Mon. Nov 30th, 2020

Isle of Wight Observer News

The Island's Free Newspaper

Guest column by Richard Quigley of Island Labour

2 min read

“I believe the children are our future” – most of you have heard Whitney Houston sing that.
Not just a great song, but a reminder of how life works. I’ve been heartened with the kindness shown during the pandemic; people from all ages and backgrounds. I’m even impressed with how hard the council officers and councillors worked to distribute help (Don’t worry Dave; I’m not swapping sides).

Then I’m not so impressed when I see the epidemic that has been ongoing for too many years. Poverty and, more so, child poverty. It’s great we all pull together at a time of crisis, but what about the rest of the time?

I know the IW Observer readers are an intelligent and compassionate lot, but further afield, you will see and hear comments that it is the fecklessness of the parents, big TVs, Xboxes, “fags” causing the issues. We need to get past these comfort lies we tell ourselves to make the situation acceptable. It isn’t – and no matter what we may think is happening, it is never – the fault of the children.

The statistics offer facts, but they make for grim reading.
On the Island 34% or 9550 children under 20 live in poverty after housing costs; two-thirds of them are under 10. Nationally the figure is 4.3 million and rising. No government has got a handle on this, but since 2011, the figure has increased by 600,000. You’d have to be pretty heartless not to be moved by those figures. Many of those affected are in work, between jobs or, more recently, on furlough or reduced hours – 72 % of children in poverty are in a household with at least one working adult.
So how do we tackle the problem?

There are sticking plasters – funding free school meals through the holidays, help the foodbank, give to food charities, but long term, we need a council that invests in a way that helps people out of poverty.

For instance, using the government investment fund to build council and affordable housing. This helps families and individuals, but also provides income for the council – much more sensible than investing in shopping centres in Manchester. Follow the Preston council model of encouraging well local paid jobs on the Island, provide real support for micro- and tech-businesses, invest in county farms providing jobs and food resilience. Encourage post-16 learning and give strong leadership and commitment to end child poverty at all levels of local government. Without it, the future problems will be ever more expensive.

Whitney carried on to sing: “Teach them well and let them lead the way.” It’s not an option; the children are our future. We just need to make sure there is one for them to lead us into.