South of the River – level playing fields


Compass-SouthComment logo 2I mentioned my interest in street names last July. I discovered a couple of weeks ago that the Recreations in Holbeck are so called because the houses were built on the site of a recreation ground. In fact it had cricket pitches that once hosted the Australian national team.

But today I’m writing about different kinds of playing fields. If I can keep the sporting theme going a little longer, these are more like the famous sloping pitch at Yeovil Town. Rules, laws and processes that seem to treat people perfectly fairly, but actually play out very differently in South Leeds.

I started thinking about this when I heard about the fines that families incur if they take their children out of school during term time. As a school governor I do not condone taking children out of school for holidays, but I do understand the pressure families are under and how much cheaper a holiday can be in term time.

One local school has tried to get round the problem by lumping together all their staff training or inset days (they were called Baker days when they were introduced) and adding them to the half term at the end of May to make a fortnight’s break. I don’t know what effect this has had on attendance and I’m not sure it’s the best way to organise staff training, but the school, Beeston Hill St Luke’s, is rated Outstanding by Ofsted.

Anyway back to the fines. If you take your child out of school you will be fined a flat rate of £60 per child, per parent. So for Mum, Dad and two children that’s £240. If you don’t pay it goes up and then court costs are added. It doesn’t matter whether you go to a caravan at Scarborough, or skiing in Aspen, Colorado – it’s still £240.

Apparently the rate of unpaid fines is much higher in South Leeds than other parts of the city. I wonder if that’s because our families are more likely to be in Scarborough than Aspen? £240 probably doubles the cost of a barely affordable caravan holiday, whereas it can be easily absorbed into the budget when you’re paying thousands. How’s that a level playing field?

It came up again in a discussion about domestic violence. It gets harder to hide what’s happening in your household from your neighbours as you move down the housing ladder from detached to semis, to terraced houses and flats. Problems are hushed up in richer families where the screams of women (and it is usually women that are the victims of domestic violence) don’t reach to the next house.

We know domestic violence goes on in all strata of society, you only have to look at the pictures of Charles Saatchi’s hands around Nigella Lawson’s throat to see the rich do it too. But that was an unusual incident, the wealth that the woman might have to walk away from and the scandal within the tiny clique that is the rich and powerful in Britain, means she is less likely to report it.

By the way did you see the report from Oxfam that five families in Britain own as much wealth as the poorest 20% of the population? That’s five (5!) families compared to 12.6 million people.

The effects of drug addiction play out differently if you are wealthy too. Quite apart from the access to expensive private clinics to help recover from addiction, they have a better chance of managing their habit. If you can get pharmaceutical grade heroin and get it regularly it won’t do you too much harm. You can have a manageable habit, hold down your job, etc.

The problems of heroin addiction come with dodgy supplies, drugs cut with baking powder or bleach to boost the profit margin. Not having enough money for your habit and your food, rent and children’s cloths. Turning to crime to try and boost your income. I’m not condoning the use of drugs, I’m just saying their use plays out differently in different classes.

Jeremy Morton Aug13The heroin is just as illegal in both cases, but the consequences of using it are far more serious if you’re poor.

In so many ways, what appears to be a level playing field just isn’t. And in South Leeds we always seem to be playing uphill.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.

One Reply to “South of the River – level playing fields”

  1. I know we disagree on certain issues Jeremy but I must say that, on this occasion, I agree entirely with the content, sentiment and your conclusions.
    Whilst discussing the budget with some friends yesterday, someone mentioned that the government just “rob Peter to pay Paul.” I agreed but made the observation that it is always the working class and lowest earners that seem to be “Peter!”

    I am also a school governor and while I can not condone children missing school unnecessarily, I do feel it of extreme importance that families should have a holiday together. My school has arranged the holidays so that we also have an extra week at Spring Bank but, how long before the holiday companies get wise to this and increase the charges for that week too? In my opinion it is the governments’ responsibility to regulate holiday companies to ensure that low income families are not penalised. I know it’s not likely to happen but I really think it’s something we should all fight for!
    It just seems morally wrong to me that we should be imposing financial penalties on families that are already strapped for cash, and see this as their only chance of giving their children the break that they no doubt deserve.

    You talk about domestic violence and there is a saying about not knowing what goes on behind closed doors. It is of course a lot more obvious when those doors are a couple of feet apart instead of across a graveled drive.

    I agree with some of what you say about the drug addiction but I feel that the problems mostly stem from the users inability to correctly feed and care for themselves, rather than the poor grade of narcotic available (although not being an expert I would cede the point). If you are rich enough to feed your habit then you are likely rich enough to adequately feed yourself with fresh food, as your tastes are likely to be similar to your pre-addiction ones. If you are used to preparing fresh food then you will probably continue, to a degree, and therefore deteriorate much less quickly than someone who was raised eating junk food and ready meals, that have little nutritional value.
    Only in my younger and less cynical years did I consider there to be a level playing field but, even in my youth I could see the differences between the haves and have nots. I played rugby in Middleton &amp Hunslet &amp the difference between the kit we could afford, the changing rooms and even the food served by teams in “better” areas was noticeable. We used to enjoy going to certain other clubs because the post match meal was so much better!
    Thus it has always been an uphill struggle for South Leeds.

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