Friday, 17 May 2013


This morning I'm at St Martins House, Peacock Lane, where the Leicester Child Poverty Commission conference is taking place in the Grand Hall. I'm glad to see Cllr Manjula Sood, Assistant Mayor with portfolio for Community Involvment, Partnerships and Equalities (and Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths) here today.

This is the second annual event on this topic. The first was held on 25 May 2012 at De Montfort University and was reported in the Leicester Mercury.

Today's conference is opened by Rachel Dickinson (Strategic Director, Children, Leicester City Council) opens the meeting - and chairs the rest of the day.

Cllr Rory Palmer (Deputy City Mayor and Chair of Leicester Child Poverty Commission) welcomes delegates. Here are a few extracts from his letter of welcome included in our packs:

Since last year's conference the Leicester Child Poverty Commission has published 66 recommendations, a number of which have been implemented. Significant work is taking place across the public, private and voluntary sectors to make progress in implementing all of the recommendations. The Commission has continued work with partners to raise awareness of child poverty in the city, to develop new thinking on how to address this challenge and how to monitor the impact of public spending cuts, welfare changes and falling household budgets. Amongst other activities the Commission make a formal response to the Government's consultation on how child poverty should be measured, we held a meeting with businesses and employers to talk about the economic impact of pverty and thge role of the private sector in tackling poverty, and we have worked to ensure child poverty is an issue discussed by other key organisations like the new Health & Wellbeing Board.

The Rt Revd Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, gives the keynote address. I am always impressed by what Bishop Tim has to say on the subject of poverty. He gave the keynote address at the 2012 Annual General Meeting of Leicester Council of Faiths, with the title, "The Recession and its Effects on Inter-Faith Relations". He has been in print on the topic many times and put in a memorable appearance on BBC2's Newsnight in January 2012 where he more than held his own in the face of a rigorous interrogation by Jeremy Paxman about opposition from the Bishops in the House of Lords to the Welfare Reform Bill.

After Bishop Tim's keynote address, we move on to workshop discussion. We're asked to consider the role of communities and organisations in combating child poverty, facilitated by Voluntary Action LeicesterShire. There are two questions to help focus our discussions:

  • What practical things can you do to support the recommendations of the Child Poverty Commission?
  • What do you need the Child Poverty Commission to do to help you achieve these things?

Themes have been allocated to different groups of tables:
  • Early years (five tables)
  • Income, personal finance & housing (four tables)
  • Health & wellbeing (three tables)
  • Economy, work & transport (three tables)
  • Policy & governance (two tables)

Our table, at the back of the hall, is shown on the diagram, but it doesn't have a theme allocated to it. I guess ours would be "latecomers" or "nearest the coffee". We're allowed to pick our own theme, so we go for "Early years". I do half an hour on this one (during which we're joined by Dr Katherine Duffy, one of the 11 members of the Leicester Child Poverty Commission). For the second part of this session I move to another table to discuss "Income, personal finance and housing". Then coffee, I'm glad to say.

The workshops prompt a couple more questions that will fit in the Resilience Audit I'll be conducting with places of worship and faith-based community centres in Leicester over the next few months on behalf of the Council of Faiths.

After the break there's a panel on stage, discussing issues surrounding child poverty from their own areas of interest and positive examples of actions taken so far.
  • John Willets (Project Director, FareShare Leicester)
  • Imran Hussain (Head of Policy, Rights and Advocacy at Child Poverty Action Group)
  • Jon Ashworth MP (Labour, Leicester South)
  • Catherine Stretton, Head Teacher, Marriot School

Each has the opportunity to speak briefly, then respond to questions from the floor.  This fills an hour of the programme.

Sir Peter Soulsby, Mayor of Leicester, makes the closing remarks. I managed to write down a few of the things he said, from a short speech that was both rousing and reflective: "Poverty affects many people in this city in ways which many other people in this city find repulsive. [...] it has sometimes been said that communities in Leicester lead parallel lives - this is true, but not along ethnic, racial or religious lines; in more practical, meaningful terms, this is determined by differing levels of income." If I was able to transcribe faster, I'd have written down more.

Today we heard about a recent study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) that the number of children living in poverty would increase by 50% by 2020. I searched for this online and found an article in the London Evening Standard (7 May 2013) part of which I quote below:
More than one million more children will fall into poverty in the UK by the end of the decade, new research has predicted.
The assessment by the Institute for Fiscal Studies said the projected increase from 2010/11 to 2020/21 will reverse the reductions in child poverty rates witnessed in the previous decade.

As I leave the conference, I reflect on what has more power to change things. You can have all the money in the world, but if you don't have the will, the desire to make a difference, what good can it do. Now that the money that we were all getting used to being available is being taken off the table, we have to fall back on the power of that will and desire. And to judge by what I have heard today, there's plenty of that on tap.

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