Many of us this week will have seen the very powerful and moving BBC documentary Poor Kids directed by Jezza Neumann, telling the stories of some of the 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK. This is one of the worst child poverty rates in the industrialised world, and successive governments have struggled to improve it significantly.
From what I have experienced reaction to it in Leeds seems to have fallen into three broad camps. Firstly there is a group for whom this is ‘the reality’, and Poor Kids was just a powerful re-telling of an everyday story. Members of this group meet these kids and their families on a regular basis because they live or work with them.
Secondly there is a much larger group for whom this programme was a revelation. People with no idea that our housing stock was often so poor. With no idea that the poor pay more for basic services such as utilities or TV than the rest. With little understanding that such levels of poverty existed in our society.
And thirdly there was a group who just seem to brush it off with ‘the poor will always be with us’ attitudes and ‘I share no responsibility for other peoples poor parenting or economic incompetence’.
And the bad news is that the smart money says that child poverty is likely to get worse rather than better.
So how does this play out in the economic powerhouse of Yorkshire, the retail and tourist success story, the regenerated and rebuilt city that is Leeds?
Well, here are some figures, collated by the Leeds Initiative and published on their website.
- In Leeds there are 29,695 children aged under 16 who are living in poverty – 22.9% of all children in this age range
- There are 33,295 dependent children aged under 20 who are living in poverty (22.1% of the children / young people in this age range)
Poverty is not distributed evenly across the City however, and these averages hide some pockets of child poverty that are as high as anywhere in the UK. In 2008 at the Lower Super Output Area (essentially a small geographical area that we might think of as a neighbourhood – see SOAs Explained) level there were:
- 19 LSOAs where no children were deemed to be living in poverty
- 105 LSOAs with rates of 5% or less
- 55 LSOAs where 44.2% or more of children are living in poverty (double the city average)
- In the most deprived LSOAs in Leeds there are 17,620 dependant children living in poverty, a rate of approximately 45%.
- Leeds Central 41%
- Leeds East 35%
- Leeds North East 17%
- Leeds North West 14%
- Leeds West 29%
- Morley and Rothwell 17%
Essentially child poverty is concentrated in the so-called doughnut of despair, that ring of communities that surround the city centre.
There is little point in re-stating the data from the Leeds Initiative research, you can read it for yourself on the ‘Ending Child Poverty’ Paper.
How does child poverty in Leeds compare to that in other major UK cities? Well actually we are not doing too badly in relative terms. Child poverty rates are higher in Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Bradford, Newcastle, Liverpool, Nottingham and Sheffield.
But still the child poverty rates in some Leeds communities are as high as almost anywhere in the UK. Just look at this breakdown supplied by ‘End Child Poverty‘ that shows just how unevenly it is spread across the city.
- Adel and Wharfedale 6%
- Alwoodley 12%
- Ardsley and Robin Hood 12%
- Armley 32%
- Beeston and Holbeck 32%
- Bramley and Stanningley 28%
- Burmantofts and Richmond Hill 46%
- Calverley and Farsley 9%
- Chapel Allerton 33%
- City and Hunslet 44%
- Cross Gates and Whinmoor 19%
- Farnley and Wortley 25%
- Garforth and Swillington 9%
- Gipton and Harehills 47%
- Guiseley and Rawdon 7%
- Harewood 5%
- Headingley 19%
- Horsforth 9%
- Hyde Park and Woodhouse 46%
- Killingbeck and Seacroft 37%
- Kippax and Methley 12%
- Kirkstall 33%
- Middleton Park 41%
- Moortown 12%
- Morley North 11%
- Morley South 14%
- Otley and Yeadon 12%
- Pudsey 15%
- Rothwell 16%
- Roundhay 13%
- Temple Newsam 23%
- Weetwood 18%
- Wetherby 6%
In the draft Vision for Leeds and associated City Priority Plans the issue of poverty in the city becomes a ‘cross-cutting theme’ for all 5 of the new Partnership Boards, and its importance is clearly expressed. Whether as a ‘cross cutting theme’ it will have quite the focus it demands we will have to wait and see.
My main concern is that when I look at the proposed, and still draft, Headline Indicators that are associated with the City Priority Plans, indices of poverty and child poverty do not get a look in. Instead, more tractable ‘proxy’ measures are suggested such as the number of children not in education, employment and training or the number of ‘looked after children’.
But the Vision for Leeds does say that by 2030 ‘people will have the opportunity to get out of poverty‘. It is just a shame that by 2030 the young stars of Poor Kids and their Leeds peers will be well into adulthood. And why aren’t we doing more to help build these opportunities now?
When you talk to both sides of the fence on this issue it is clear that there is a disconnect between those who talk of ‘opportunities’, ‘economic growth’, ‘ job creation’ and ‘enterprise zones’ and the people who live in poverty, many of whom talk of having no hope, no power and no future.
Different words from different worlds.
If you are interested in trying to do something about child poverty in Leeds this maybe of interest…