Thursday, 10 July 2008

You can't always get what you want

Diane Abbott has just said something quite brave. About people who come to see her because they're living in an overcrowded council flat with a couple of kids, and need rehousing; but then they keep having more kids.

I think my most extreme case, when I was a councillor, so not in Bristol, was a couple with six young kids, expecting their seventh, living on the top floor of a tower block, wanting to be rehoused. He was long-term unemployed, with no prospect of work - or rather, no interest in seeking work because he'd never have been able to find something that paid well enough for him to support such a large family. (This was in the days before tax credits).

Do we say that they have exactly the same right as anyone else to have as many children as they want? Or are they being totally irresponsible? And to those who would opt for the first of those two responses, isn't it the case that many parents on relatively modest incomes limit their family size because they can't afford a bigger house or more kids? And if you take the latter view, what do you do about it? Penalise the parents, you simply up penalising the children - and in all likelihood condemn them to going down the same route as their parents when they're adults.

Meanwhile, Diane Abbott has just urged the Cheeky Girls to reveal more about their views on the economy...


Glenn Vowles said...

Saw this program too. Thought it refreshing and open for Diane Abbott to say what she did.

Agree with your comments and analysis. People do have to face up to their personal responsibilities, though there are community and social responsibilities too. Ideally we need an effective two-way partnership.

Obviously prevention of such circumstances arising is what we need most. Means action across a wide range of policy areas, not least education, community development, supporting families...

The Cheeky Girls was a massive mistake! (There have been a number of others on this program, though I still watch it). What were the program makers thinking of??

Mr Potarto said...

"Diane Abbott has just said something quite brave."

Let me guess. Was it, "I believe my children should have advantages that I work to prevent for other people"?

"A couple with six young kids, expecting their seventh, living on the top floor of a tower block, wanting to be rehoused."

So would you say this couple's poverty was the result of their own decisions?

Jonathan said...

That's a good example you've given although I imagine if a tory had said it they would be instantly condemned...

You say that it would be punishing the kids if their parents were encouraged to be more responsible, however you don't seem to realise that the children are already being penalised in their current situation.

By allowing the parents to simply live off the state, the children will never have role models of what it is to be an active part of society, what it is to work, make choices, etc. Instead they will simply grow up and do what their parents did.

I used to live in Easterhouse, Glasgow and the place was full of families where no one had worked in generations and as a result they had no concept of how society worked or how they could fit in but instead just endured a life of hopelessness on the dole. Alongside them were many families who worked and raised their children well but had to live surrounded by this dysfunction.

Its not doing these parents or their children any good by simply handing them money; its just entrenching their underclass status down through the generations.

Pat Nurse said...

Hearing from the Cheeky Girls that ban-obsessed Britain under NuLab is like living under their former Romanian dictator rang absolutely true.

This once proud, tolerant and free nation is far too quick to demonise, denormalise, and condemn anyone who doesn't do as they are told.

Living in the underclass is no fun and not what people choose but what they fall into. It is the very basic of existence and I would defy anyone here to try bringing up a family on the pittance that is doled out.. while keeping your self-respect at the same time.

People do get trapped in the underclass but what is needed is a means of escape for those who do want to do better. As I said in a previous post, not eveyone wants to and I don't believe we should bully them into it.

After all, what is the difference between one family getting less than £100 pw from taxpayers and an MP getting some £90,000 of taxpayers' money in expenses, a second home, enormous pay-rise etc...?

Free education would be an absolute lifeline for those wanting to shake off their roots but real jobs with real pay and prospects for the unskilled would be even more of a persuader to come off benefits.

You cannot condemn those people who have been denied their right to social mobility under this NuLab govt which has priced them out of education, created a system that does not recognise individualism, and basically ensured that those at the bottom of society stays there.

ann said...

I'm in no way name-calling when I point this out (that would hurt her feelings!) but to hear Diane Abbott questioning the stupidity of the decisions of her constituents when she is quite clearly more overweight than is good for her, the NHS, her children or society, beggars belief.

Didn't she hear the bit in Cameron's speech about people who eat too much and take too little exercise??

Simply telling people to pull their socks up and start making good choices displays a stunning ignorance in itself.

If we want adults who make good life decisions then Cameron should be supporting wholeheartdly Labour's children's centre programme.

I am afraid many people are trivialising what is a complex issue.

Some people are born into a poor decision making environment. Some people fall into it.

The last thing a kid needs who's parents have just split is to be made to feel they are worth less than other kids with married parents. And this will surely follow from a policy environment which will "reward marriage".

Cameron is just morally and politically positioning himself and picks on those who are not likely to answer back.

There are other sections of society who can be pointed at for irresponsible behaviour but who are rarely called to account ...Kerry, can't believe you missed an opportunity to mention the companies that market foods high in fat salt and sugar to children..

He is also inviting those who have made better choices but live alongside those who have not in deprived communities to be outraged and vote for him. Cynical exploitation of those already down on their uppers.

As for there having been some kind of silence on these issues ..I cannot think of a single group who has come in for so much public opprobrium over the last couple of decades than people on benefits and single parents etc. Perhaps therein lies part of the problem.

By all means look at those who have made poor decisions and the resulting social problems. But help them quietly into better ways not this public lynching by political rhetoric.

ann said...

The link in the above post should have been to this...

The story of the journalist who ended up sleeping rough

Northern Lights said...

Pat Nurse - how has the Government 'priced people out of education?' State education is free and, furthermore, is much better funded than it used to be under the Conservatives.

Consider the Educational Maintenance Allowance, for instance, which encourages kids from poorer backgrounds to go into further education. I was at school when this was just a pilot scheme, & I know a lot of people who went on to do A-Levels (and after that, degrees) who would otherwise have dropped out after their GCSEs at 16.

Building Schools for the Future; investing millions in new schools and refurbishing old buildings. I remember when I started school, a lot of the classes were taught in cold portacabins; buildings and facilities do matter.

Soon all children will have the right to further education up to 18, including apprenticeships, so it won't all be academic. I'll stop now for fear of labouring the point...

Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that things are perfect, because that's not the case at all. Of course, there are wider issues involved here, some of which are discussed in earlier posts. I just wanted to respond to that point in particular, in the interests of balance.

Kerry said...

If you read what I said in the last two debates on child poverty, it was something alone the lines that of course some parents make the wrong choices - and some do so selfishly, or recklessly, not caring about the impact on their children. Some simply don't know any better. (And I think deciding to have a 7th child in the circumstances I described probably falls into one of those categories). But 50% of parents of children living in poverty are actually in work; many more want to work, or study, or train, so that they can do the best for their children. But things like housing costs, low wages, lack of childcare, etc, defeat them. Or sometimes it's things like caring responsibilities. (Look, for example, at the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign; disabled children are more likely to be living in poverty). So I thought Cameron's comments were dangerous because they could be construed as lumping everyone into the category of 'undeserving poor'.

I certainly don't think it would be punishing the kids 'if the parents were encouraged to be more responsible' - that's what schemes like Sure Start and the Family Intervention Project being piloted in Bristol are all about. I was saying that you couldn't penalise them through the benefits system because then they children would lose out - although I accept Jonathan's point that the kids are losing out anyway. And as for the case I mentioned - the simple fact is (and this applies equally in Bristol) that there is virtually no social housing that could adequately accommodate a family of that size. Even 3 bed houses are in very short supply (mainly because of right to buy, but that's another topic). Obviously getting a family of eight out of a top floor flat in a tower block is a priority, but there has to be an element of personal responsibility too, surely? i.e. doing what you can not to make a bad situation worse.

As for the question of choice - it would be easy to say, wealthy people are 'allowed' to have as many children as they like, so why should you deny that choice to poor people? But the fact is that many people, as I said, on moderate incomes, limit their family size because they can only afford a two-bedroom house, or both parents need to return to work, or they couldn't afford extra childcare... they make responsible decisions so that they can give their kids a happy home and a good life. Others of course choose to have larger families and go without things like holidays or expensive toys. That's their choice. But is it wrong to question why someone is having yet another child when they're already sleeping two or three to a bed (and a couple on the couch)? When there's nowhere for the older kids to do their homework? When they know what the housing waiting lists are like? (I could go on...)

At least with the Child Tax Credit now, the benefits trap is no longer what it was; the idea is that everyone should be 'better off in work', but as the child poverty debates have shown, there's still work to be done on that front.

I think Northern Lights has answered Pat's points pretty well.

Ann - I agree entirely with what you say about demonising single parents, and the message sent out to by Cameron's idea of 'rewarding marriage'. Just to look at the single parents among my close family and friends: some were married or in long-term relationships, (and in most cases the relationships ended through no fault of their own); a couple were teenage single mothers. The one thing they all have in common is that they want the best for their kids, and would do anything to put their children first. But sometimes circumstances defeat them - and it's the Government's job to try to stop that happening. But it's all in the child poverty debates, or in the Work and Pensions Select Committee's recent report. MPs like John Battle, Karen Buck, Terry Rooney and Tony Lloyd are excellent on these issues. And Gordon Brown is too!

Kerry said...

And another point - and do I really have to make it again? The vast majority of MPs' expenses go towards paying staff and office costs. The second home is because we have to live in two separate places, unless we have London constituencies. And I don't know where you get the idea of an 'enormous pay rise' from. We voted against a pay rise the other week, and I think it's been below inflation ever since I arrived in Parliament (and no, I'm not complaining).

Kerry said...

Stop press - according to today's News of the World, Lembit Opik took a similar view to Glenn - and has now been dumped.

And yes, I am the sort of sad person who stays up late on a Saturday night to read the Sunday papers online.

thebristolblogger said...

What Pat means by people priced out of education is that good state schooling is almost entirely dependent upon where you live or what religion you are.

In Bristol the two decent secular schools are in the Redland/Cotham area where a three bed house will set you back £0.5m.

The only other good school is a church school, which seems to have a wealthy, middle class intake too.

All the money spent on school buildings in Bristol hasn't altered these facts (aside that is from the money spent to build the new Redland Green School in the wealthiest area of the city).

Until the Labour Party understands the difference between neighbourhood schools (what we actually have) and comprehensive schools (what they claim we have) nothing is really going to change.

Basically they need to devise a means of creating genuinely comprehensive schools rather than the current crude system based on neighbourhoods, wealth and class.

I'm no fan. But the fact is that bright working class kids, particularly, are in a worse position now than they were under the grammar school system.

This is showing up on virtually every measure of social mobility available, which all show it has more-or-less ceased.

Kerry said...

"They need to devise a means of creating genuinely comprehensive schools'. I agree, but how? There was a lot of talk a year or so ago about bussing and streaming, to create a more genuine social mix in schools, so it wasn't just based on where parents could afford to live. But somewhere like Brislington Enterprise College, for example, should in theory have quite a good social mix anyway, given its catchment area. The problem is that the middle-class parents send their kids to school over the Bristol border. Should we deny them that choice? I agree that new buildings alone won't be enough to entice those parents back to BEC, but I was speaking to the Head on Friday, and he's confident he can improve performance too.

thebristolblogger said...

In Bristol it's a myth that "the problem is that the middle-class parents send their kids to school over the Bristol border."

Plenty of working class parents are doing it too!

I could give you numerous examples of parents off South Bristol estates who educate their kids in BANES or North Somerset. I also know of one particularly generous and enterprising woman from a well-known estate who takes five kids to church with her every Sunday (and none of them are hers!)

And no we shouldn't deny these parents that choice with baroque schemes courtesy of the LEA involving buses, streaming, coercion or anything else they dream up.

Instead I think we should accept and embrace where we are in Bristol in terms of parental choice in education; formalise it; introduce vouchers (and also look at the Swedish free school system while we're at it) and let the LEA and its schools feel the full force of what parents really want.

On the subject of you speaking to a local head. In my (bitter) experience MPs, councillors, civil servants and the like are badly placed to hear what's really happening. They tend to get told what the senior managers, who invariably always deal with them, want them to hear rather than what they should hear.

Do parents, governors and staff all share this upbeat opinion?

And as a local MP do you believe that the information you're given (which will always come from the most of senior of bureaucrats with a vested interest in painting a rosy picture) is always accurate?

Pat Nurse said...

By Free education, I meant FE and HE. I studied at a further education college because it was free as I was a single parent on The Social. Please corect me if I an wrong, but I believe you have to come off benefits to study now which lack of a secure income - even a state hand-out - makes undesirable.

Certainly I could have gone to University (under the last Con Govt) on the same basis. I didn't because I was lucky enough to get straight into the career of my choice.

I wanted my children to go to University .... and than Labour came in and introduced tuition fees, loans etc... I didn't want my children to go into their first job in debt so University was not an option for my family.

School education is hardly "free" as it used to be. How many parents from lower incomes are finding it difficult just to keep up with the study books that their children need to buy, school trips that are unafordable .. school uniform that costs and arm and a leg - especially those schools that give a monoply to certain uniform suppliers which take away the choice of parents to buy from cheaper outlets.

A basic free education today, as far as the underclass is concerned, consists of a child going to state school through the infant, junior and secondary years without the extra, sometimes neccessary equipment/resources needed to enhance that education simply because their parents can't afford it.

It then creates problems when those kids are being nagged by their teachers for not having what their parents can't get.

I hope this makes it clear.

Northern Lights said...

As the child of two teachers, I've never heard of children being nagged to purchase books. Or even having to purchase equipment at all. When I was at school, if a child's parents couldn't afford a school trip, the school subsidised it for them. A lot of children also received free school meals. All our books were provided from the department in question, inc. things like calculators and so on in maths; I can't imagine things have changed that much?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, EMA gives a regular income to students from poorer backgrounds who go on to FE. Working towards A-Levels is still free isnt it?

As for student loans...mine costs the equivilant of two pints a week, and it wasn't deducted until i earned a reasonable wage. I know the idea of debt can be prohibitive to entering HE, but it's an investment.

Applications for HE are up 7% in 2008, and have been going up for a long time; more people have the chance to gain a degree than before, that can't be a bad thing can it?

Pat Nurse said...

I wonder how many of the 7% rise in Applications to HE are from people from the lower classes/ council estates - those that get the most critism for being on the dole/out of work/ unemployable - and how many are from middle class or working class families.

The truth is Labour priced people out of HE and the idea was to make it more selective so that degrees would be worth more.

Northern Lights said...

If Labour wanted to make HE more selective, it does seem odd that admissions tutors reserve a certain number of places for poorer students.

And that the Government want 50% of children to achieve a degree.

And that universities are being encouraged to attract a more diverse intake, including more children from disadvantaged backgrounds, with certain funding incentives.

We have seen a huge growth in the HE sector in recent times; far from being made more 'selective', the truth is that more people are now achieving a degree than ever before.

Yes, there are a disproportionate number of middle class children in HE; but considering applications from the lowest socio-economic groups are on the rise, and despite top up fees, applications in general continue to rise - I just cant agree that people have been 'priced out' or that HE is more selective.