Latest figures from the homeless charity Shelter estimate that as many as 80,000 children will be homeless this Christmas. Food banks in the UK are seeing a massive increase in demand. Is the aim to eradicate child poverty in Wales by 2020 an ideal but unrealistic dream? Are we looking at the bigger picture?
With one in three Welsh children living in poverty, I for one think that the introduction of free breakfasts at school is an outstanding initiative. Breakfast is the most essential meal of the day, yet one that a significant number of children have to do without.
As an immediate fix, the government can only do so much to improve financial prospects, and one can wonder and hope that the introduction of the Child Trust Fund will prove beneficial late in life to those children born 2004 onwards. But what can be done to ensure that when a child reaches the age to cash in their Trust fund that they will want to use the money for their long term benefit?
I think the best way we can help our young grow into confident, aspirational adults to be proud of, is to give them the tools to carve and create their futures for themselves, in a manner which works for them as individuals, rather than what has been historically forced upon them. I believe that if we surround children with positive images and encourage them with positive feedback on their achievements then it creates a hunger from an early age to aim higher. Later in life, this accomplishment ethic will by its nature reap financial rewards.
I grew up on a very rough council estate where witnessing poverty and distress among the residents will be forever engraved on my mind. There were two choices for the kids on that estate, to become one of the criminals or to use the harsh realities surrounding us as motivation to achieve and break away from that lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, most residents were genuinely good people and I am proud to call them my friends, but desperation and depression, especially of a financial kind, can lead many a good natured person to do unlawful things either to get by or to escape their lives, if only for a while.
I was lucky enough to have supportive parents. They had many successive years of bad luck but never let that drag them down. I learned from their example about resilience. My Mother kept me grounded and encouraged me to learn practical skills as well as academia. She also instilled in me a strong sense of morals and self respect. My father played positive on all my dreams, he believed nothing was out of my reach and by consequence, so did I.
For those children that lived on the estate then, all I can say is that they are all grown up and some are still there, bringing their children up in the same manner which they were brought up. Do we believe history repeats itself as it knows no better or do these people believe that their children deserve no better than they received themselves?
Without prospects or encouragement at home, ambition is difficult to muster. We need to provide these role models elsewhere to ensure that all children have many positive influences for them to look to and it is up to schools, the government and most especially these days, the media, to provide role models of substance. These days if you ask a child what he/she wants to be when they grow up they will respond “rich” when asked how they will achieve the status of bank account they expect, they shrug.
Education of children not only benefits the individual, but in turn can influence the family, friends and associates of that individual who see the transformation and progression and think “maybe I could do that too”. But education comes in many forms, not just academia, a statement which seems profoundly obvious, yet children who are struggling in book smarts are writing themselves off as failures and this low self esteem can for many, set a precedent for the rest of their lives.
Knowledge is power, not money. Knowledge is the currency of self sufficiency and self worth. Money may be able to buy a man apparatus to build a house but they are worthless without the knowledge of how to assemble it. I am pleased that the Assembly Government is striving to combat child poverty in Wales and while increasing benefits would seem the preferable option for those who are struggling right now, for their kids, real investment into practical skills, basic life skills followed by classes which seek to exploit and encourage each individual’s talents will undoubtedly pave the way for more lucrative prospects or at least ease financial hardships in the future.