Education prospects worsen for UK children in poverty

As most children go back to school this week, fears that disadvantaged children will have fallen behind in their schoolwork in the months of COVID lockdown seem confirmed by interviews conducted with more than 3000 teachers and heads at about 2000 schools in England and Wales by the National Foundation for Educational Research. Their study, reported yesterday, found that, while the average learning lost was reckoned to be about three months for all pupils, teachers expect that more than half of pupils in schools in the most deprived areas have lost four months or more.

But the educational outlook was sadly worsening anyway for around four million children who now, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation are living in poverty in the UK ( A new report has found worsening educational inequality already, stating that “there is disturbing new evidence that the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has stopped closing for the first time in five years.” This report, from the Education Policy Institute (, finds that disadvantaged pupils in England are 18.1 months of learning in English and Maths behind their peers by the time they finish their GCSEs. This is the same gap as five years ago, and the gap at primary school increased for the first time since 2007.

The EPI researchers, led by Jo Hutchinson, Director for Social Mobility and Vulnerable Learners, have now analysed the gap for pupils across different levels of disadvantage. They have found that children with a high persistence of poverty (those on free school meals for over 80% of their time at school) have a learning gap of 22.7 months, twice that of children with a low persistence of poverty (those on free school meals for less than 20% of their time at school) who have a learning gap of 11.3 months.

They report that progress on closing the gap has been slowest for pupils with a high persistence of poverty, the gap remaining much the same for almost a decade. Moreover, the proportion of pupils with a high persistence of poverty has risen since 2017, from 34.8% to 36.7%.

The researchers have considered the disadvantage gap in different areas of England. They found large disadvantage gaps in the North, West Midlands and parts of the South. In some regions, poorer pupils are over two full years of education behind their peers by the time they take their GCSEs, for instance in Blackpool (26.3 months), Knowsley (24.7 months) and Plymouth (24.5 months). By contrast, there are very low GCSE disadvantaged gaps in parts of London – Ealing (4.6 months), Redbridge (2.7 months) and Westminster (0.5 months). However, the researchers suggest that in areas with a large disadvantage gap, a major reason may be that they have a large proportion of poor children in persistent poverty. If the largest education-disadvantage gaps are adjusted for persistent poverty, the areas with the largest gaps in the country are in South Gloucestershire and West Berkshire as well as Blackpool.

For our party, which was so instrumental at bringing in the Pupil Premium, and free school meals for infant school-children, the rising proportion of pupils with a high persistence of poverty is indeed profoundly concerning. Their life chances beyond school seem likely to be deeply affected. What can we propose which will help reduce the gap?


* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Copeland and Workington.

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  • Peter Watson 2nd Sep '20 - 6:19pm

    “For our party, which was so instrumental at bringing in … free school meals for infant school-children”
    Universal free school meals is an interesting one. Children from the poorest families were already entitled to free school meals so, arguably, the main beneficiaries are the better off. After all, the measure was promoted by Nick Clegg in the 2015 election as something worth £400 per child per year which at the time made it sound horribly like a bribe to middle-class voters.
    Would that money have been, and would it be now, better spent elsewhere in the education budget, e.g. increasing the Pupil Premium?

  • A reminder from Katharine about the impact of child poverty, and Marcus Rashford has been in the news again having forced another U turn on the blustering incompetent Johnson Government.

    In Scotland children were in school three weeks ago. Yesterday the First Minister announced the new Scottish Child Payment of £ 10 per week per child will start in February. Details below….. something the UK Government should consider. Perhaps Lib Dem M.P.’s will press it at Westminster to, in part, make up for the welfare and benefit cuts of the Coalition years ?

    First step to new Scottish Child Payment – › news › first-step-to-new-scottish-child-…
    4 Oct 2019 – be paid every four weeks as a lump sum to support parents with the cost of bringing up children, including clothing or school activities; increase … eligibility and guidelines……..

    Historical footnote : Free School meals started in Bradford in the early 1900’s at the instigation of the educationalist Margaret Macmillan and the I.L.P. M.P. Fred Jowett. The Liberal Government of Campbell-Bannerman then passed the Education (Provision of Meals) Act in 1906 which permitted local Councils to provide school meals…. though the take up was patchy and only 50% did so by 1939. The Bill (predictably) became law over the objection of the House of Lords…. ‘Let them eat grouse… but not on my land’.

    A report published in 1889 indicated over 50,000 pupils in London alone attended school “in want of food”. Other studies, such as Charles Booth’s Life and Labour of the People of London, 1899-1903 and Seebohm Rowntree’s Poverty: A Study of Town Life in York, 1901, found nearly a third of the population and cities studied were living in poverty. A 1904 Report into Physical Deterioration showed a large rejection of men from service in the Boer War, as they were malnourished.

    Some things never seem to go away, though to be fair Gordon Brown presided over the biggest ever reduction in child poverty ….. much of it undone since 2010. He
    introduced a system of tax credits which, by 2010, transferred £28 billion a year to low- and middle-income families. The Resolution Foundation found tax credits reduced the number of children living in poverty in the UK from three million in 1998 to 1.6 million in 2010.

    Now Sir Ed Davey, pick up the torch. Show Lib Dems can be useful.

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Sep '20 - 8:54pm

    Thank you for that very interesting historical review, David, along with the news of the worthwhile development in Scotland. No recent good news at all on UK child poverty levels, and it will indeed be appreciated if Sir Ed will add that aspect of the need for caring to his compassionate outreach.

    Peter Watson. On free school meals, Peter, would you not think it is worthwhile that young children can have that dependable consistency in their lives? When one thinks of parents in irregular work, if any, and also of shifting relationships among parents, it’s good to know that children can rely on having a meal in the middle of the school day – and, partly thanks to Marcus Rashford, in the holidays too.

  • @David Raw, I’m not following why you keep emphasising the fact that schools in Scotland fully reopened earlier in Scotland than in England as if it is something to the credit of Scotland or the Scottish government. Both the Scottish and the U.K. governments failed to fully reopen schools before the Summer holiday, both have managed to fully reopen for the start of their respective Autumn terms. If you are trying to make a point that the acoevement of the Scottish government surpasses pthat of the U.K. government then I’m missing the credence of any said point.
    I might suggest that the Scottish pupils could benefit from any extra time in school, did you see the last how Scotland’s last PISA rating compared to that of England’s?

  • Peter Martin 2nd Sep '20 - 9:43pm

    If you want to introduce a UBI then do it for those of non working age. Like children and the elderly. Call it a decent level of child benefits and pensions if you like. That will help reduce poverty.

    Those of working age should be expected to work for their income if they are capable. They’ll be producing the goods and services that makes UBI money worth something. In other words there is something in the shops to buy with it. If people can’t find jobs the government should be an employer of last resort with a job guarantee.

  • @ Tynan I merely stated a fact, Tynan. It will have a marginal (three week) affect on the outcomes Katharine is concerned about. I do, however, give credit to the Scottish Government for the new Scottish Child Payment.

    I hope you will agree with me that the Johnson Government has been all over the place with U turns on issues which, in general, the Scottish Government has handled, if not perfectly, much better. I would add I am not an SNP voter, nor am I a knee jerk Liberal Democrat viewing whatever the party does with uncritical eyes. ‘My party right or wrong’ won’t get the Lib Dems anywhere…… nor will the Lib Dem record over the last ten years for that matter.

  • Peter Watson 3rd Sep '20 - 12:08am

    @Katharine Pindar “it’s good to know that children can rely on having a meal in the middle of the school day”
    The question is not whether or not a meal should be provided for children in the middle of the school day, but whether or not those who can afford to pay for it should do so. By targeting the benefit to those who most need it, perhaps funds might be released to cover the cost of providing breakfasts on school days or lunches at weekends and holidays.
    Another question is whether providing free school meals for all children is the most effective way to spend money in order to reduce inequality and/or raise performance.
    The pros and cons of universal benefits are too complex for a bear of very little brain like me, but for Lib Dems I think they risk looking like a bung to a middle-class core vote. This is particularly so for universal free school meals which seemed to emerge as quid pro quo for the Tories’ married couples’ tax allowance and to involve a U-turn by the party which had previously appeared to oppose this idea from Labour.

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Sep '20 - 1:43am

    There should be targeted benefits to raise people out of poverty, in my opinion not universal ones. I am not in favour of a Universal Basic Income, which would not meet the very first object of the Social Contract I want us to adopt, raising people below it to at least the poverty level. Peter Martin, as you know, you and I tend to agree on various partial solutions.

    We need I think to face the hard facts, and not indulge in popular though expensive general benevolence. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s latest report, referenced in the article, states that the poverty rate has risen in the last five years for two groups: children and pensioners. So, yes, we do need higher rates of benefit for children, and pensioners may still need the Triple Lock to keep up. their standard of living.

    Why then have universal free school meals, you ask, Peter Watson (both of you Peters wanting those who can pay for goods to do so, reasonably enough). I am thinking that parental income can vary wildly according to their employment situation, and children should not be victims of the downturns.

    Inequality begins in childhood, and from perhaps raising the Pupil Premium to restoring maintenance grants for students, we surely need always to be monitoring the situation and striving for better outcomes for our children especially, since they are dependent on us. I am glad that Liberal Democrats have usually been very mindful of that.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Sep '20 - 7:38am

    There’s nothing wrong with having free school meals. Even during weekends and holiday times if there is a need. As Marcus Rashford says it is an effective way of making sure that every child gets at least one decent meal. There is really no excuse for children going hungry in a wealthy country like the UK. If we have a universal, or close to it, child benefit then the principle is no different. At one time everyone would have had an income tax allowance. The idea of a child benefit was to incorporate that with previously available payments to the parents.

    So why is it OK to pay universal benefits to children, and the elderly, but not to everyone of working age?

    It is because no one is self-made. Whatever good there is in our lives, such as a free school meal, is a product of the acts of others. It is also the product of others fulfilling their social obligations. We all accept that we have an obligation to not do certain things like steal, commit assaults, robberies or worse etc. We also accept that we have positive obligations to our children and any animals we might own. We have to care for them. We can face serious criminal charges if we neglect our responsibilities.

    This is where Lib Dems seem to have a problem. And it is not a problem which is shared by the wider community. This disconnect causes the loss of votes. There has to be an obligation for those of working age to make a contribution to society if they are able. This has to be a parallel issue with the equitable distribution of those contributions.

  • @David Raw, thanks for clarifying. I would agree with you in
    part re the U turns, certainly 13 and counting would indicate something isn’t right, even in a rapidly changing situation. Nicola Sturgeon has had better messaging but also possibly less hostility in the scrutiny she has been under, I haven’t been in Scotland recently so I accept that might just be my perception from sunny York.
    The exam results situation was not the governments finest hour, but equally I found some elements of the media’s actions in displaying clearly distressed young people stating that their lives are over because they can’t go to their first choice university to be slightly distasteful.
    I think on other topics such as masks and travel, the government, any government, needs to be able to change tack if evidence changes. The efficacy of wearing a mask in preventing infection depends very much on them being worn and disposed of correctly, in many cases, sadly including some staff in my own treatment service, who really should know better! this is not the case.
    I agree that the child payment is a good idea.

  • @ Tynan “Nicola Sturgeon has had better messaging but also possibly less hostility in the scrutiny”.

    I don’t think so, Tynan. She takes a daily televised Press Conference with 40 minutes of media questions from all the media (including hostile tabloids) plus a weekly First Minister’s Questions in Holyrood. How often does Johnson do that ? Despite his Etonian background he prefers to do a macho working class impersonation posing in a white helmet with bright orange work overalls for a two minute preprepared sound bite…… that’s when he can be bothered to turn up. Starmer skewered him yesterday in PMQ’s and his own back benchers are muttering.

    In Scotland he is a gift to the SNP that keeps on giving. No wonder Nicola has an 83% approval rating. As someone living in Scotland who has had to shield since March I
    understand why.

    Meanwhile, Labour up here are on 14% and in turmoil trying to defenestrate Richard Leonard, the Greens ask the best questions, the Tories are hopeless and recently dumped their Leader, and the Lib Dems are the fifth party on 6% preferring a post Brexit Union complete with Trident to the possibility of rejoining the EU. Happy Days.

    PS Richard Leonard comes from Malton.

  • The link between deprivation and educational underperformance has been well known for generations but regretably the exact mechanisms at work are poorly understood. Best guess is that it is a blend of economic and cultural factors that creates the gap between rich and poor but the extent to which those cultural factors have an economic basis or can be “reset” in the short term is arguable. Consequently, attempts at compensatory education have a less than stellar record (e.g. Head Start program in the USA, 1960s).
    It goes without saying that we should seek to eradicate poverty, just don’t be surprise if there is a significant lag in the closing of the education gap.

  • @ Chris Cory What do you have to say about the erosion of Sure Start and tax credits under the Coalition ? The Resolution Foundation found tax credits reduced the number of children living in poverty in the UK from three million in 1998 to 1.6 million in 2010.

  • @David Raw, I’ve seen some of those press conferences and to my mind, Nichola has come out of them fine, her most wobly moment I saw was loosing her chief scientist, but that was hardly her fault, I haven’t seen quite the level of personal hostility that Johnson has faced aimed at her, but I’ll be guided by your knowledge on that.
    I personally don’t think daily briefings are needed or particularly illuminating at this stage but fair play to her for continuing to put herself up there. Some ongoing briefing is needed though, Borris has been missing in action a little too much recently and it’s not a good look. If he’s still unwell he should have the grace to step down and most people would probably understand, if not it is very bad judgement and may well cost him number 10.
    Happy days….in a mad world.

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Sep '20 - 2:47pm

    It’s a lovely idea, Freddie, but I think to do that you might as well set up yurts in the school yards and invite children to stay overnight in them before receiving all those free meals! No, I think we have to allow parents, especially mothers of young children, some agency and independence. Everyone according to our Lib Dem principles has an equal right to self-fulfilment, with a helping hand from the State, and we should surely encourage empowerment of individuals, not regard them as a dependent group always to be looked after.

    Similarly, I suppose, Katerina, if UK children do have greater psychological problems than those of other European countries (we would have to look at later UNICEF figures to check), would it not be best to involve the parents with the teachers to discuss what can be done for their children’s better wellbeing?

    Chris Cory. At the same time, Chris, we surely shouldn’t accept that the educational gap between well-off and poor children is widening. As David Raw suggests, we do need to take more active measures where active measures can help. Increasing educational disadvantage goes along with worsening health inequality for poor families in deprived areas. Our party surely has to press on all fronts – more jobs, more lasting and better-paid jobs, more social housing, better welfare payments and so on – THIS is where the state does and should have agency, and our party needs to press for all the measures of social justice to be taken in the coming hard months.

  • People may find the following Radio 4 programme of interest.

    I haven’t listened to it very recently so I may remember it wrongly but from memory it says that the pupil premium is good but it’s not the only thing that needs doing.

    I would

    Double the pupil premium

    More money for schools in deprived areas

    (as teachers in those areas spend more time on pastoral care and sorting out things like benefits before actually getting the kids to school)

    More money for the schools budget generally.

    It struck me that rather scarily we need to design a schools system for kids who will still be working in the 22nd century.

    Just think of the massive change in jobs since the 1920s. You could have a job – may be in service or in a factory – while being functionally illiterate.

    Low skill jobs will come under immense pressure from robots and billions of cheaper Labour in developing countries.

    There will be virtually no room for those without a good GCSE in maths and English. And we will need 80%+ educated to degree or a higher apprenticeship level. (Probability 75% to degree level)

  • Sue Sutherland 3rd Sep '20 - 6:09pm

    I agree that we need to take measures to alleviate food poverty at the moment but we should be looking to eliminate poverty, full stop. There is a link between mothers’ poor nutrition and the development of babies in the womb and free school meals don’t help children under school age.
    I would hope our party will offer benefits which allow people to have a decent life and also put more teaching assistants into schools where children need more individual attention to learn basic skills. We have to enable those children to catch up and for some it will be an expensive package.

  • John Marriott 3rd Sep '20 - 6:26pm

    Someone once said that “we are what we eat” – actually, it might have been me. Studies in several US prisons have shown how behaviour can improve if people eat a balanced diet. The problem is how to ‘encourage’ people to eat less junk food if you make it so easy and cheap to do so. As Oscar Wilde famously said; “I can resist anything but temptation” and there is the problem. Fast fun can be very addictive – like lead paint as they told us in The Simpsons “delicious but deadly”.

    There is no doubt that many of our children go to school each day on a bag of crisps, a chocolate bar and a can of coke – or something similar. After all “a Mars a day helps you work rest and play “, or so the old TV advert ran (you’ll have to be of a certain age to appreciate that one). Mind you, you could give them Ready Brek on a cold morning – “central heating for kids”. Yes, the advertising media has a part to play.

    Joking aside, with obesity levels in all ages going through the roof, eating more sensibly makes sense in more ways than one. Tony Hancock’s recommendation to “go to work on an egg” in the 1960s not only helped the Egg Marketing Board – remember the little lion? – but it made sense.

    Some brave souls have tried to educate us on the need to eat ‘properly’. Some of you may remember the reaction in some quarters when Jamie Oliver (now most of you will know who he is) tried it in a few schools. There were scenes of mums pushing locally purchased bags of chips to their ravenous offspring through school fences. It won’t be easy, or cheap, to ween youngsters in particular, or their parents for that matter, off junk food. I can already hear the libertarians grumbling about the nanny state, so how liberals square that particular circle will be intriguing.

    If we don’t do our very best to make sure that all youngsters get a proper nutritious meal each day, just as we make sure that all youngsters leave primary school both literate but also numerate to a satisfactory level, we are collectively guilty of massively shortchanging them. So food must play a vital role in their acquisition of knowledge. Just throwing money at the problem as ‘Michael 1’ seems to suggest, is too scattergun. The money has got to be targeted. Look what happened to many of the ‘Sure Start’ schemes, where the chief beneficiaries were the middle classes. However, do I think that money should be spent? Is the pope a catholic?

  • “Is the pope a catholic ?” The last I heard he still was….. but I might have missed something.

    I do remember Beanz Meanz Heinz (though I prefer Branston’s)……. and who can ever forget Hoover Beats as it Sweeps as it Cleans…..

    Hoover vacuum cleaner Commercial: [Beats as it sweeps as it … › catalogue › record Video for Hoover Beat as it sweeps as it cleans 0:46
    A cartoon graphic shows how the Hoover works. We’re told that it beats as it sweeps as it cleans.

    Sure Start did reach the parts as well, John…

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Sep '20 - 10:19pm

    Thank you to everyone for your comments; I have unfortunately been distracted this evening from replying sooner.

    Michael 1. The ability of the youngest generation to deal easily and fluently with digital technology makes me hope that they will be able to find jobs that compete with the robots, Michael. And as to low-paid jobs, there will always be need for carers and cleaners and cooks, I suppose, to start with, and I can’t see this country letting in many ‘economic migrants’ in the foreseeable future, can you? So it may work out.

    Freddie, I like your argument. Certainly we can’t ensure uniformity of outcome, even if we provide enough state aid for everyone. Individual traits of character, varying talents, and circumstances outside individual control will ensure different outcomes for different people. But while the state must provide impersonally, enough for everyone to survive in freedom, it is society that can allow dependent groups through political leadership. This is what Philip Alston, the UN Rapporteur, picked up on – that the Tory government was discriminating, insisting that the people unable to get on in life must save themselves from poverty by finding paid work, however unpleasant it might be. Do-gooders can discriminate in another way by assuming that people not getting on should simply be given a minimal income and forgotten about. I think we have to see people as individuals with various and complex needs, and ask them what they think society should do for them and what they can do for society. (Note to self – yes, do it!!)

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Sep '20 - 10:44pm

    Sue Sutherland. Thank you Sue, as usual you get to the heart of things – we need to fight poverty above all. The young man Michael Rashford is doing a good job working with dedicated groups and with the supermarkets to provide food aid, and personally I care a lot about us working towards the abolition of the need for food banks, but the first aim has to be relieving poverty. It’s a good point about the nutrition of mothers-to-be, of making sure they can afford to feed themselves properly, even before we think of the babies.

    John Marriott. I suppose, John, we can only try to ensure that people can afford to buy good food, and the government will continue to urge and harass us all to eat vegetables instead of the crisps and cola and chocolates we (certainly me too!) tend to graze on. Well. thank goodness for healthy school meals, which at least provide a chance for children to eat the recommended and often proven nutritious foods once a day. Yes, I remember all the catchy phrases too! All of course urging us to eat something or other, not to stop eating anything. Let’s see what younger folk can come up with, but I guess the nanny-state probably has to be here to stay. Goodnight, sleep well!

  • John Marriott 4th Sep '20 - 9:18am

    @Katharine Pindar
    MICHAEL Rashford? Katharine, you need to get out more!

    I think that you have taken my point that it is really not in the food industry’s interests in terms of profit to get us to eat more healthily. I was born in 1943 and we had the Ministry of Food back then – and a fantastic job it did with limited resources – anyone remember Woolton Pie?- and after the war, sweet rationing, bottles of orange juice concentrate, cod liver oil and malt and, in winter, Scott’s Emulsion. People seemed to be obsessed with bowel movements. If my answer to my mum’s question “Have you been today? was in the negative then out would come the bottle of syrup of figs or something equally ghastly! But, boy, were we healthy, despite all the stodgy food that went down our throats. I remember school meals in the late 1940s, cooked centrally and delivered in what seemed to us massive aluminium cauldrons and usually containing some kind of mince with mashed potatoes and overcooked cabbage. For dessert it was often rice pudding with a dollop of Australian quince jam. Hardly cordon bleu; but it kept us going until teatime, although at my nursery school they bizarrely insisted on getting out camp beds in our classroom and making us have a short afternoon siesta!

    These may seem to our younger contributors to be the ramblings of an old fool; but, believe me, unless we do take positive action over the diet that many of us are either forced because of lack of funds to have or, because of an excess of funds, choose to have, we are storing up one hell of a problem for ourselves In later life. So, by all means, let’s get ‘em young; but also let’s make sure that their parents and, in many cases, grandparents, start singing from the same hymn sheet! And, you may laugh about that siesta; but do our youngsters actually get enough sleep, as many appear to arrive at school worn out, and it can’t just be lack of nourishment.

  • I don’t support the free school meals for all infant school aged children. I think it has reduced the amount schools receive from the Pupil Premium because to receive the Pupil Premium parents have to go through a procedure for their child or children but this is not needed for them to receive free school meals anymore and so some parents don’t bother with going through the procedure.

    The Education Policy Institute report takes no account of the Coronavirus with the attainment gap in reading and maths at Key Stage 2 having increased from 2018 to 2019 (which is the last year being considered) and at GCSE the attainment gap is the same in 2019 as it was in 2015 with only 2017 being better. It would appear that the Pupil Premium (one of our lasting achievements) has not managed since 2015 to reduce the attainment gap as school funding per pupil has fallen since 2015 after being about constant during the Coalition years.

    Peter Martin,

    You made a good argument for child and pensioner benefits to be universal while working-age benefits should not be. However, if society has an obligation to pensioners who could work, then it should have an obligation to those of working-age to ensure that they have sufficient income for their basic needs. It is this last obligation which leads some to advocate a Universal Basic Income and for me to advocate setting the benefit level at the poverty level for different household types.


    if the focus is to improve educational results, focus on direct educational interventions”.

    Indeed. But Katharine and my focus is on eradicating poverty which includes reducing the attainment gap.

    Sue Sutherland,

    I think there has been a reduction in the number of teaching assistants since 2010.

    John Marriott,

    If a family has an income below the poverty line (i.e. they receive benefit) then they have less to spend on food and this is why their children end up eating worse types of food and are more likely to be obese. Ensuring no one in the UK is living in poverty is the first step.

  • Katharine Pindar 4th Sep '20 - 5:06pm

    Michael, I am interested in your point that parents ‘have to go through a procedure’ to get benefits, but not for free school meals, so ‘some parents don’t bother to go through the procedure’ and this has led to some schools not receiving as much as they could from the Pupil Premium. Is there any evidence of parents not bothering? Anyway I suppose we should be pressing for an increase in the amount schools receive for the Premium, along with other enhanced funding. I will leave our Education experts to discuss this further if they would like to.

    John Marriott – MARCUS Rashford, indeed, a curious slip-up from a Man.U fan (though not one dedicated enough to hate Liverpool and their excellent German manager). As to your soliloquy comparing the healthy eating of the rationing period after the Second World War with modern habits, I think we are in some ways victims of a national success story. Although the increase in life expectancy has stalled since 2010 as Sir Michael Marmot told us, many more of us are now living well beyond 75, and good diets don’t unfortunately stop bones and organs beginning to ‘feel their age’, so to speak.

    Peter Martin and Freddie. As Michael says, he and I are focused on eradicating poverty, with welfare benefits set at the poverty level for the different household types. We regard poverty as the most pressing of the five giant modern social ills that we are proposing a new national Social Contract should address, and here I have focused on the distressing reduction in educational (and therefore life) chances of the four million children still sadly living in poverty in our rich country.

  • John Marriott 4th Sep '20 - 5:30pm

    @Michael BG
    Why are you telling me what I already said? I quote; “the diet that many of us are either forced because of lack of funds to have”. The problem is not to give them money, because they will probably out of choice go ahead and buy tasty junk food. The answer has got to be partly education but equally, by providing free school meals, to make sure their children get the nutrition they need. Regarding whether or not all should get free meals, I reckon that, on balance, that’s a much easier system to operate.

  • Katharine,

    It seems I was not very clear. As I understand it in the past there was no separate complicated procedure for claiming free school for people receiving benefits, it was a bit like council tax benefits where the procedure is very simple compared to the one where a person isn’t. I have heard reports that because those parents of infant school children on benefits no longer need to do anything for their children to receive free school meals these children are only identified if their parents go through a procedure so the school can receive the Pupil Premium. And not all parents of such children will go through the procedure.

    John Marriott,

    Liberals trust the people. Therefore Liberals should believe that once a family is no longer living in poverty that family will eat like those families which were never in poverty. So I do believe that ensuring no one is living in poverty would make the diets of children healthier.

  • Peter Martin 4th Sep '20 - 8:23pm

    @ Katharine @ Michael BG,

    So, if I understand you correctly, the Lib Dem position is that everyone is entitled to a share of National production which is enough to keep them out of poverty but there is absolutely nothing required of them in return.

    We all want to remove poverty. For one thing we can’t stop those who find themselves in poor circumstances from having children. Once they have them, society does then have to become involved. It’s messy and it’s expensive. Besides the usual humanitarian reasons we don’t want a poor non-working sub class to develop. A semi-criminal class that Marx termed the lumpenproletariat.

    In many people’s minds that sub-class already exists. The popular perception of this class is along the lines of what we might have already seen in programs such as ‘Benefit Street’. Lib Dem proposals to lift everyone out of poverty by paying a UBI or raising general benefits are a non starter electorally. The average voter doesn’t want what they perceive to be their hard earned tax money going to those who they are convinced are working the system for their own ends.

    Possibly the Covid19 epidemic has softened attitudes now that it’s quite obvious that the genuine working class and even the middle classes are suffering too but once the economy picks up they’ll be going to be back to what they were.

    It doesn’t matter whether the ‘Benefits St’ sub class does actually exist or whether it’s just that most people think it exists. The only way you are going to change it, and remove children from poverty is to win elections. You’ve no chance with your present policies.

  • John Marriott 4th Sep '20 - 9:35pm

    @Michael BG
    “Liberals trust people”. Well, I’m sorry; but this Liberal doesn’t. I only gave you half the quote. I added that some “with an excess of funds” choose the kind of diet that is clearly unhealthy. We can’t dictate to adults what they choose to eat; but we should try to make sure that all youngsters are properly nourished, by making the most of what access to school meals offers. Remember what the Jesuits said about giving them a child for its first few years of life. That’s the opportunity we have so, nanny state or not, we should take it.

  • Katharine Pindar 4th Sep '20 - 10:36pm

    Peter Martin. Where is your evidence, Peter? You write about ‘in many people’s minds’ and infer they believe in a ‘sub-class’, even a ‘semi-criminal sub-class’. How do you know? According to you ‘the average voter’ is not wanting their taxes going to those ‘working the system for their own ends’. This is pub talk, isn’t it? Well, people haven’t been in a pub for months till now, and many have discovered that they had to apply for Universal Credit themselves and it isn’t the sort of money they can contemplate living on for more than a few weeks.

    If TV has occasionally shown us people doing what they can to defeat the system, it has also shown us people embarrassed at having to go to food banks – thinking of it as actual begging, to be blunt. And people’s circumstances change and have changed, and your neighbour who might have been doing all right may now be trying to hide the fact that he’s lost his job and doesn’t know when he’s going to find another in the present circumstances, and your friend the self-employed business woman (and there are a lot of them about) may find herself quietly desperate and having to turn to charity.

    Even you admit that the circumstance of the Covid crisis has possibly (actually, probably) ‘softened attitudes’ now, and you must be a believer in faeries (how are you doing, Frankie?) if you think anything is going to change soon. Back to your imaginary scene of sneering secure folk drinking the evening away and telling tales of their neighbours? I hardly think so!

  • Peter Martin 5th Sep '20 - 4:20am

    @ Katharine,

    No-one is saying that everyone who goes to a food bank or applies for UC is part of a sub-class. But does it exist? Yes, it does, but not to the extent of most people’s thinking. The progressive liberal centre left is much more hypocritical on the topic than they’d ever be prepared to admit. There is a general disdain for what they perceive to be a backward working class culture with their St George flags, anti European views etc. Class consciousness and class discrimination ( snobbery to not put too fine a point on it) albeit in a less overt way than it used to be, is as prevalent as it ever was. It’s a complex topic that can’t be covered in a couple of paragraphs but I’m very sure you know exactly what I mean.

    It’s the reason there has been so little popular opposition to the changes, ie cuts, in welfare benefits. Changes that have largely been for the worst. Even the Labour Party have balked at committing to their restoration. There’s not at all the same problem with the NHS. That’s good socialism in the minds of most voters. That’s why the Labour Party has lots to say about the NHS and very little to say about the level of welfare benefits. That’s bad socialism as seen by most voters. And not just the ones that express their opinions in the pub!

    So what to do to remove poverty? How about thinking of a new approach?

  • Peter Martin 5th Sep '20 - 5:17am

    @ Katharine,

    PS “sneering secure folk drinking the evening away and telling tales of their neighbours”

    This is to misunderstand the situation. They aren’t secure. They’ll be struggling to pay the bills too. They’ll have continuous credit card debt. They’ll be struggling with housing costs. But they see themselves as hard working, which they very probably are. And, rightly or wrongly, they don’t have much sympathy for those they see as not being like them.

    They might vote Tory or they might vote Labour out of a traditional sense of class loyalty. They’d be less likely to vote Lib Dem. But the figures show that both Labour and the Lib Dems are losing touch with this demographic group.

  • Katharine Pindar 5th Sep '20 - 10:45am

    It is a pity that none of our teacher or former teacher members has thought to contribute to this thread. Thank you for continuing to do so, Peter, but I think you are offering your own fixed opinions without any evidence – can’t you find any such in YouGov surveys, for example? (I think you meant ANTI-European views, in your 4.20 am comment.)

    To your pessimism and accusations of hypocritical stances by centre-left people such as myself, I offer one view. Think of the 2012 Olympics here. There we were all united in one happy patriotic fervour, just as we are in singing Rule Britannia at the Proms Last Night, just as we are in enjoying Royal weddings. In good times and in bad, I believe there is far more that unites us than divides us, and most people I think do want the people at the bottom to be helped up just a little bit. Just now, I have been trying to think about the poorest children, and hoping they have had a good first few days back at school.

  • Peter Martin 5th Sep '20 - 3:00pm

    @ Katharine,

    I’ve found this reference:

    “In 2014, just 17% of Conservative identifiers agreed with spending more on welfare, compared with 44% of Labour supporters. Seventy one per cent of Conservative identifiers believe that benefits for unemployed people are too high and discourage work, compared with just 38% of those who identify with Labour. ”

    So only a minority of Labour supporters wanted to spend more on welfare. It’s not saying anything too surprising. IMO. And I doubt that there’s been much change in the last 6 years or so.

    The electoral arithmetic does mean that Lib Dems need to target Tory voters to win seats.

    There’s also this one:

    “Given that the public makes an implicit link between welfare and ‘deservingness’, the Conservative government understands that welfare retrenchment is likely to win public support – so long as both the rhetoric and practice of cuts are focused on those considered undeserving. ”

    A slightly older reference: 🙂

    “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
    Thassalonians 3:10

    I’d have a few quibbles about this but it’s several steps in the right direction.

  • Peter Martin 5th Sep '20 - 3:35pm

    @ Katharine,

    I wasn’t really meaning the Royal Weddings and the Olympics. I’m a Republican anyway but I’m just as patriotic as anyone when Sport is involved. It’s the Labour Party which has the bigger problem. We have a working class party with hardly any working class MPs. During the Blair years we’d see good local candidates chosen but told to stand aside as Blair’s cronies were ‘parachuted’ in. Trouble brews (surprise, surprise) and they end up defecting to the Lib Dems!

    Then we have Emily Thornberry saying openly what many snigger at privately. So its not good. But poverty is a class issue. If its going to be solved it can only be with working class co-operation. There’s not much on LDV about social class. but I did find this one:

    Winning the Working Class by David Warren.

    The first comment is ” Retaining the working class in any great number has proven difficult in a post-Brexit climate where white transit van drivers and black taxi drivers too often are pro-Brexit.”

    So there we have it. The working class drive vans and taxis and are pro-Brexit. End of!

  • Katharine Pindar 5th Sep '20 - 7:10pm

    Thank you for your interesting research, Peter, providing the evidence I requested. It’s no surprise that a majority of Conservative supporters might have considered benefits too high in 2014, and their government duly complied with such wishes.

    It may have escaped your notice, though, that even this government now declares the years of austerity are over, while sympathy for the low-paid essential workers, many of them on zero-hours contracts so liable to have to turn to benefits and maybe food banks from time to time. has seemed to rise sharply. Considering the lack of jobs now, and the realisation of so many by bitter experience that Universal Credit can’t be considered enough to live on for more than a few weeks, I am sure attitudes will indeed have changed. In any case Lib Dems will do the right thing and oppose poverty, and though UBI is to me an unwelcome distraction and inadequate response, I am hopeful we will campaign for higher benefits.

    You have a gloomy view of your party. Our Social Liberal Forum will be seeking to find progressive people in it for discussions in due course. But I also hope that you yourself are able to find a few like-minded comrades to talk to.

  • John Marriott 5th Sep '20 - 8:26pm

    @Katharine Pindar
    What do you mean that “none of our teacher or former teacher members has thought to contribute to this thread”? I admit that I am no longer a ‘member’; but I was a member for nearly forty years and was a teacher for thirty four. What about my friend and fellow member of the awkward squad, Mr David Raw? Not only is he still a member of the party, as far as I know; but it would appear that his CV, both professional and political, puts mine to shame!

    Also, Peter Martin’s assertion that the Labour Party is “a working class party with hardly any working class MPs” is equally bizarre. That might have been the case, when my grandfather was corresponding with Ramsay McDonald in the first decade of the 20th century but surely not today. The problem that we face is that most members of both the Lib Dem and Labour Parties, or at least those who enunciate their beliefs, are firmly anchored in the middle class – and what is so wrong with that?

  • Katharine Pindar 5th Sep '20 - 10:17pm

    Hi, John, thank you, yes I should have remembered that you were a teacher. David, I hadn’t thought of so specifically, but you both have been councillors for years, of course, and I tend to think of you in that context (admiringly!). I was wishing that one or two members of the party’s Education Association – that may not be quite the right name – would join in. Perhaps a parent of young children might have been interested too, but then I suppose they may well be too busy between family and jobs. It is rather a shame that the Comment column has disappeared from the site – one hopes only temporarily – because it did prompt one to look again at threads no longer in the Op Eds.

    I agree with you that most activists in our parties, and I suppose the Tories too, are likely to be middle-class, and as you suggest, nothing wrong with that. I suspect that revolutions have been led by middle-class people who inspired the workers. We are a bit short of inspirational leaders in Britain today. The one with most charisma but few other desirable qualities is unfortunately now our Prime Minister. I suppose there could be workers, union leaders probably, who have the power to inspire, but solid worth seems more the order of the day for us in Britain today, and that is better than showmanship for achieving political aims.

  • Peter Martin,

    You are correct attitudes to benefits have changed with the Covid-19 epidemic. There seems general agreement that £95.85 per week for statutory sick pay is too low. As far as I know there is no consensus on how much statutory sickness pay should be. I wonder how people would feel if it had a minimum of £220 a week (the figure suggested by Ed Davey in his letter to Rishi Sunak of 20th March) with the rate being set at 60% of a person’s average earnings over the previous year. Perhaps with the maximum being £730 a week.

    I wonder how people would feel if the single person’s working-age benefit rate was increased to £135 a week, which compares to the guaranteed pension rate of £173.75. Perhaps they would still think it wasn’t enough to live on, but it would be better than the current rate. If they were now just about managing with only a few hundred pounds in savings they might even recognise that this would not be enough for them to live on without going into debt.

    John Marriott,

    It is fine for you to disagree with the liberal principle of trusting the people, but this does not change its status. And as such it should be considered when we design our policies.

  • Peter Martin 6th Sep '20 - 10:53am

    @ Michael BG,

    Attitudes haven’t fundamentally changed. The public, as stated in the Uni of Sheffield report , if we didn’t know already, has always been much more inclined to be generous when the recipients of benefits are deemed ‘deserving’. The Covid shut down has created a huge number of people who have been in danger of, or have actually lost their source of income through no fault of their own. Most people, even Tories, understand this perfectly well. We’ve seen a Tory chancellor act in the correct way to the tune of £300 billion of what the neoliberals would call ‘unfunded’ spending. Sure he’ll be criticised for not doing more, but who would have guessed this could be possible just a year ago?

    We can’t rely on this lasting forever. Advocates of a UBI also know this perfectly well which is why there is a push for a the introduction of one now. They won’t succeed, but even if they did the public would turn against the idea as one case after another was highlighted to show abuse of the system. We’d have tales of professional criminals, kept partners of highly paid footballers etc, picking up their UBI as casual spending money.

    So, like it or not, the public are attached to the notion of ‘deservingness’. I have some sympathy with this as I’m sure most Lib Dem members too -even though they may not want to admit it. Lib Dems need to learn to accommodate the public mood if they are interested in attracting more votes.

    Having said this, many voters live in areas where unemployment is low. It will seem to them that anyone who really wants a job can find one if they really want to. They don’t have experience of living in depressed regions where this is certainly not the case at all. So the public doesn’t always get it quite right. This is where the job guarantee, and I’ve previously linked to what the TUC saying, is superior. The govt would be offering those who would like a route of of poverty the opportunity to work in a guaranteed job at a living wage. That should answer any criticisms that recipients are ‘undeserving’.

    It doesn’t have to be 100% work. There can be a large element of education and training involved too.

  • Peter Martin,

    As you stated the figures you quoted were from 2014. It would be interesting to see the 2021 report for the end of this year and the start of next, when the survey is normally carried out, to see if there has been any change, The debate needs to change from a comparison of welfare payments and earnings, to one about should a person be able to manage to live on benefits without going into debt. This is why the five week wait for Universal Credit is such an issue because people often apply for and receive an advance payment in those five weeks and that means that their benefit is sufficiently reduced every month thereafter to repay the advance. If the debate could be about how much a person thinks they need to be able to live on without going into debt people would accept that the benefit level is too low. Also it is important to point out to people that the vast majority of working-age people who receive benefits are either in work or are not well enough to work.

    If there is more than 3 million unemployed and it is widely spread across the country then when a person has a family member trying to manage on Universal Credit attitudes hopefully would change. Making work pay has a role. A person should always be better off in work than on benefits. Another step I would like to see is for single people and couples without any children on Universal Credit to have a £50 a week (£217.67 a month) work allowance and for there to be a second earner rate of the same amount. As the National Living Wage increases above 60% of medium earnings this should help as well, (I saw in newspapers recently that it might be frozen, which will not help).

  • Peter Martin,

    The 2019 British Social Attitudes report ( states that “The view that there is “quite a lot” of poverty has increased by 13 percentage points since 2006, while perceptions that poverty has increased over the past decade and will increase over the next have increased by 30 and 18 percentage points respectively.”

    Even in 2006 89% of people believed that if a person does not have enough to eat and live without getting into debt they are living in poverty. In 2016 only 16% of people believed that unemployed people had a good standard of living compared to 28% with regard to pensioners. The full report does not seem to contain a section on welfare as it did in the earlier version you were quoting.

  • Peter Martin 8th Sep '20 - 9:21am

    @ Michael BG,

    I’m not sure why even 11% of people think that not having enough to eat means they aren’t living in poverty. Or that 16% think that the unemployed have a good standard of living on JS allowance. They obviously don’t. These facts aren’t really in dispute.

    You might want to look at some pubished figures with a little more scepticism. Say we’re running a poll on whether people favour a UBI. If we want a yes result we include previous questions which draw attention to robots taking our jobs. The effects of automation in the workplace. Jobs being moved overseas etc. If we want a no result we ask people about their attitudes welfare benefits being paid out of their taxes. We ask if high welfare benefits are a disincentive to work.

    Then we ignore all the previous Q&A’s , but report that 70%, or whatever, favour/don’t favour the introduction if a UBI.

    So we all agree there is too much poverty. But what to do about it? For at least 70 years the right have said that we grow the economy and that will take the poor out of poverty. The ecomony has grown but we still have the poverty. The progressive centre left has said that we expand social benefits and the welfare state. We still have the welfare state but we still have high levels of poverty.

    The evidence is that neither approach has worked suucessfully, and therefore we need to try some thing else in addition to what we are doing already.

  • Peter Martin 8th Sep '20 - 11:27am

    @ Katharine @ Michael BG,

    As aficionados of the writings of Beveridge, I just wondered if you were familiar with this passage?

    (Ch8, p 20, “Full Employment in a Free Society”, “The Purpose of Employment”)

    “Idleness is not the same as Want, but a separate evil, which men do not escape by having an income. They must also have the chance of rendering useful service and of feeling that they are doing so. This means that employment is not wanted for the sake of employment, irrespective of what it produces. The material end of all human activity is consumption. Employment is wanted as a means to more consumption or more leisure, as a means to a higher standard of life. Employment which is merely time-wasting, equivalent to digging hols and filling them again, or merely destructive, like war and preparing for war, will not serve that purpose. Nor will it be felt worth while. It must be productive and progressive. The proposals of this Report are designed to preserve all the essential springs of material progress in the community, to leave to special efforts its rewards, to leave scope for change, invention, competition and initiative.

    … For men to have value and a sense of value there must always be useful things waiting to be done, with money to pay for doing them. Jobs, rather than men, should wait”

    The use of the word “men” seems quite sexist to modern ears but perhaps we can forgive him for that.

  • Peter Martin,

    Indeed we should be wary of private opinion polls which do not publish the raw data, but those published in newspapers do publish the raw data including all the questions asked and in what order. They are not fixed as you suggest. Those running opinion polls have reputations they wish to uphold, and I believe they all abide by a code of conduct produced by the British Polling Council.

    Indeed for Beveridge to talk of ‘men’ rather than ‘people’ is sexist, but it was a sexist society then and I think the middle class would have had the worse attitudes regarding women and work.

    Katharine and I are of course aware that Beveridge wanted to tackle ‘Idleness’. We want to tackle unemployment. I would like the government to pursue policies to reduce unemployment to about 2.5% of the working-age population who wish to work. I would like to see a job guarantee scheme piloted for the north-east which pre-coronavirus had the worse rate of unemployment in the UK. I support the idea that the government can provide state-aid sometimes to some companies to encourage them to have plants in the regions with the worse unemployment rates. I would like the government to provide financial incentives for employers to employ the long-term unemployed and those with long-term health issues.

  • Peter Martin 10th Sep '20 - 3:13pm

    @ Michael BG,

    Yes we’d like to think that polling is genuine rather than push polling.

    But, in this link even Gallup is obviously guilty to some extent. The headline doesn’t mention “increases in artificial intelligence” but this was obviously the stated justification for a UBI.

  • Clive Sneddon 12th Sep '20 - 12:05pm

    Being on topic is quite difficult given the breadth of ideas and facts in the article and comment thread. From observation of my grandchild’s experience in Berlin, and my own experience as a retired University teacher having to deal with some students totally lacking in self-confidence, and as a former leader of administration in a Scottish District Council, I think the party should be looking at the implications of the KITA system as practised in Berlin. It is a voluntary creche kindergarten available to children from the age of 0 to 6, when compulsory education starts in primary school. Financial contributions are requested from parents depending on their means. The creche and kindergarten were on one site and the primary school just round the corner on another part of the site. The creche and kindergarten provide monitored play and pre-primary learning, but also mean adults are there in unmonitored play times. Children benefit from having a stable set of adults they get to know. They also benefit from having to learn social expectations of proper behaviour, with a lot of stress on respecting others, no matter what their origins, and Berlin is a diverse city. There is a breakfast club, and when my granddaughter first started at age 1 in 2010 the KITA was open from 7.30 a.m. to 6.00 pm, subsequently brought back to 4.00 pm through funding cuts, which they have in Berlin too. For working parents, it meant they did not have to organise separate childcare, but did have to collect their child by closing time or the police would be informed. As a party we have pushed not only the Pupil Premium but also childcare, and the lowering of the age at which it is possible to go to nursery classes. The KITA system offers a holistic approach, by socialising children at the same time as teaching them and looking after them.

  • Clive Sneddon 12th Sep '20 - 12:08pm

    I would add to my previous comment that, given the lack of self-confidence I have seen in university students which had a class component to it, I see the KITA system as providing an opportunity for every young child to get to know and to get on with a range of children from very different backgrounds, which cannot easily be achieved through family and neighbours alone. The main expense to the state will be the staffing levels required, with the appropriate qualifications for the staff. When my granddaughter entered Primary 1 at age 6, she found two adults in a class of 24 children, her teacher (Lehrerin) and her for want of a better word ‘bringer-upper’ (Erzieher). The children knew the latter as someone who would stand no nonsense when supervising their free play before they entered primary, so the two adults achieved both gender balance and seeing the children with fresh/experienced eyes.

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