Last night the controlling Conservative group on Cherwell District Council closed ranks to neuter a Labour motion calling on the council to take action on the growing child poverty crisis across Cherwell district
Perhaps the most telling moment came when Conservative Councillor Andrew McHugh, the Lead Member for Health and Wellbeing (nominally in charge of the Brighter Futures program tackling deprivation and poverty among young people) and proposer of the neutering amendment declared that ‘above all, it is down to low academic achievement and low aspiration within those deprived areas’ – a quite undisguised attempt to blame children and their parents, coming from the councillor with direct responsibility for addressing the issue.
The amendment passed by 26 to 16. The amended motion, described in no uncertain terms as ‘weak’ and ‘feeble’ by Labour Councillor Barry Richards, amounted to little more than a pat on the back for the ruling Conservative majority.
The amended motion acknowledges the scale of the issue but studiously avoids calling for any new action despite child poverty increasing year-on-year under the last decade of the Conservative national government, particularly within Cherwell district. In the closing moments of the debate, Conservative Councillor Barry Wood went so far as to feign outrage over any suggestion that Conservatives might not want to address child poverty, minutes before the Conservative ruling group effectively voted to continue their current, demonstrably ineffective approach.
Labour group Leader Councillor Sean Woodcock said “This is a real missed opportunity. This district had an opportunity to draw a line and tackle Cherwell’s child poverty crisis. Instead, the Conservatives who run it and are clearly embarrassed at their failure to get a grip on the issue, have opted for more of the same.”
The original motion by Councillor Woodcock followed a recent study showing that over the last four years child poverty had grown in Cherwell more than any other part of Oxfordshire. It committed to a study into the causes and impact of child poverty locally, and an action plan to tackle it. These commitments were removed by the amendment introduced by Conservative Councillor McHugh.
The debate may be viewed here, starting at 1hr 16m.