News Views : June 2007

A mixture of news items, events, comments and whimsies, including eradicating poverty, funds for disabled children, parents as car drivers, the Hogwarts Express and learning Mandarin.

Eradicating Child Poverty

 Spending less than half of the £9 billion paid in City bonuses last year would halve child poverty in the UK by 2010. A survey by Barnardo’s showed that most people thought that the gap in this country between rich and poor is widening and were sceptical about the Government ever narrowing it.

In a report It Doesn’t Happen Here Barnardo’s warns that without an investment of £3.8 billion the Government is going to miss its target to halve child poverty by 2010 and eradicate it by 2020.  The report also reveals that the Government is likely to fall short of the target, not by a few hundred or even a thousand children but by nearly one million (900,000) children.

The Government’s target can still be achieved by investing £3.8 billion in child tax credits before 2010. Such investment, large as it is, amounts to just two thirds of one per cent of this year’s public spending.

Martin Narey said, “We should be ashamed that in 2007, 3.8 million children are living in poverty in the UK, the fifth richest economy in the world. The Government must show its commitment and keep its promise to halve child poverty by 2010. £3.8 billion is a significant investment, but it is less than half the sum needed to host the Olympics, and Barnardo’s, like 82% of parents we interviewed for our You Gov poll, believe that if we can afford the Olympics, we can certainly afford to halve child poverty. This is a wonderful opportunity for Gordon Brown, to create a real legacy – to be known as the Prime Minister who halved child poverty and made the United Kingdom a fairer and a better place for our children.”

We believe that Barnardo’s have given the right message at the right time. The increasing bonuses that the richest people have awarded themselves have been disgraceful, something of which they should feel ashamed. The City certainly earns income for the economy, but simply because these people are at the centre of the money market does not mean that they deserve such extraordinary pay-outs by comparison with the incomes of those in poverty. Research has shown that countries where the gap between rich and poor is narrower are happier places to live, and money given through benefits to the poor is more likely to get back into the economy than if it is awarded to people who buy yachts and islands.

Credit Due

While we think that children and their families deserve the £3.8 billion that Barnardo’s argue for, we are nonetheless pleased about the £340 million that has been agreed to support parents and their disabled children. A report called Aiming High for Disabled Children : Better Support for Families was prepared by the Treasury and Department for Education and Skills, and it lays out the three main areas of improvement which they wish to see.

The bulk of the money will go on providing 40,000 two-week short breaks for parents but there will also be money to cover the key transition period from childhood to adulthood, which has presented many problems in the past with the change from children’s to adult services.

To whom should the credit be due for this report? Clearly the politicians have played a significant role and Ed Balls as Economic Secretary to the Treasury claims some of the credit and enjoyed the kudos of launching the fund. However, he says that the trigger for the report was provided by parents he met in his Normanton constituency. The report also pays tribute to the voluntary organisations who advised on the report; the National Children’s Bureau formed a coalition of interested parties for the purpose. So the credit should go to a lot of people for collaborating and improving the lot of disabled children. What a positive news story!

The report can be found at :

Motoring Parents

We have received a Press Release about new research from Privilege Insurance, who describe themselves as the “safe driver champion”, and it has shown that many children do not feel safe in the car when their parents are driving.

Forty-seven per cent feel unsafe when mother is driving and thirty nine per cent do not feel safe when father is behind the wheel. Nine per cent of children have experienced a car crash while their mothers were driving and eight per cent while their fathers were driving.  Twenty-four per cent of children said that their mothers were bad at parking and twenty-one that their fathers drove too fast. By contrast, an earlier study showed that the parents assessed themselves as driving more safely with their children in the car.

We would have said that all these perceptions simply reflected traditional gender stereotypes, were it not for our own observations in watching parents collect their children from school. Why is it that every single one of the cars which parks antisocially, blocking exits or overlapping the marked bays, is driven by a woman in a 4 X 4?

 The Hogwarts Express

We were on the 16.17 GNER express from Wakefield to King’s Cross the other day, and as we approached Doncaster, the next station down the line, the Guard announced our impending arrival and asked passengers to remember to take their homework with them.

It turned out that this train carries quite a group of young people, sufficient for the train to be known as the Hogwarts Express, presumably commuting daily between Donny and QEGS, and it has been a handy excuse for students to say that their homework has accidentally taken a trip to King’s Cross.

We offer our congratulations to GNER for paying attention to the needs of its young passengers. On the other hand we don’t understand why, when the train reached King’s Cross, the staff couldn’t just take the homework to platform five and three-quarters and ask Harry Potter to arrange for its return by owl post.

Curriculum Evolution

While some edicts and policies come from on high, dictated by Secretaries of State, some grow up from below. The Commons Education and Skills Select Committee has received evidence that the teaching of Mandarin is increasing rapidly, and a hundred or more additional teachers will commence teaching the subject at the start of the next school year, some being recruited directly from China. Sir Cyril Taylor suggested that Mandarin would replace European languages as the key language to be taught. No doubt it will make good economic sense. Not only will China offer a massive market for Britain to trade with, but within Europe English is becoming steadily more dominant and there is less incentive for learning the languages traditionally taught in our schools such as French and German.

We do recall, though, that during the Cold War it used to be said that if one was an optimist, one learnt Russian; if one was a pessimist, one learnt Chinese. How things change.

From the Case Files

 Mr X has a small brown bear with a big moustache and spectacles.

Not Winnie the Pooh or Paddington then?

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