Children caught in poverty trap

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The Independent Online
Children are suffering the most from the growing gap between rich and poor in Britain, which is helping to make the role of social workers almost impossible, according to a leading academic.

Professor Jane Lewis, a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, claims the growth in child poverty is so serious it means Britain will have difficulty implementing Article 27 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This concerns the "right of children to a standard of living adequate for children's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development".

Professor Lewis, director of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, and writing in Community Care magazine on the day that the Rikki Neave report was published, says social workers were having to pick up the pieces from other parts of the welfare state.

She said that the rising number of children excluded from school and the greater number of sick people cared for by social services rather than by the medical profession meant social services were "very much the end of the line". Social work was always difficult in a liberal democracy, when social controls conflict with personal freedoms, writes Professor Lewis, "but in such a profoundly unequal society their role becomes the well-nigh impossible one of containment."

She adds: "More oppressive poverty means social problems will be manifested in more worrying ways."

Professor Lewis also attacks politicians for failing to tackle social problems affecting children. She says: "The statistics on child poverty have been reasonably well-publicised, as have been the shocking outcomes for a high percentage of children in care. But there is no sign of any political party party wholeheartedly embracing the language of investment in children. Calls for containment and control are much more prevalent."

In her wide-ranging article on the state of community care, Professor Lewis calls for a change in tone and content of debate, to re-invent the language of "trust, mutual aid, co-operation and citizenship" against the current tone of consumerism and private responsibility.