Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Equality and inequality

A week of sharp contrasts. Last Thursday I went to a highly informative and thought provoking seminar on child poverty organised by Surrey County Council and The Walton Charity. The two speakers were Professor Tess Ridge from the University of Bath and Helen Caldwell, the Strategic Development office from North Somerset Council, who between them have extensive experience of understanding and overcoming child poverty.

Some of the points that stood out for me:
- Living in poverty touches so many aspects of a child's life experience as they grow up.
- Children as young as six living in poverty will try to protect their parents by not bringing notes home from school that ask for money for, say, school trips.
- Low income homes are often doubly hit because the work that they do get is highly erratic, unstable and hence their already low incomes vary from one week to the next, creating a lot of uncertainty for the child.
- Participation of poor children in after school informal learning is key to giving them better life chances.

At the other end of the financial spectrum, on Monday I was highly privileged to be invited to attend the celebrations of the Magna Carta at Runnymede in the presence of the Queen, Prince Philip, Princess Anne, Duke of Cambridge, David Cameron, the Attorney General of the United States, and MPs. It was a lovely event with lots of young people from schools around Surrey participating in musical and ceremonial activities. It was a great opportunity to reflect on how most of us are lucky to live in one of the safest and most affluent countries in the world. Reflecting on the actions of those barons 800 years ago, I particularly liked the closing words by David Cameron: "What we do today will shape the world for many, many years to come."

What we need to be doing today is working together to ensure that young people growing up in poverty here in Surrey (yes, there 23,000 of them in Surrey) have the same opportunities and life chances as the rest of us.

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