The then and now of dealing with child poverty and its consequences in the United Kingdom


Calling the 1940s through to the 1960s ‘a golden age for child care’ Bob Holman in his book, Champions for Children The lives of modern child care pioneers, which recounts the lives of Eleanor Rathbone, Marjory Allen, Clare Winnicott, John Stroud, Barbara Kahan, Peter Townsend and Holman himself,  the author makes the following observations in his preface :

Yet from their varied lives, two themes appear in common. First, that central government had to accept responsibility for dealing with child poverty. It was not sufficient to leave it to employers, voluntary agencies or the charity of individuals. Second, that local government should be the provider of high quality service for deprived children. This was not to dismiss the contribution of the voluntary services, but was rather a recognition that only local authorities could ensure a coverage of such services throughout the country. These two themes…appear again and again throughout the book. They are not entirely separate, for the champions perceived that poverty was a major factor in undermining family life.

Some may baulk at the idea of separating out special charismatic champions from the field of support to children and families where so many others have achieved a great deal, but this should not distract us from what might be drawn from Holman’s observations. It seems surprising that during a time when the United Kingdom was struggling to overcome the economic difficulties it faced as a consequence of World War II, it remained able to afford so much more for its impoverished and needy families than it does now when, austerity or not, the United Kingdom is by any measure a significantly wealthier state.

This is a cause for concern not only because of the continuing cuts to the supportive services provided by local authorities and the voluntary sector for the increasing number of children and families from our communities who need our help but also because, as a part of the overall programme of cuts, these services are being farmed out with government encouragement to large private organisations to run on the cheap in order that they can make profit for themselves and their shareholders out of the poverty of others.


Source : Holman, R (2001 ) Champions for Children The lives of modern child care pioneer Bristol, Policy Press (2013)