The only good parent is a wealthy one

Increasingly, just as poverty itself is linked to ignorance or moral failings, poor parenting is associated with being poor.

You could be forgiven for thinking there’s never been a better time to be growing up in poverty. Sure, things might look bad now but you’ll be okay. A crack team of financial and moral superiors have got your back. Whether it’s chips in front of a massive fucking telly or your rubbish teachers at your rubbish school, your betters are out there, fighting the good fight and defeating your foes.

Last week, in response to calls for children’s schooling to start later, Education Minister Elizabeth Truss was out on the frontline, reminding the experts to set aside their lefty bigotry/extensive research and just think of the children. In a piece for the Telegraph she compared disagreement with Conservative policy on early years education to simply not caring about “our poorest children”. The fact is, liberal airy-fairyness might be alright for some, butit’s letting down the most vulnerable amongst us:

“Kids from leafy suburbs might get a steady stream of educational activities in their early years. Or if they don’t, they might be able to cash in their parents’ connections and wealth later in life. Not everyone is so lucky. If education starts later, the children that need it most are the ones that lose out.”

See that, experts? See what you’ve done? Too busy thinking about children to remember that poor children are a special subset. They don’t get the same things rich children do. Without Truss-led intervention, they’re stuffed.

If Truss, Gove et al wish to suggest that education creates opportunity for the most disadvantaged, then I’d agree. I suspect many of those people in schools (formerly known as teachers) would. Nevertheless, there’s something disturbing about the way this is positioned. As the gap between rich and poor widens, it’s not enough to present sharp-elbowed parents in “leafy suburbs” with their “connections and wealth” as the only obstacles  standing in the way of the less well-off.  As long as we have a government which vilifies those without money (now no longer paid too little but simply not working enough) its members cannot claim to have the interests of such people’s offspring at heart.

Intervention to support poor children should not involve the sidelining of their parents. Increasingly, just as poverty itself is linked to ignorance or moral failings, poor parenting is associated with being poor. It becomes a kind of class colonialism. Truss might not literally propose taking disadvantaged children from their lacklustre parents, but the intimation is that only more time in the hands of the state can save them from their bitter destiny. The relationship between “the disadvantaged” and “the lucky” is not examined in any depth: it just is. And yet without a holistic approach to challenging inequality -- one that looks not just at education and nutrition, but at the economic and mental wellbeing of all people at all ages --- a focus on the children is a figleaf.

In discussions of child welfare no agency is accorded to parents who are not middle-class. “Parenting issues” – worrying about school places, homework, bullying, a healthy diet, future career – are seen as luxuries not everyone can afford. The poor, it seems, can’t worry about their children for themselves. They’re too busy being poor, therefore we need millionaire chefs and grammar-obsessed government ministers to take charge. It’s not that the solutions they offer are wrong in themselves, but within a broader context of inequality their overall impact can be anything but helpful.

I am not sure at what age a child becomes morally responsible for his or her privilege or lack of it. It’s not clear when “disadvantage” becomes “fecklessness”. We just know that one day it will. In the meantime, poverty starts to be seen as something impressed upon an individual by his or her carers.

The narrative of liberation through education is seductive, but it’s inadequate. It creates a world in which poor children become self-contained vessels into which politicians pour all of their equality rhetoric. Everyone knows that one day, these little bundles of potential will morph into devalued workers, parents and carers. They’ll have to stand aside for another generation of “potentially not poor” youngsters to take their place because no one with actual privilege is prepared to give an inch.

You cannot help children to thrive if you are simultaneously crushing the adults closest to them. The impact of low pay, benefit cuts, outsourcing and morale-crushing exclusion is not localised. Education should be a right, not a weak corrective for more extensive wrongs.

All parents should be in a position to exert a positive influence over their children’s lives. If poorer parents have been priced out of granting their children opportunities which can only be bought, we surely need to question not the parents, but how opportunity itself is functioning.

George Osborne visits a nursery school. Image: Getty

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

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The government has admitted it can curb drugs without criminalising users

Under the Psychoactive Substances Act it will not be a criminal offence for someone to possess for their own consumption recreational drugs too dangerous to be legally sold to the public.

From Thursday, it may be illegal for churches to use incense. They should be safe from prosecution though, because, as the policing minister was forced to clarify, the mind-altering effects of holy smells aren’t the intended target of the Psychoactive Substances Act, which comes into force this week.

Incense-wafters aren’t the only ones wondering whether they will be criminalised by the Act. Its loose definition of psychoactive substances has been ridiculed for apparently banning, among other things, flowers, perfume and vaping.

Anyone writing about drugs can save time by creating a shortcut to insert the words “the government has ignored its advisors” and this Act was no exception. The advisory council repeatedly warned the government that its definition would both ban things that it didn’t mean to prohibit and could, at the same time, be unenforcable. You can guess how much difference these interventions made.

But, bad though the definition is – not a small problem when the entire law rests on it – the Act is actually much better than is usually admitted.

Under the law, it will not be a criminal offence for someone to possess, for their own consumption, recreational drugs that are considered too dangerous to be legally sold to the public.

That sounds like a mess, and it is. But it’s a mess that many reformers have long advocated for other drugs. Portugal decriminalised drug possession in 2001 while keeping supply illegal, and its approach is well-regarded by reformers, including the Liberal Democrats, who pledged to adopt this model in their last manifesto.

This fudge is the best option out of what was politically possible for dealing with what, until this week, were called legal highs.

Before the Act, high-street shops were free to display new drugs in their windows. With 335 head shops in the UK, the drugs were visible in everyday places – giving the impression that they couldn’t be that dangerous. As far as the data can be trusted, it’s likely that dozens of people are now dying each year after taking the drugs.

Since legal highs were being openly sold and people were thought to be dying from them, it was obvious that the government would have to act. Until it did, every death would be blamed on its inaction, even if the death rate for users of some newly banned drugs may be lower than it is for those who take part in still-legal activities like football. The only question was what the government would do.

The most exciting option would have been for it to incentivise manufacturers to come up with mind-altering drugs that are safe to take. New Zealand is allowing drug makers to run trials of psychoactive drugs, which could eventually – if proved safe enough – be sold legally. One day, this might change the world of drug-taking, but this kind of excitement was never going to appeal to Theresa May’s Home Office.

What was far more plausible was that the government would decide to treat new drugs like old ones. Just as anyone caught with cocaine or ecstasy faces a criminal record, so users of new drugs could have been hit with the same. This was how legal highs have been treated up until now when one was considered serious enough to require a ban.

But instead, the government has recognised that its aim – getting new drugs out of high-street shop windows so they don’t seem so normal – didn’t depend on criminalising users. A similar law in Ireland achieved precisely this. To its credit, the government realised it would be disproportionate to make it a criminal offence to possess the now-illegal highs.

The reality of the law will look chaotic. Users will still be able to buy new drugs online – which could open them to prosecution for import – and the law will do nothing to make drugs any safer. Some users might now be exposed to dealers who also want to sell them more dangerous other drugs. There will be few prosecutions and some head shop owners might try to pick holes in the law: the government seems to have recognised that it needed a better definition to have any chance of making the law stick.

But, most importantly for those of us who think the UK’s drug laws should be better at reducing the damage drugs cause, the government, for the first time, has decided that a class of recreational drugs are too dangerous to be sold but that it shouldn’t be a crime to possess them. The pressure on the government to act on legal highs has been relieved, without ordinary users being criminalised. For all the problems with the new law, it’s a step in the right direction.

Leo Barasi is a former Head of Communications at the UK Drug Policy Commission. He writes in a personal capacity