Ed balls and Gordon Brown are happy that they can re-publicise a scheme first discussed in 2008, in which 270k low-income families are going to get a laptop and broadband, and the whole thing is going to cost in the region of £300 million.
I was thinking about the various low-income families who have kids at my children's school, and thinking about all the free facilities there are nearby for parents to access the internet (big free computers section in the library) and obviously the kids (ICT classes etc in school). There needs to be more at school - the more cheap laptops there are, the less likely they are to be nicked. I thought about the home environment, and that it is extremely rare to see any of the children from the big housing estate close to school, in the purpose built playground and big playing field right next to it. You see *our* two kids in there. But we're not the ones who vandalise it either.
Childhood obesity is a problem, and although it's leveling off of late, a recent study concluded, surprise surprise, that low income families will not be benefiting from the level off. Obesity is still set to rise amongst the poor.
I'm left wondering whether a scheme giving free 'starter level' bikes and a Cycling Proficiency test might not be a better idea, with another chunk of that £300 million used to provide extra support in libraries for form filling etc, which is the kind of thing that adults need internet access for. As it is, here is a scheme giving a laptop (which can be sold to provide a low income family with food), which is probably not going to be a super-cheap one, and broadband (for how long?) which is an ongoing cost. A one off cost of a bicycle, maybe a helmet and a pump, a quick one off lesson on basic maintenance, and in order to qualify, the road safety test... surely that would be cheaper? Bikes are shockingly cheap (expensive ones are not, but that's a different story).
The benefits of the bike scheme are obvious: fitter children, more cyclists / less drivers, less money spent on public transport, more opportunity for permanent bike shops ie: skills training and jobs needed... it's all good.
I was musing about this after seeing a documentary featuring a desperately poor Bristol housing estate. What if everyone was given the opportunity to purchase a bike through their dole money? A heavily subsidised starter package, plus the opportunity for a training scheme, all for 50p a week taken from your dole. So what if people just sold them on? They wouldn't be able to get much money for them anyway, and well - the bike's still there, just being used by someone else.
There needs to be more notice taken of unfitness. Sticking laptops in the flats of poor people is useful, and good, and I'm not suggesting stopping that, as such. And something like a bike is such an un-sexy govt sponsored scheme to try to get going - what on earth is eye catching about every kid in the country having a starter level bike?
But it would be...