Look At It This Way - December 19, 2014

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I’m sick of hearing people say why should we pay for kids to have breakfast at school – when their parents should provide it.

There’s one simple reason. Many parents don’t provide it. And pushing your kid off to school with a packet of crisps or some cash for some sweeties en route really doesn’t hack it.

A child studying on a full stomach is far more likely to not only pay attention, but also attend school.

We live in a world of real social welfare and health inequalities – and some of them are brought into sharp focus right here in Blackpool.

Child poverty statisticians have a field day compiling reports in Blackpool. Nine of our 21 council wards have high levels of child poverty – four of them as high as 42 to 48 per cent at the last count.

There are kids who wouldn’t get a present this year if it were not for the annual appeal mounted at the Town Hall to ‘give a little, help a lot’.

Last year, it provided presents to more than 1,100 children. The appeal is on target to help as many, if not more, this year.

But there’s so much more many of us could do to alter the postcode lottery that dictates a place of birth may shape an entire life – and early death.

In some cases, the difference in life expectancy can be measured by up to 10 years between wards. Sadly, it’s not as simple a solution as nipping on a bus the moment your waters have broken in blighted Bloomfield and saying taking me to Norbreck.

There’s a big difference in the make-up of those wards, the nature of the properties, the educational and employment prospects, the age profile of residents, the demographics. Kids have now replaced pensioners as the most “at risk” group.

But I refuse to believe that people just stop caring – about themselves, their children and others.

In the plethora of programming about skint, broken or benefits Blackpool of recent years some key characters stood out – Kitty, the transvestite comedian who runs a café, and helps the local down-and-outs with a free cuppa or brekkers …and a young girl who scoured the back alleys of Blackpool for other people’s rubbish to rehome in her bedroom.

Both had something money couldn’t buy, compassion in Kitty’s case, and the unconditional love of her dad and grandma for the girl and her siblings.

Fast forward to the latest tragedy to propel Blackpool to the national headlines... the death of a two-year-old girl after drinking methadone left in a Tom and Jerry beaker by her moronic parents.

It was claimed they made £300 a month flogging methadone to fellow addicts, police described their lifestyle as chaotic, and the crown prosecutor called it a tragedy waiting to happen.

Yet they flew under the radar of the appropriate safeguarding authorities.

So by far the best Christmas present Blackpool has got – so long as the money is ring-fenced and spent wisely and well – is the brand new £45m Better Start programme. To do just that. Give children a better start.

If you look at a route map of Blackpool, a disproportionate number of kids live in poverty – in nine of our 21 wards.

In four wards the figure’s well over 40 per cent. In Bloomfield it has increased by four percent to 52 per cent since the last count.

This week, we also learned that Blackpool also has the highest number of kids in care – so-called “looked after” children – in the country.

Seventy-eight of the 434 children in care are under three and from the seven poorest wards in Blackpool.

Some are identified as needing to go into care before they are even born because of the level of risk incurred by remaining with parents with a history of mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence.

Such a move seems draconian – until you remember that two-year-old left to drink herself to death on methadone out of a cartoon character beaker.

No Christmas for her. Not now. Not ever.

But there is hope for others. The report contains a phrase which shines amidst the gloom.

It is this: “Against this backdrop of disadvantage it would be easy to become fatalistic and write off the children and families of Blackpool.

“On the contrary, it is precisely because of the scale of the challenge, that we are so united in our determination to turn things around.”

Blackpool will never be wealthy – but here’s to a happier and healthier 2015.

Trains drive me off the rails

I got chills, they’re multiplying and I’m losing control cause the power Network Rail’s supplying... isn’t electrifying.

For pity’s sake, how much longer must we wait for electrification of the line from Preston to Blackpool North?

The work will now take place – as common sense would dictate – at the same time as the line is re-signalled and the track layout to the station changed, meaning one period of closure rather than two.

Marvellous idea. So why not come up with it in the first place, instead of getting us looking forward to proper trains finally running by May 2016 – instead of the now projected March 2017?

Electrification has been on and off the cards for almost as long as I remember – and I’m 58.

I’ll believe it when I see it.

Like the saga of the on-off-on direct link to London, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve felt disappointed at Blackpool being treated like a second class rail cul-de-sac – fit only for glorified buses on tracks while we bang on about having a tram link from the station to the Prom... where a far more effective electric rail system has worked well for years.

Apparently, it’s not helped by our platforms having a “dog leg” rather than being straight. Well, it’s certainly widdled on our chips...