In a guest blog for CPAG, Katharine Round, director of new film The Spirit Level, argues that an important relationship exists between inequality and child poverty. She suggests that by improving public understanding of the problems caused by economic inequality, we can also help build greater public support for the goals to end UK child poverty on relative and absolute measures.
Last Thursday, the government released the latest UK poverty figures, which showed how over 1 million children were lifted out of poverty between 1998/99 and 2010/11, prior to the current round of cuts. In a time of growing poverty across the industrial nations, before the current austerity measures, the UK was making sure and steady progression the right direction, and on track to meet its ambitious child poverty goals by 2027 – albeit later than the 2010/11 target year.
Now, as Friday’s IFS report on the figures stated, “There is no realistic chance that these [targets] will be met under current policies”. Some are now speculating that the government intends to abandon altogether the commitments in the 2010 legislation, which include targets for both absolute and relative measures of child poverty.
So where do we go from here? Much of the debate following the publication of the figures has centred on the importance of relative poverty. To tackle child poverty is to tackle the exclusion of young people from the common experiences and accepted living standards of a given society; a destructive yet relative condition. However, to judge on absolute measures alone demonstrates just how widespread ignorance is of the social consequences of inequality.
I believe that in order to make steps to close the income gap, we must first address this awareness gap.
Over the last few years film has played an increasingly important role in both raising general awareness and getting politicians to pay attention to vital causes. An Inconvenient Truth tackled climate change, influencing both public opinion and policy change. More recently, the End of the Line lifted the lid on the threat from over-fishing, and successfully changed both government and business policy. Just this week The Guardian highlighted the example of how a film about rape within the US military led to an immediate response from policy makers.
The forthcoming film, The Spirit Level (made by the team behind The End of the Line), will address what is perhaps the defining issue of our age: the costs of inequality. Using the research in the award-winning book, it will show clearly how inequality affects a range of social ills, and how vulnerable children in stratified societies are to its effects. They are more likely to suffer from obesity, bullying, and achieve low educational attainment; girls are more likely to become teenage mothers, boys to be drawn into violence. The poorest children are inevitably the most susceptible.
Our aim is to make a film that is talked and written about, that gets into cinemas and onto our televisions, so millions can see it. We want to make people aware of how important addressing inequality is, and how it might be possible to achieve real, tangible change in policies and attitudes. What’s more, we want to make this film in the most democratic way possible – with the support of our audience. This is why one month ago we launched a campaign to raise funds through pre-buying copies of the film at a modest cost.
I believe that if we can extend public understanding of the damage of inequality, we can bring about a groundswell in opinion for long-lasting change and help drive reductions in child poverty. I hope you’ll be able to join our campaign and help make it happen.