22 february 2013, shock and pawe

I've spent a lot of my week on something that many roads have led me to in the past years, but on which I have not really travelled: the children of the great unwashed; or "early years" in the jargon. Though not quite one myself, I was born and bred in a serially-unemployed household and so knew deprivation, but not of the kind that has been pulled from the back of my conscious in the last few days to the front. It's a world of far too many streets where most are unemployed, alcohol and other drugs are rife, mothers smoke and don't breastfeed, depression is a norm and infant mortality rates are serious. Children starting school are already obese and have tooth decay, and domestic abuse and crime are real and present dangers, as are injured children turning up at hospital. I was intellectually sucked into this world years ago by an excellent study that identified this basic system failure as a key cause of economic underperformance, and I'm back now as an intellectual exercise in transforming the norm of providing public services from dependence on an ever-dwindling government grant to self-sustaining investment. Poverty though, even in this abundantly rich country we live in, is emotional, and so are children, making the two together an exercise worthy of a cause.