Anarchy 84/Notes on poverty 2: Child poverty, with a look at a Lancashire town
Notes on poverty
look at a
ALISTAIR RATTRAY and
- On Sunday she wore blue stockings, a yellow skirt and a bright red blouse;
- On Monday she wore the same.
- On Tuesday she wore a bright red blouse, blue stockings and a yellow skirt;
- On Wednesday she dressed the same;
- On Thursday again the red, the yellow and the blue;
- On Friday again the same.
- On Saturday she didn’t come out.
- On Sunday she wore blue stockings, a yellow skirt and a bright red blouse.
Kathleen is 9 and is one of a, too large, minority living in poverty. She lives in the old Lancashire town of Blackmills, with its population of 33,000. The declining cotton industry of Blackmills has been supplemented by a large nearby engineering industry and arms factory, together with entry into textiles. Unlike many of the surrounding towns, Blackmills cannot be described as a depressed area where unemployment is disturbingly acute. The housing is predominantly old and the red brick terraced rows of houses, 2 up, 2 down, built for the cotton workers towards the end of the 19th century, were not erected with an eye to
There are few facilities for the children and teenagers in Blackmills. The children play in the small parks and on the streets, going up the hill on fine days. Only one primary school has its own football pitch attached to the school. There is one poorly-
Although there is no definitive slum area in Blackmills and one cannot walk through the streets seeing overt poverty, there is poverty here—
In Blackmills the wages for unskilled workers are low. Unskilled labourers in textiles only earn between £8 to £11 per week. Women workers in textiles earn the same. Building labourers can earn up to £25 to £30 per week by breaking their backs seven days every week, weather permitting, but this is very uncertain money and all too frequently they receive an insulting wage. There is very little construction work in Blackmills and building workers go far afield to find the well-
The proposals made by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) would help these families where they have numerous children (and poor families are usually large families). One of the ways CPAG propose to alleviate family poverty is by greatly increasing family allowances and abolishing income tax relief for children. “This would leave the net income of well-
The Government are under tremendous pressure to change the wage-stop rule, largely thanks to the CPAG and social workers dealing with poverty. Child Care Officers automatically assist wage-
The children’s department are in a particularly good position to exert their influence as they, more than any other agency, deal first-
One of the special difficulties the children’s department has had to overcome is general lack of sympathy for the people who they try to help. These are more often than not “the undeserving poor”; problem families, perhaps better described as families with problems, which are often so insurmountable that the family breaks down. The breakdown of a family cannot be attributed to one single cause. There may be matrimonial difficulties; the parents may have unstable, inadequate personalities, or maybe mental illness. Large families, sickness and unemployment, and particularly poverty, where the children are suffering, will all bring the family to the attention of the children’s department. The family is usually referred to the department for some form of “anti-
The woman of 30, husband left, who, as often as possible, gets out to the smart-
There are the fathers who drink most of the money away, perhaps because they cannot face the thought that even if they didn’t drink there still wouldn’t be enough money to feed the children properly. Child care officers are very pragmatic in such situations. There is no question of moralizing. The children need help and as far as possible they give it, realising that to split a family up is usually worse for the child than living with inadequate parents whose major crime, more often than not, is poverty. They tend to have a liberal—
In Blackmills there are various other organisations which work on the fringes of the problem of poverty. The NSPCC (who have also come to realize that prosecution is no answer to cruelty) work in close liaison with the children’s department. Many of their cases are caused by poverty and their help tends to be practical. The WVS gives clothes to the poor but only when they “bring a note from someone in authority, like a doctor or a vicar” (WVS worker). The church-
In effect, it is only the child welfare officers who really come to grips with the children in poverty in Blackmills, and attempt to nurse the problem families back into some kind of stability. Gone are the days when they saw their function as keeping the poor “happy in their misery”. They now see themselves as a professional body exerting influence on the Government to take real steps to alleviate poverty.
But it has taken a group like the CPAG to come up with a definite practical plan which could reform the present situation immediately in a way which would reduce some of the worst effects of poverty. They have really hit upon the crux of the problem. Whilst social workers and others see the problem families and offer what help they can, there are countless others involving over 1,000,000 children who are living in poverty with no one to help.
Perhaps the parents are not anti-
* Investigated by the Supplementary Benefits Commission.
- 47Some morning, after a star
- Has hung over our house all night,
- We might walk forth and recognise things:
- This would be one miracle worth seeing—
- Energy working on our values
- To create something out of nothing.
- And what might we see?
- That boy with the twelve-month running nose,
- is not just a pillar of snot
- Trying to annoy us,
- But a person of flesh and blood
- With other things to see besides a nose—
- No shoes, no fruit, no underwear—
- These are the things his presence screams at us.
- The feeling that a surplus of food
- Gives us a well-earned condescension
- Over the ones whose children
- Sit and wait, and who, finally,
- Are destroyed by the great bitch, hope,
- Would be seen as our greatest shame.
- I’m not setting out a catalogue
- To gratify complacency:
- A star did shine over our house last night,
- But we, the strong, the good, the beautiful,
- Remained impregnable.