In the weeks since the Institute of Fiscal Studies reported a rise in the number of children in the UK in relative poverty, we at Community Links have had 6,400 children through our doors on holiday play schemes. Most were happily enjoying time off school with friends, but others made use of our clothes bank, their parents attending our welfare rights advice sessions to maximise inadequate income.
We could join the arguments about what the figures mean, but why do we toy with definitions of poverty or exclusion when the real challenge – the cancer gnawing away not just at the heart of those families in poverty, but at the stability, health and cohesion of the wider society – is inequality?
Anybody who thinks there is no poverty in the UK should spend a day at Community Links – a couple of miles east of the financial heart of the fourth richest country in the world in Canning Town where a child born today is half as likely to live to 75 as the UK average.
We celebrate our 30th anniversary this year. Thirty years of coping with the consequences of poverty, and struggling with the causes. Not just financial hardship, but poverty of experience and – perhaps most crushing – poverty of expectation. We receive enormous support from our friends in the City: volunteers, business leaders, funders and government.
Together we learn and challenge, little by little pushing forward, sharing our knowledge. Less would have been achieved without the resources and willing commitment of friends but much more has yet to be done.
As one financial year ends and another begins we, like all charities, are acutely aware of balancing our slender budgets we appeal to the generosity of rich friends. “Donate” we will say so we can tackle inequality. Our goal might be more efficiently achieved by saying not “give more” but “expect less” – cut out the middle men and women. We will never narrow the gaps while some are racing away with a disproportionate share but who’ll be the first to say so? It is more convenient and comfortable for us all to help out, to advocate for change but not, in Gandhi’s ringing phrase, to be the change.
David Robinson is Community Links’ co-founder and senior adviser. He is also the founder of We Are What We Do, a new movement calling on people to use their everyday actions to change the world. He came up with the idea behind the best-selling book Change the World for a Fiver.
Community Links is a charity running community-based projects in east London.