling slight on the poor, and a huge distraction from the job in hand of supporting and caring for these families.