The Autumn Statement contained measures aimed at helping the so-called ‘just about managing’ in society. These families have been pushed to the brink by years of austerity, flat wages and increasing costs of living. Many will find cold comfort in the Chancellor’s meagre offerings.
We have to ask: have campaigners failed to find the right language that will build strong public support for the measures needed to overcome child poverty?
The reduction in the universal credit taper rate and increase in the National Minimum Wage will be of some help for children with a parent in low paid work. But this won’t come near to addressing the £11 billion of cuts to families’ benefits on the horizon.
There was also nothing to tackle the poor quality of housing too many children and young people are living in today, despite additional funding for 40,000 new affordable homes.
And the Chancellor did not deliver new measures to make childcare more accessible and – vitally - of high quality. We need sufficient funding and an ambitious early years workforce strategy to secure access to high-quality childcare for everyone.
We may have seen some modest progress on challenges facing struggling families such as income, housing and childcare.
But yet again we saw no ambition to eliminate child poverty and tackle its pernicious effects on children’s well-being.
So is it time to re-think how we talk about poverty? Doing so could help build widespread support for political action to improve the lives of the millions of children – 9 in every classroom – growing up without enough to get by.
NCB is doing just that. We are working in partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the FrameWorks Institute to understand how the public thinks about poverty. This involves exploring the shared assumptions and patterns of thinking prevalent across the UK. We want to use that understanding to develop more effective approaches to communicating on these issues.
Our new research published last week found that some of the ways of thinking about poverty can be barriers to gaining support for action, and reveal major divergences with experts’ understanding of the issue. For example, the research which is based on in-depth interviews with members of the public around the country, found that people often see poverty as something from the UK’s past or a problem in other countries. They tend to view the economy as either controlled by elites or completely out of human control. This results in a sense of fatalism: poverty is inevitable and nothing can be done.
The public also focuses on a lack of basic needs when discussing poverty. This is at odds with how professionals working in the field define it, and minimum standards of living, in terms of the wider social context.
However, some perspectives and values provide a ‘way in’ for those seeking to increase public understanding about UK poverty and garner support for more action.
People understand that poverty can be caused by a lack of adequate opportunities, such as good education and strong social networks. This allows them to appreciate the impact of social and economic structures on the chances of an individual experiencing poverty. Both experts and the public see that society has a fundamental obligation to provide for people’s basic needs. They also see how a lack of opportunities can cause poverty. And they identify improvements in education, job training and housing provision as key measures for addressing UK poverty.
The FrameWorks Institute, which undertook the research, has made recommendations for communicating with the public about poverty, its effects on people’s lives and what can be done about it. These will be rigorously tested over the coming year to measure the impact they have on public understanding and support.
The questions we hope to answer are: can we talk about poverty in a way which means the general public understand what it looks like in this country? Will they feel a sense of injustice at its effects? And will they demand that our politicians take action?
Until we effectively engage the public in this debate, we’re unlikely to get an Autumn Budget that delivers what poor families so desperately need.