Every child should be able to reach for stars

David Bowie
David Bowie
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HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By Hayes in the House

Last week, many of us mourned the passing of one of Britain’s greatest popular musicians with the death of David Bowie at the age of 69, following a battle with cancer. Bowie was phenomenal, selling millions of records in a career - spanning decades - which left a lasting effect on popular culture that few others have matched or ever will.

There are some who sport a snobbish, dismissive disdain for most popular culture, but it is perfectly possible to recognise qualitative differences in pop and rock music. Whilst it is true that too much of what dominates the charts is unexceptional or trite, there are artists now who, as Bowie did, offer the originality through distinctive musicianship and particular style; in essence through authenticity - the Arctic Monkeys, Muse and Katie Melua all spring to mind.

Like David Bowie, I was born in a working class family in South London; Brixton, in his case, Woolwich in mine. Few could have imagined where his humble beginnings would take him in life, just as the remarkable journey I travelled from a council estate to working in Parliament and serving as a Government Minister often makes me pinch myself to check if it’s all just a dream!

Benefiting from the care and support of wonderful, loving parents, who worked very hard to give me every chance in life and with a grammar school education, I was well prepared for adulthood. The sad truth is that too few people growing up today on such estates are as fortunate. For many, family breakdown is routine and poverty entrenched. Urban decay traps people in a spiral which starts with impoverished expectations and, often, ends in addiction or violence, or both.

Too often, too many claim that these problems can be solved by welfare alone. In fact, we’ve been treating the symptoms of poverty, instead of its causes, for years; trying to manage the problem, rather than fix it. In future we must be far more imaginative about how we change people’s life chances, focusing on the social regeneration of ‘sink estates’ where neglect has become endemic. It’s through changing people’s sense of worth by enhancing their sense of place; by nurturing social obligations -rather than crowing about rights- that cohesive, caring communities are grown.

It was also last week that I spoke about transforming such estates to provide new places in which people want to live, homes where families can feel safe, aspirations can be nurtured, and where civility and care go hand in hand. Those living in slums would jump at a chance to escape their surroundings, and we should help them to do so, thus creating the lasting conditions for upwards social mobility.

Changing life chances changes lives; we can, and should, be much more ambitious about combating poverty - helping people to soar to the height of their hopes, regardless of where they began. Our mission should be no less than to give every child the chance to realise their potential, to reach for the stars. Maybe then more of today’s boys and girls on council estates will live their dreams of becoming tomorrow’s musicians or the people’s representatives in Parliament. More still will simply enjoy the chance to live the fulfilled and successful lives which we surely all desire and deserve.


We must focus on economic security