In September I wrote about a family I met that had lived on baked beans for the previous two and half weeks, cycling 10 miles to work as they could not afford diesel. They borrowed books to read from the local library, played cards, went on walks, talked, played music. The family are not ‘poor’, they are a low-income family stuck in a financial rut created by the benefits system. The family, a single Mum with two teenage daughters are unable to progress in employment for fear of exceeding the allocated hours to secure the funding to live, while the opportunities to progress in education are job related.

Such is the system that exists to ensure that all families are housed and fed but responds negatively to those who attempt to educate themselves out of benefits.  In the context of this family the threshold for payments would appear to work against social mobility. The eldest daughter who had previously been excluded from both her school and college now destined to work in a care home, her income subsidised by benefits, forgoing the opportunity to study for a work-based level 3 qualification.  The youngest, has had to stop her music lessons that might take her to university as attendance requires transport.

Contrast this with a family, single Mum with two daughters who are living well within their means.  The Mum employed as a secretary to a medical consultant, her daughters benefitting from medical internships, the eldest planning to study nursing, the youngest with ambitions to be a doctor.

The difference between the two is that the Mum on the breadline comes from a force’s family, her Dad was a ‘squaddie’ with limited education.  The Mum engaged by the medical consultant was privately educated by her solicitor father, who was well connected in the City of London.

These very real case studies reflect the lack of opportunity and choice across our society.  This cannot be resolved by education alone.  Children and families with big problems need even bigger opportunities. 

We need mutuality, valuing all for their contributions to society, providing choice rooted in the potential talents of all children, not based on personal wealth and connections. 

It is libraries and reading that sustain both families, providing the resource and support to facilitate the fun and enjoyment of books, whilst ensuring equity of provision.  The alarming neglect of libraries in the social mobility debate reflects a lack of understanding of the issues, solutions and impact. 

In March, Achievement for All are partnering with school, local and national librarians to encourage the next generation of readers to join the 200 Million Minutes Reading Challenge. The gift of reading knows no bounds, improving Speech, Language and Communication skills, exciting all to learn, and celebrating the joy of creativity and imagination, all much needed for nation as a whole.

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Between Thursday 7th March (World Book Day) and Tuesday 2nd April 2019 (Children’s Book Day) Achievement for All will be encouraging early years settings, schools, colleges, families, libraries, community groups, businesses and organisations from across the world to come together and collectively read for 200 million minutes, a never before-reached target!

Participating in the challenge is free and great prizes will be awarded to those who achieve the highest average number of minutes per child or young person.

If you would like to take part in Achievement for All’s 200 Million Minutes Reading Challenge, register now at www.200millionminutes.org