Photo: Gizmodo

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Revealed: the face of Tory Britain

Photo: Rex Features
If you're not familiar with the UK, you may be wondering who this man is.

A newly cast "Dracula"? A villain in a forthcoming Bond film?

No, it's George Osborne, one of the faces of the new "compassionate conservatism" and the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to Finance Minister).

A recent Guardian newspaper article ran this photo with a story on an analysis of the UK Government's austerity measures carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a well respected and independent non-profit research institution. They have shown that despite the Con-Dem coalition's best claims of fairness, the welfare cuts mean working families on the lowest incomes – particularly those with children – are the biggest losers. This amounts tthe poorest 10% of families losing over 5% of their income as a result of the budget compared with a loss of less than 1% for non-pensioner households without children in the richest 10% of households.

No one with any sense doubted for a second Tory promises to be the new "champions of the poor." What is galling, for fools such as myself who voted for the Libdems in May, is Nick Clegg and co's propping up of Tory policy that would have had Margaret Thatcher twirling her handbag in joy. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dragons who risk fanning the flames

Just stumbled across this video of James Caan in Pakistan (those in the UK will know him as one of the "Dragons" from the TV show Dragon's Den, a show in which entrepreneurs invite people with business propositions to make a pitch and then decide whether to invest their money).

I'm willing to stand corrected, but the news report gives the impression that he's flown into his native Pakistan with a fistful of pounds to sort the food distribution problem single-handed.

"The food ends up going to the fittest," he insightfully reveals at the end. What did he expect when roaring into the flood hit areas with a lorry full of supplies? That he would automatically be able to identify and reach those most in need?

Why is that so many individuals in these situations believe they can do better than Governments or aid agencies who have years of experience is such complex logistical operations?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tales of the unexpected

I'm in that post-holiday limbo, when the children are yet to go back to school and I delude myself that I will be able to catch up with work and the kids will look after themselves. Working from home does have its advantages though, such as having the radio on in the background without having to worry about whether it will bother anyone.

This morning's Radio 4 background came into the foreground as I listened with increasing interest to Kathy Burke's choice of Desert Island Discs. She spoke about her challenging childhood, brought up on a council estate in north London, mother dying when she was 2, father with drink problem... all the ingredients for future "anti-social behaviour" and "problem families", justifications that were so often thown up by New Labour for the next wave of draconian initiatives.

Except Kathy Burke went on to become an acclaimed actress, winning a best actor award at Cannes. Which begs the question, what is it that leads to some people overcoming childhood disadvantage in adulthood (not necessarily measured by how many film awards you win) whilst others continue to experience as adults poverty and social exclusion?

Many studies have focused on identifying factors which enable resilience and thus either prevent families falling into extreme poverty or from children experiencing the same outcome as adults as their parents. One study, with the snazzy title of Tales of the Unexpected, conducted by social policy and public health experts in the UK, defined resilience as "the process of achieving positive and unexpected outcomes in adverse conditions." 

Unfortunately, public policy generally has very low expectations of the resilience of families living in pòverty. Yet, in working with such families for 8 years in the UK, I was constantly amazed by the fortitude shown by many parents, especially to keep their children out of the care system.

Such a shame then that the Coalition Government seems to be following the New Labour pattern in side-stepping evidence based policy-making when it suits in favour of gimicky measures to grab tabloid headlines. The latest being the resurfacing of plans to withhold benefits from anyone refusing treatment for drug or alcohol addiction. This despite the social security advisory committee finding back in May that withdrawing benefits from drug users would lead them into crime and prostitution.

Not all kids living on north London council estates can go on to receive an award at Cannes. But surely it pays to raise our expectations of the height children and adults living in poverty are able to reach if we understand and trust in their capacity to achieve the unexpected.