Leicester is a city of around 330,000 people; it is the tenth largest in England. It is an old city in the Midlands of England. You might have heard of it in the news recently – after a lot of research, Leicester University archaeology department dug up the remains of the last Plantagenet King of England, Richard III; he was buried beneath a Council car park in the ruins of a former Catholic Friary. He was our last king to die in battle (in 1485) and a new dynasty took over; these were the Tudors, who established the Protestant religion in England.
Today, Leicester is a city in which the long-term decline of the textile industry has led to a high level of poverty – both in work and out of work. There are 26,000 poor children. But it is a vibrant place, ethnically diverse (51% white, of which 45% are white British and most of the rest from other European counties especially Poland; 37% Asian/ Asian British, of whom 28% are of Indian heritage, and 6% Black African Carribean/Black British). Leicester will be our first “minority-majority” city.
Leicester has a Labour City Council, committed to regenerating the city. But the “austerity” policies of the Coalition government have cut about 30% over three years from the Council’s budget. On top, the drastic cuts to social welfare benefits are resulting in a steep rise on poverty at the same time as the Council is forced to cut or close services.
It is in this very difficult context that in late 2011 the Council launched an independent Leicester Child Poverty Commission to try to ensure that children’s needs were at the forefront. I am a member of the Commission. As such, I have already acted as an independent scrutineer of the Council’s budget proposals, to help it meets its Equality Duty (which includes young people).
The Commission is chaired by our deputy mayor and includes senior city politicians and officers, a city Member of Parliament, the chief executive of our Chamber of Commerce, the pro-vice chancellor of Leicester De Montfort University, our Director of Public Health, the chief executive of our local voluntary sector and the head of policy for the national NGO, Child Poverty Action Group.
In May 2012 we had a conference of front-line workers, managers and politicians to work out our Recommendations. Not least, we involved children in this event, including our local children’s consultation group. Our Recommendations were published in January 2013. The picture on the cover of our publication – of children’s faces in the city map – was designed by the young winner of our school’s design competition. You can find out more here http://www.leicester.gov.uk/your-council-services/education-lifelong-learning/parental-support/child-poverty/
The Commission met on 28 January 2013 to plan our monitoring of the implementation of our Recommendations. There is a long way to go, but we have made a good start in trying to protect children as best we can as the austerity storm rages over us.