Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A view and a vision of how to tackle poverty

Graham Allen, the Labour MP for Nottingham North, published a report in the last Parliament with Iain Duncan Smith on 'early intervention'  with children . Frank Field echoed many of the findings in that original document. The Government asked Graham Allen to produce a report and the first part is published today. It was the lead item on the BBC news this morning and the author was interviewed on Today when he said:

Only early intervention can break the "inter-generational cycle of dysfunction and under-achievement", it says.
Mr Allen's report highlights the impact of poor parenting and says too few parents-to-be understand how to build the social and emotional capability of a baby or small child.

All parents need to know how to "recognise and respond to a baby's cues, attune with infants and stimulate them from the very start, and how to foster empathy", it says.
The report quotes some American research that shows the early years are the greatest period of growth in the human brain.

This is why, Mr Allen argues, it is important to intervene in the early years, rather than later when the basic architecture, or wiring, of the brain is formed for life.

He highlights the Family Nurse Partnership, which has had a lot of success in the United States, and says it should be available to all vulnerable first-time mothers in the UK.

The programme sees specially trained nurses regularly visiting young, first-time mothers from pregnancy until their child is two, to promote attachment and positive parenting.

You can hear the interview at:

One of the really significant things he said  was:

But he insisted that there was "no magic bullet" to tackle poverty. But he believed that the schemes, for which he would seek backing from the City, would save the country billions of pounds in the long-run.

I read the original pamphlet when it came out and I am fully signed up to this approach. It is one of the reasons that I think phase one Children Centres have to be protected. I am interested in Graham's belief that money can be raised in bonds from the City to fund the work with dividends being paid out of the savings.

We are promised a second report in 'mid summer' which will further explore the funding ideas. I look forward to it. I cannot count the times that local authority officers have tried to sell me schemes that will save money in the longer term. Sadly we never seem to get to the point when we harvest the savings by discontinuing a service. As we all realise articulate and professional staff enter a little 'mission drift' and start justifying their continued existence by redefining their job roles to meet an urgent and necessary need. Maybe financing via bonds will provide the financial structure that will harvest those proposed savings and the state will 'bail out' of those families lives as Graham proposes  and not just produce an continuing mutual dependency between professional staff and families.

There clearly is no magic bullet to deal with poverty but the honest assessment that Allen/Duncan Smith/Field have produced does seem to me to make societies next attempt more likely to work. This is important work. Tackling and reducing poverty should be a high priority.

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