It would be nice to be able to say something positive about this. But in the space of less than a week, there have been three separate reports which in their own ways have each emphasised how sharp – and how stuck – the differences are between between poor and richer in the UK.
The most interesting was a report from the Family and Parenting Institute, which found that there was a relatively strong sense of community in many places in the UK – but that there was a strong correlation between that sense of community and relative wealth.
Income is a strong factor in families’ experience of their neighbourhood. The poorer a family is, the more likely they are to feel unsafe after dark, and the less likely they are to feel that their neighbours would help out in a crisis. Poorer families are also less likely to have well-maintained green spaces nearby. Only 35 per cent of the poorest parents think they can do the best for their family in their neighbourhood, compared to 73 per cent of the richest.
[Sample: 2,105 parents with a child or children aged 16 or under. This survey was conducted online, by YouGov].
Ofsted – in the shape of the annual Chief Inspector’s Report – identifies a strong relationship between educational outcomes and social advantage or disadvantage (news report here, Ofsted news release here). Only 12 per cent of 16-year-olds in care, and 33 per cent of pupils entitled to free school meals [FSM] – a good proxy for family poverty – gained five or more good GCSEs last year, compared with 61 per cent of non-FSM children and a national average of 56 per cent.
And just to pile on the gloom, a survey for The Guardian by ICM found that 89% of those questioned (sample 1,011) said they think people are still judged by their class – with almost half saying that it still counts for “a lot”. Only 8% think that class does not matter at all in shaping the way people are seen.
All of this chimes with a report earlier this year (opens summary in pdf) by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which found that long run (six-year) trend of reducing child poverty was starting to level off. This might suggest that the “easy” gains – from ‘working poor’ families – have been made, and if we’re to reduce Britain’s levels of household poverty – high by European standards – we need to start to make inroads into the households of the non-working poor, which is a far tougher proposition.
One other finding from the Family and Parenting Institute is worth picking up, and that’s the importance of children in building community: “Once in a new area, having children seems to be a good way of making friends and getting to know neighbours. More than two-thirds (70 per cent) of parents in our research said that they have made friends
or got to know some people through their children… The time when most children seem to play with neighbours’ children is when they are aged between five and ten (59 per cent).”
Worth noting that this is a similar finding to some more academic research funded by the ESRC and reported earlier this year, which challenged the idea that social networks are largely determined by parents. Dr Susie Weller and Professor Irene Brugel, of the Families and Social Capital ESRC research group, London South Bank University, found it was the other way around: children are active – both indirectly and directly – in forging neighbourly relationships and connections for their parents.