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Thursday, 20 January 2011

Child Poverty - a Moral Challenge

Child poverty is a moral as well as an economic challenge said Barnardo’s Chief Executive Martin Narey in a speech to the RSA last night which I attended. It marked his resignation after five years in the job.

Speaking to a packed audience in the opulence of RSA House, designed by Robert Adam in the 1770's, the contrast with his description of childhood and child poverty was stark. He drew on his experience leading the Prison Service and in the National Offender Management Service to show the connection between child poverty and prison. Britain incarcerates nearly 3000 children and young people a year and he said we were failing nearly all of them and their future victims.

Three million children live in poverty. He considered worklessness a cancer to childrens’ future. For the poor in work he called for a better deal. He had come across so many parents worn down by debt; and not to the high street banks that his audience used. They faced huge rates of interest on small sums.

Questions of “decency” and “is it right that” peppered his talk. For example, he asked was it right that child benefit was means tested yet benefits to the over-60’s (like him) such as winter fuel allowance and free TV licences were not? We certainly have to ask "is it right" about such decisions.

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