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Ellen ArnisonWed 08 Jun 2011 22:24
It is my youngest son’s birthday today. He’s two. After nursery he opened his present – a toy kitchen – and we all had cake.
My eldest son – who has Asperger’s Syndrome – spent the day at the high school he’s going to next year. While he was there, I drove to meet his primary head teacher to talk about what we’ll do about sorting out his transport to school. It meant I had to make a phone call and send some emails. I also bought some tickets for a show at his new school. His teacher thinks it’s a good idea to get him used to going there.
My middle son recently enjoyed the end of season celebrations with his football team mates; it was a touch call for him because it meant he had to miss an event organised by his cub pack.
Now, why am I troubling you with this domestic trivia? It’s ordinary, dull family stuff, the stuff households up and down the country do every day. But it isn’t really trivial. It’s the kind of stuff children who live in poverty miss out on. The stuff that makes childhoods happy.
Some children don’t get presents and cakes for their birthdays because there isn’t any money for them. They might not get to go to nursery because there’s no one to take them. If they’re really out of luck they don’t even get kisses, hugs and people to sing Happy Birthday To You.
Kids with special needs, like my elder boy, may miss out on the support they need to allow them to fulfil their potential. They don’t have people with cars who can nip down to school, make phone calls and send emails. If the people who look after them are struggling, their corners don’t get fought properly. There are dozens of reasons why this might happen.
It’s certainly not essential that children play in football teams or go to the likes of cubs, but I wonder how my son would feel if he didn’t have the option. What if he couldn’t join his classmates and friends on the pitch or in the cub hut? There are children who simply don’t have the time because they are too busy looking after people instead of being kids.
And these aren’t rare and isolated examples. I know numbers aren’t very exciting, but I’d like to share some with you. There are 100,000 young carers in Scotland, the average age of whom is 12. There are 10,000 children with autism in Scotland (Asperger’s is a form of autism). 11,000 women are diagnosed with post natal depression each year. Add the country’s levels of addiction and mental illness into the mix and you can easily see how this is adding up.
More numbers. Bear with me, there aren’t many. One in four children in this country lives in poverty. One in four.
What does that mean? It means that they are living on less than 60 per cent of the average income. To be precise it’s less than £256 a week for a single parent with two children and less than £346 for a couple with two.
Not much, is it?
It’s easy to stomp about, look to the government and say Something Must Be Done. It’s also possible to say “ha, brought it on themselves with drugs and alcohol”, and even to use phrases like “get a job”, “don’t be feckless” or “it’s not my problem”.
We’re not talking about grown-ups here, we are talking about children who deserve to be given the same chances as my kids... or yours.
The STV Appeal 2011: Supporting Scotland’s Children and The Hunter Foundation are aiming to help the country’s most at risk children. Every penny counts.