I came across the question ‘Does England hate its Children?’ on a social media website in the aftermath of the Budget on the 8th July 2015. It highlighted five concerns:
1. Debt to be educated.
2. Ending child poverty targets.
3. Exclusion from living wage.
4. Exclusion from many social benefits.
5. Expected to carry the burden of the increasing aged population.
These are points that should be of interest to all of us. But I am aware that they came from a contributor with an ‘agenda’. Poverty is pernicious and destructive, and whatever steps can be taken to diminish or eliminate it must be taken. And a wealthy society that has within it children suffering the consequences of poverty is one that has good reason to feel shame.
But our benefits system was flawed before this budget. It never ensured complete protection for the weak, vulnerable, aged or sick while at the same time enabled the growth of a benefits ‘culture’ wherein some people adopted a lifestyle of dependency upon handouts from the State as a matter of choice. Ask any teacher – he/she will tell you that they regularly meet children from families where education is not valued because ‘you can always go on the social’. But it is never difficult to find excuses for these people, saying in effect ‘it is not their fault’. But what else is this attitude if not patronising? For it suggests that they must be cared for since they know no better.
What children need most – and some may vehemently disagree with me here – is security and love within a family setting. My remit for the concept of family is a wide one: it may be single parent and one child, same sex couples with adopted or their own children and many variations on that. What matters is that the children feel safe and loved, and that they are encouraged in their learning and in their journeys towards independent existence. The cost in financial terms of ensuring these principles is probably not very great, but the value of them is beyond estimating.
The five concerns put by the questioner are relevant and important of course, but it would be wholly wrong to suggest that these exclusions are the sole cause of misery for children.
Children suffer far more, probably, as a consequence of the selfish and feckless behaviour of those charged with their upbringing and care. An unloved, frightened, abused child is far more likely to end up slipping into criminality or suffering from significant mental health issues. And anybody who thinks that throwing benefits and cash payments to them or their families is anything like the whole solution to their misery is naïve at best.