"GET A JOB!"
"CAN'T FEED YOUR KIDS BUT GOT A PHONE?!"
I hadn't planned to wade in on this matter or write our first blog about this particular subject. Far from it. But, in all good conscience, it can also not go unchallenged from those professionals who know more about it than most.
To be clear from the outset, this blog is not meant to sensationalise or create a huge debate. It is simply written from the point of view of a youth and community worker, based on real life observations, decades of experience and growing frustrations.
So here goes:
Child poverty IS increasing. Most certainly to the worst levels I have seen in 20 years of working in children and adult services. Child poverty, in 2020, in this borough (Stockton-on-Tees), looks like:
Parents who are stressed out, struggling and trying their best. Parents feeling pressure to provide. Parents worrying about how long they can have the heating on for and praying that their child will eat what they have made for dinner because it's all that they have. Parents who know the price of almost every item in Aldi and Lidl because they have to work out what they can afford before they get there so that they don’t suffer the burning embarrassment, of their card being declined at the till. Parents experiencing the gnawing guilt when their child asks if they can have a treat and they have to say no because they need to buy toilet roll instead.
And yes, the numbers of children affected are marginal in comparison to the overall number of children in the borough. And yes, children of previous generations have experiences of dreadful poverty too. No-one would ever dismiss that. And yes, 100% there are parents out there who are not doing enough. And yes, there are adults abusing the benefit system.
BUT, believe this - as community based workers, at the front line of youth services, knowing our families, as we do; 9 times out of 10, where real poverty exists, none of those features are contributory. Increasingly the issue is not just linked to families who are in receipt of benefits. There is a significant issue with the working poor,a problem that does not just exist as a result of COVID.
Please know this - that even where those unappealing contributory factors are the cause, the outcome is the same. Children are hungry and cold. Children are unable to reach their potential. Children have a lack of energy to focus and learn. Children have lowered aspirations. After all how can a child be creative and maintain drive when their most basic needs are not routinely met?
The issue of child poverty is complicated. Inequality has, and always will, exist.
But one thing is for sure, in the year 2020, living in one of the richest nations in the world, levels of child poverty should not be increasing.
Whilst this anecdote seems to paint a grim local picture, it actually represents the national experience too. In fact, in this borough, we are very fortunate. The Local Authority and the fabulous Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) are working hard to identify and support those families with the greatest need.
There is no 'one stop' solution to this issue. It takes partnership, connections, trust, knowledge of communities, an innovative approach to tackling food poverty (doff of the hat to Cultivate Tees Valley, Barefoot Kitchen and Little Sprouts), the creation of meaningful opportunities, hard work, commitment and a localised approach.
In all of the sad encounters listed, help & support was offered in abundance once identified. In fact a whole lot more could be written about what is being done locally to tackle these issues, which is really uplifting! 💗
The sad fact is, that the issues exist in the first place and are only uncovered sporadically. The purpose of this is not to take away from the efforts of those attempting to address the issue, which includes ourselves. It is simply an account.
An account that is an absolute 'up yours' to all those who doubt that the problem exists. Or worst still, acknowledge it exists and pour scorn and judgement upon those affected, because let's face it, that helps absolutely no-one. Ever.
Mic drop 🎤
By Lucy Bentley
Quality Improvement Coordinator and DSO for Corner House Youth Project