Keeping child poverty high on the local agenda through commissions

There have been a number of child poverty commissions established around England, including Liverpool City Region Child Poverty and Life Chances Commission, the North East Child Poverty Commission, the Leicester City Child Poverty Commission and the Torbay Child Poverty Commission. These commissions vary in structure (some include councillors and MPs, some partners and academics) and focus (some address one local authority while others attempt joined up approaches across regions). Regardless of their diversity, they share a common aim, to establish a partnered approach to reducing child poverty locally.

The Leicester child poverty commission

The experience of the Leicester child poverty commission highlights just how important local political leadership is to local child poverty strategies. When the city's local child poverty commission was established in 2012, CPAG accepted the invitation to join partly because we wanted to help improve the outcomes of local children but also because we wanted a deeper insight into the opportunities and challenges facing local authorities attempting to fulfil their statutory duty to tackle child poverty.

Right from the beginning it was clear that the initiative had committed leadership support. One of the first actions of the commission, chaired by Deputy Mayor Rory Palmer and with members drawn from the council, the NHS and academia, was to gather senior officers and councillors from across the council for a presentation on why child poverty is a mayoral priority.

As well as the council's own resources, the city's mayoral team also played a vital role in galvanising support from Leicester’s voluntary sector, the local media and the business community – the local chamber of commerce joined the commission and organised a successful business breakfast to discuss how local businesses could support the commission’s work.

A key element of the city's successful child poverty conference in 2012 was its use of working groups making recommendations for what the council and its local partners could do to help low-income families with children. It was from this inclusive approach that the commission’s recommendations were developed.

At the city's second child poverty conference, in May 2013, there was a strong focus on accountability, with information provided on how much progress had been made against each recommendation.

Such openness strengthens engagement with local partners and suggests genuine leadership commitment, both of which are essential for local authorities looking to make a difference to the lives of children in low income families.   With thanks to Imran Hussain, CPAG, and member of the Leicester Child Poverty Commission

Torbay's child poverty commission

Like many seaside towns, Torbay’ s English riviera image while providing wonderful beaches, family holidays and great opportunities for the over 60s also belies one of the most depressed areas in the South West with high unemployment, high teenage pregnancy rates, low wages, a seasonal economy and a growing number of families living at or below the poverty line, many in private rented accommodation.

The Torbay Child Poverty Commission, established by Torbay Council and chaired by Michelle Kennedy (independent child poverty expert), has been set up to examine child poverty in the area, and to recommend how to mitigate its effects and tackle its causes. The commission was keen to have an independent chair to enable it to take external ‘soundings’, to challenge existing practice and to deliver hard-hitting messages back to the council and others. This is particularly important as Torbay Council has an elected mayor model of local government.

The commission is holding all of its meeting in public in local areas, hearing from experts and listening to the community. Priorities for evidence are: business and employment, financial inclusion and debt, housing, community and schools.

The commission members includes cross party councillors (including lead member for children’s services), business representation, voluntary and community sectors, the director of children’s services and Save The Children.

The final report of the Commission was published in November 2013. It is hoped the findings will lead to real change. These will be used to help inform the Torbay child poverty strategy and action plan. With thanks to Michelle Kennedy