Children play at our Families and Schools Together programme that brings parents, children, teachers and the wider community together to make sure children get the support they need to fulfil their potential at school.
By guest blogger Dan Jarvis, Labour MP, Barnsley Central
More than one in five children in my Barnsley Central constituency lives in poverty.
That’s a shocking statistic.
Having a childhood where you feel safe, supported, warm and healthy, with the prospect of a bright future ahead of you should be a right for every child, not just a luxury for some.
It’s important because how you start your life heavily determines what the rest of your life will be like. If you are born into poverty, it’s hard to get out of it.
That’s because your health is likely to be worse, you don’t get the opportunities that people further up the social ladder get. You don’t have access to the same resources like books and toys at home. Your home is often temporary and you can’t access the support networks and encouragement you need to improve your situation.
Children who grow up in poverty are much more likely to start school having already fallen behind their peers in core skills like language and communication – skills you need to learn and get on. You start life behind everyone else and for the rest of your life you’re playing catch-up.
More to be done
In recent years, politicians have taken some crucial steps forward – for example, recognising the need to increase financial support for childcare to relieve the burden on household budgets.
The last Labour government invested heavily in education and introduced Sure Start to give all children the best start in life, no matter what their background. We were committed to tackling child poverty and made significant progress.
However, more could have been done then, and more needs to be done now.
Last year the Sutton Trust published its Mobility Map which ranks the 533 parliamentary constituencies in England by performance of disadvantaged children from early years to professional life.
They looked at data for the performance of disadvantaged pupils in key educational tests and exams and then their progression into professional occupations. They then used the data to create a social mobility index for each constituency.
A dedicated community
Barnsley Central ranked 532nd, higher than only Derbyshire South. Yet I know that behind those statistics are some hugely dedicated local people – in Barnsley Council, in community groups, in schools and colleges, breakfast clubs and churches – who are putting everything they have into trying to turn the tide for Barnsley’s young people.
As the local MP I have also been privileged to meet fantastic people from Barnsley who have succeeded against the odds and gone on to do great things. That determination to overcome the obstacles they faced early in life is part of the fighting Barnsley spirit I have come to know so well.
And it’s that spirit I am seeking to harness across my community, with the launch of my campaign to tackle child poverty, so everyone in Barnsley can play their part.
‘Tackling child poverty’ – it’s a pretty big ask! I know it seems as if the ‘levers’ that can be pulled to change anything lie solely with local and national government. Yes, there are huge things this government could and should be doing to tackle child poverty. And yes, there is already good work out there, as illustrated by Barnsley Council and its Anti-Poverty Delivery Group. But I want to find ways in which people from my community can make a difference themselves.
That’s why I have published a report which, as well as highlighting the situation in Barnsley Central, looks at regional, national and international initiatives that have tried to tackle child poverty. Save the Children’s own research features here, in particular looking at the idea of Children’s Zones and FAST (the Families and Schools Together initiative).
Just one thing
But the report is just a starting point. When I first announced my intention to launch this campaign I was overwhelmed by the number of people locally who contacted me and said they wanted to be involved. There is a wealth of experience, skills and knowledge across my community – all of which can be harnessed.
So I am distributing postcards across my constituency which ask the question: if you could change just one thing to tackle child poverty in Barnsley what would it be?
I want people to send me their ideas, drawing on their personal experiences and knowledge. Perhaps it could be an insight into how disadvantaged children could access sports and cultural activities outside of school; your experience of an excellent nursery group, helping to make sure all children are getting the early development support they need; a project to enable adults to provide support or tutoring to students; or an idea to improve the health of young people.
Whatever the idea, I want to hear it. Working with local people I will then publish the next steps, and work with them to find ways to implement the best ideas. Key to this is finding ways in which local people can get involved and be part of that solution.
I know Barnsley is not alone in facing this challenge. But I also know that we all have these dedicated, inspiring people across our communities who have the ideas and capacity to help their local young people too.
The beauty of a place like Barnsley is that, even with the odds stacked against us, we know how to pull together and look after our own. I am sure this is the same across communities in the UK.
You can find out more about my campaign, read my report and submit your own ‘Just One Thing’ idea here.