Two county councillors have clashed over the root causes of child poverty – with one suggesting that poorer families should be taught how to better manage their money and another insisting that they just needed more of it in the first place.
Andrew Gardiner, the Conservative representative for Heysham, said that it was important to break cycles of deprivation between generations – but added that it was also crucial for families to have control over their cash.
“I spoke with a Labour councillor who worked with the poor in Morecambe…and she said that they need education in how to manage money.
“That was from a Labour councillor, not from me – and she explained several cases [she had dealt with].
“If you take the minimum wage in Burnley, you can probably rent a house for £400 – and then you go to other parts of Lancashire, [it’s] maybe £900. Yet the poorer area is Burnley – I believe a lot of it comes back to education,” County Cllr Gardiner told Lancashire County Council’s children’s services scrutiny committee.
But Labour’s Matthew Tomlinson tore into his colleague’s assessment of poverty.
“If there isn’t enough money, there isn’t enough money. I know people who work full time on minimum wage and they cannot afford to make ends meet – and something has gone wrong when that happens,” said County Cllr Tomlinson, who represents Leyland Central.
“If you’ve got to pay £500 rent, £150 council tax and you’ve got travel to and from work, you run out of money – this is not about people who cannot budget. This is about there not [being] enough money in the system.”
It took the intervention of a member of Lancashire’s Youth Council to find some middle ground.
Ollie Moores said: “Surely there should be a mix of learning to budget [and people having] enough money to budget with. You can’t expect people to budget without enough – that’s just disheartening.”
The committee had received a presentation on child poverty from County Hall’s director of children’s services, Sharon Hubber. She said that children can and do overcome the financial and social environment into which they born – but warned of the obstacles in their way, including the likelihood of exposure to drug and alcohol problems and mental health issues.
“All of that leads to stressful environments and behaviours that do not bode well for your own mental health.
“We’re working with families [where] three generations are unemployed and therefore those opportunities to see what work does for you are lost,” Ms. Hubber said, adding that Lancashire had to be ambitious for every child in the county – not just those who did well at school.
The meeting heard of the disparity in levels of poverty in the county – with Preston being in the most deprived 20 percent of the country and Ribble Valley, which borders it, the least.
Former Lancashire County Council leader Jennifer Mein said that the best antidote to despair about poverty was to go to a primary school leavers’ assembly.
“It’s absolutely fantastic to hear what these children aspire to be – doctors, architects and engineers. If that’s what they aspire to be, then their school has done a good job, County Cllr Mein said.