Stories + Views
Michael Gove admits benefit changes will harm vulnerable pupils
I have finally found something about which I can agree with Michael Gove. After several stories in the media suggesting that the Coalition policies will be bad for families, and particularly children (see the Observer here and the Guardian here), it appears that Michael Gove concurs.
In a letter to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg dated September 5 (see here and here) about the plans for a new Universal Credit, he admits that his department has “raised concerns about the cumulative impact of benefit changes on the most vulnerable families and their children…and highlighted the potential effect on children’s outcomes, including educational attainment”
He goes on to explain that some benefit claimants may ‘”struggle to manage their finances and pay their rents” and asks Clegg if the effects of proposed policies on vulnerable families with multiple risk factors, and young people leaving the care system, can be carefully evaluated.”If these families or young people fall into rent arrears as a result of not paying their rents on time, they may face eviction, and in the case of households with children, the household would have to be re-housed at further cost to the LA.”
The Secretary of State who recently made a speech about how his government plans to deal with the educational “underclass” is also clearly worried that changes to housing benefit in particular may “further compound difficulties faced by vulnerable families and young people” , impacting on outcomes for children and young people.
The minister’s comments are important for several reasons. Gove is admitting what many commentators and voluntary sector organisations have been pointing out for months, that many government policies may actually be bad for the children the Coalition claims it most wants to help. He is also acknowledging something that the government has been thus far reluctant to admit,namely that children’s academic performance is affected by poverty and circumstances beyond the school gate. Simply creating new school structures is not the whole answer to dealing with the effects of poverty and deprivation.
His final point is even more telling. The DWP recently announced £200million is to be invested in supporting families with multiple problems. The Secretary of State claims that local authorities “with direct experience of developing provision for vulnerable families and young people” should be “closely involved” in how the that money is spent. That would presumably be the same local authorities that are having central funds currently used for this purpose raked off to fund the conversion of already successful schools in largely affluent areas to academy status.
We pointed out here that evidence challenging government policies is mounting up. The Secretary of State may know more about that than he is letting on.