Standing up for CPAG

On Tuesday 15 July, the Geek Show Off (ticket £5.00 plus £0.50 booking fee) a comedy night raising money for Child Poverty Action Group is being held at the Star of Kings pub in central London. 

Recently, I was talked into doing something I’ve been dreading. On Tuesday 15th July, with several others, I have to stand on stage in front of a crowd of people in a dark room in Camden, and for 9 minutes, make them laugh. A good friend of mine, Steve Cross, regularly organises stand-up comedy nights where the performers aren’t comedians – they’re academics, scientists, psychologists or like me, journalists. When I agreed, Steve asked me to choose a charity to whom I will give all the money from the ticket sales – I thought for maybe two minutes, then picked Child Poverty Action Group.

By day, I’m a social affairs and political journalist and spend a lot of time writing about poverty, inequality and welfare. After the recession, and ramping up with cuts to welfare provision and council services, the precarity of the poorest in society has increased, especially with the rise in Job Centre Plus sanctions. The media focus on cuts has naturally focussed mostly on adults, particularly since the bedroom tax and changes to disability living allowance fall on the shoulders of those in charge of household finances.

But simultaneously, one in four children are currently living in poverty in the UK – a number that seems unlikely to decrease any time soon. And while my professional experience is in researching and reporting on adult poverty, my personal experience is of child poverty, and the long term impact it has on life chances. Children are perceptive, and learn to understand the stigma of poverty early on, which diminishes confidence early in their development. It’s relatively easy to pinpoint who in a classroom is poor, when children have free school meals, or shabbier uniforms than others with the same teacher.

Hunger and poverty are exhausting mentally, as well as physically – the worry that comes with wondering whether you can make it through to the next JSA instalment or pay check without running out of food is as psychologically draining as well as tedious. But this is as true for children as adults – speaking to people who grew up comfortably, their first memories are invariably of holidays or pets. One of mine is receiving £10 from a relative for my birthday, and wondering for days how to spend the largest sum of money I’d ever had. Eventually, after a week of trawling through the Argos catalogue, I settled on a pair of roller-skates – took the page to my parents and double-checked I had enough money. They then had to tell me they’d been forced to spend the money on the gas bill. Another friend from home remembers being in our reception class, after our teacher had asked us to draw what we’d had for breakfast, and then being aghast when half the class drew empty plates.

Those small instances seem trivial, but make up a pattern of deprivation that children in poverty become attuned to, which in turn affects their self-worth and life chances. There are regular attempts by politicians to rubbish the idea that relative poverty exists in the UK - but the experience of millions of children, and many more who’ve now become adults says otherwise. Choosing Child Poverty Action Group as our charity was an obvious choice though admittedly, my comedy set is unlikely to be on child poverty (it’s no laughing matter, pun intended). Any profits from the ticket money will go to the brilliant work they already do, as well as money collected on the night. Standing on stage for 9 minutes trying to make complete strangers laugh sounds like my idea of hell – but it’ll be over quickly, and we’ll have done a small bit to help a cause very close to my heart.