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…
Neoliberalism demands that more and more of the working population tolerate a lack of job security, evince flexibility, and revise customary ways of doing things. Workers must be comfortable living off short-term projects secured through whatever means necessary—ceaseless networking and bootlicking, ruthless leveraging of friends and family contacts, spinning a series of half-truths on a résumé—and they must be more or less self-motivated to produce, to regard themselves as creative forces, to generate economic value in every aspect of how they live, instrumentalizing it all.
I absolutely encourage you to read the full article. Identity, brand, social networking…
So just why is it so rare to see decent business support provision developed specifically with the micro-enterprise in mind? Well I suspect because there is a perception amongst the powers that be that it is hard, expensive and wasteful.
- There are just too many micro-enterprises to offer more than a generic website.
- Micro-enterprises are just too heterogeneous – they all have different wants and needs. There is no one size fits all solution for them.
- They just don’t have the capacity to absorb and act upon the services and guidance we offer. There is no HR team to work with our skills offering, no marketeers to get involved with our business development work.
- Micro-enterprises just aren’t able to engage strategically with support. Everyone in the micro-enterprise is too busy doing their day job to invest in their development. They have no discretionary time to invest.
- There is little return on public investment in micro-enterprise. They start small stay small and die small. They are just lifestyle businesses that have little potential for job creation.
- We don’t really understand them. Our boards and committees are overloaded with people from big business.
- To make a significant economic impact it is much easier to work with the big employers. One big employer could trigger thousands of apprenticeships across the UK. We might need to work with 10 000 micro-enterprises to find just 100.
- Big businesses understand how the game is played. They come to breakfast meetings, read policy papers and generally know how to work with the system. Micro-enterprises tend to be much more opinionated, impatient and generally difficult.
- Legal forms for Social Enterprise
- Loans and other forms of finance
- Sourcing finance
- Risk considerations
- Assessing finance needs
- Case Studies and examples
I seem to have been a bit quiet on this blog, while I have been doing other things, including pushing Progress School along, working on Collaborate Leeds and incubating a new idea which has finally found the light of day today:
The Leeds Community Enterprise Accelerator or Elsie for short. This provides a community based network of support to local enterprise coaches, advisors, facilitators, in fact to anyone who is helping someone else in the community to make progress.
I have high hopes for Elsie in post Business Link austerity economy. I think it will provide a sustainable high value model to provide practical crowd sourced enterprise support to those that most want and need it.
Have a look at Elsie and tell me what you think.