Education and Poverty


There has been uproar this week about Kirstie Allsopp’s comments.

The first time age for mothers in the UK is already 28. We already know about the ‘fertility cliff’.

A few articles responding are here, here, here and here.

I felt so angry about what Kirstie said. Yes, her privilege as a baron’s daughter does come into it. She cannot possibly understand the socio-economic inequalities and social exclusion millions in the UK face. (See I am 28 and Broke here).

Education is a ladder out of poverty. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation produce fantastic reports and policy recommendations surrounding the issue.

I first wrote about poverty here.

If you’re middle-class and have a supportive family to help you emotionally and financially, then getting a well-paying job straight after A -Levels is a strong possibility. They can maybe help you get the flat Kirstie advocates, and a nice boyfriend to procreate with.

In the real world for many having children young exacerbates their experiences of poverty and social exclusion. This is real. The precarious labour market means young people are in and out of work, on zero hour contracts or short term agency contracts. They often aren’t making a living wage. They often can’t afford even to rent a room or bedsit, never mind buy a nice flat, they float around. Unsuitable living accommodation being rented out by greedy private landlords. Young families posting pictures of their mould infested flats, with letting agents who will do nothing, despite a young baby being in a house where mushrooms are growing.

It is not the critics of Allsopp who are classist, but Kirstie herself. Framing ‘going back to uni at 50’ as a quaint past time. I know so many people who would love to go to uni, they simply can’t afford it. It is still an option off limits to so many working-class people. Certainly once children and excessive child care costs and arrangements come into the picture. it’s impossible for many. Yes, some women do have children young and manage to go to university afterwards. But not having a supportive family network around you or having physical or mental health problems increase the barrier to further education.

The idea that you can just leave school at 16 or 18 and ‘work your way up’ is nonsense for most jobs. As is ignoring barriers to higher education at any age for many in the working class. Kirstie fails to talk about these. She just highlights the importance of pregnancy in your twenties without a second thought to the implications of this for many.

Not everyone should go to university. Not everyone should have children. But women need to stop being patronised and motherhood needs to stop being idealised. I have been taught about my fertility cycle since 10 years of age. The average age of a first time mum is 28 in the UK, so we already clearly know about fertility windows.

Yet for some of us, born to parents on benefits (6 kids in a 3 bedroom terrace house) we saw education as a way out. We didn’t see ourselves as ‘better’ just saw the hope of university as a doorway of options and opportunities. At my primary school (one which is currently failing at OFESTED) where the teachers are more like parents to many of the pupils due to the extreme social-deprivation of the area, there was no thinking of university. I was lucky, my brothers had gone, and I felt that was a path open to me. My father left school at 13, and my mum 15. That was the ‘done’ thing back then. In fact I get very angry and upset that their life options and work were so limited. It was expected they would have kids and work low paid jobs. I am not criticising only wanting children, or working a low paid job, but I want young women to have as many options as possible available to them. Graduates are paid a graduate premium over their lifetime and I will want my future children to have the most opportunities possible.

Waiting to have children until one can afford them whilst dwelling in suitable accommodation, with the right support, with physical and mental health in a stable or liveable place, feeling mature and ready, and afford them better chances in life is not snobbery, it’s rooted in sadness and stark reality. It’s rooted in wanting financial independence and freedom from being stuck with an abusive spouse. It’s rooted in watching many of childhood friends and family struggle.

You don’t realise you’re poor until you meet other people. I thought everyone had free school meals until I mixed with other kids at secondary school. I didn’t realise the huge problems with poverty in the country until I studied Sociology at uni. The everyman believes the benefit scrounger rhetoric that compounds the poor’s fate. The media reigns almighty; education is the anecdote to the propaganda that legitimizes the literal starving and suffering of the masses.

I really liked this quote “I could be paranoid, but I do sometimes feel there is a sexist agenda in telling women they must have babies at what’s also a crucial time in their careers,” she continues. “The truth is there’s no ‘best’ time for a baby – you take what life brings you” from Why fertility is far from finished at 40. I think the press against older mums reflects the misogynist view of older women in general. he aging is negative, that women are ‘past it’. The idea that women who pursue a carer and want ‘more’ than their lot before having kids marks them as selfish.

Child Poverty Action Group
has great resources on child poverty in the UK which I recommend you check out. The facts are sobering.3.5 million children are growing up in poverty in the UK. It is interesting that 66 percent of children in poverty are from homes where at least one family member is in work.

The town I live is number 20 in the parliamentary constituencies in for child poverty. There are massive disparities for wealth and poverty here, but one of the poorest neighbourhoods (20th in the UK, and it used to be ranked nearly at the top) is a 5 minute drive from me. These people are hard-working, as carers or in low paid jobs. Not going to university isn’t some bourgeoisie choice it is simply not an option. Kirstie speaks from extreme privilege. For so many working class kids, education is a beacon of hope. It gives them something else, regardless of the degree choice.

Whilst I disagree with much about my local MP Frank Field, I can agree first-hand with some of this report into child poverty.

My education, which I started aged 25, has given me so much more than the subject matter. It has given me critical tools, it has allowed me to open my eyes and visit ideas of dissent and to understand the structural inequalities that cause poverty.The everyman will believe the benefit scroungers discourse than compounds the fate of the poor and disabled. I am damn lucky and privileged to be paid to do my PhD. I still can’t believe this is my job! Education is revolutionary, it changes minds. It stops the almighty power of the media. Do I sound naïve or deluded? I know that for many studying social policy is life changing. They realise what framed their lives growing up. They realise their passion for working with marginalised groups. But the multi-millionaire Kirstie’s of the world prosper from keeping women in a bubble. Her barand of ‘housewife chic’ encourages conspicuous consumption of felt crafts and baking.

We need to protect women and offer them as many opportunities as possible. Kirstie’s attitude is the wrong one. Many women aren’t in a good relationship by 27, or in safe accommodation, or have any financial bearing of their own. They shouldn’t face scaremongering about their eggs dying off.