Speech: It takes a city to raise a child and to lift a child out of poverty
— Bham City Council (@BhamCityCouncil) June 30, 2016
My speech at the launch of today’s Child Poverty Commission Report.
I speak today as the Leader of Birmingham City Council but I also speak as a father, as a former teacher and as one of many leaders across this city who must rise to the challenges outlined in this hugely important report.
We must all be clear that every child matters in Birmingham and no child growing up in this city should have their childhood or future life chances scarred by living in poverty.
Tackling child poverty is one of the key priorities as we work to create a fairer city and the Child Poverty Commission was set up to remove some of the barriers that lead to poverty and inequality.
Very easy words of course but I know each of us here today is determined to turn those words into very real action that will address the causes and the consequences of child poverty in Birmingham.
That’s why I see today as one of the most important of my first few months as the leader of Birmingham City Council.
I say this is one of my priorities but what exactly are we talking about when we say child poverty?
A child is living in poverty if they are living in a family left with less than 60% of average income after housing costs.
And poverty can manifest itself in many ways – including struggling to find the money for essentials like eating and heating, as well as things like transport and leisure activities.
Estimates of child poverty for Birmingham show that 37% of our children were living below the poverty line in 2013 after housing costs (AHC).
That means that in some areas of the city, almost 50% of all children are growing up in poverty. For example: three constituencies in Birmingham have child poverty rates that put them in the top twenty in the UK:
- Ladywood with 47%
- Hodge Hill with 43% and
- Hall Green with 42%.
Sobering and heartbreaking statistics, I’m sure we all agree.
But our children are not statistics and behind those numbers are real children – children with potential, with dreams and aspirations.
Some people will say that it was ever thus and successive generations have tried and failed to address the issue of child poverty.
Well I didn’t get into politics to simply accept such depressing statistics.
I got into politics because I passionately believe that every single child in this city matters and in 2016 – in one of the richest countries in the world – it’s wrong that so many of our children are born into lives of such limited horizons.
It’s unacceptable that one in two children in a Ladywood classroom is living below the poverty line.
Look behind the statistics and you discover that this is not simply an issue of joblessness – it’s far from black and white.
Two-thirds of children living in poverty are living in working households and that’s why tackling in-work poverty must be a priority.
I’m proud to say that Birmingham City Council is a Living Wage organisation and a growing number of our partners and suppliers also now pay the Living Wage. That must become the norm because parents across this city want the best for their children but are all too often struggling to make ends meet.
Growing up in poverty can reduce a child’s ambitions and expectations. For many families poverty is a generational issue. Not only are the children born into poverty, their parents and even grandparents were too and it can be really difficult to escape this cycle.
Children who grow up in poverty are more likely to suffer ill-health, be unemployed or homeless. Sadly they are also more likely to become involved in drug or alcohol abuse and even abusive relationships.
That’s the tragic reality behind those statistics. That’s why we must – as a city and as a nation – rise to this challenge. We must tackle the causes of poverty in Birmingham and we must break a cycle that has seen generations condemned to lives of struggle, debt, ill-health and misery.
It takes a city to raise a child and I believe it takes a city to lift a child out of poverty.
The challenge for our city is to do everything we possibly can to raise the expectations of all our children and we will only succeed if this is a common endeavor.
A number of people have contributed to this important report and many more will play a part in the solution. There’s cross-party support for tackling the issue of child poverty and this is a partnership.
Birmingham City Council will play a part in that team effort but we do not have all the answers. Schools, charities, faith groups, community organisations and others already do great things to tackle poverty and their involvement is more important than ever.
This is a young city – by many measures the youngest in Europe. Just think of all that potential. But potential must be given the opportunity to blossom.
It’s our duty to give all our children the best possible start in life and we’ve made our ambitions and priorities clear in setting up this Commission.
We will now work with partners to address the issues highlighted in this report with a shared aim of increasing the life chances and aspirations of all young people in Birmingham.