Yesterday the Joseph Rowntree Foundation released a report detailing how families across the UK will be affected by the £20 a week cut to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit. According to this analysis, on average 21% of all working-age families (with or without children) in Great Britain will experience a £1,040-a-year cut to their incomes on 6 October.
A few weeks ago, the league table of Scottish Schools was released showing a continued divide between the haves and the have nots. The poverty related attainment gap continues to widen following the aftermath of the covid pandemic. With government policies, such as the cut to Universal Credit, continuing to exacerbate entrenched poverty for many, we can only expect the gap to widen even further.
Is it time to look again at how we as a society talk about the gap? Is it time to start talking about destitution rather than just poverty? Is it time to start addressing the wellbeing gap rather than just the attainment gap?
Darren McGarvey made this astute observation in a recent tweet, “wealthier kids are not inherently smarter. Their parents are not inherently more capable. Affluent children simply benefit from circumstances which allow them to develop optimally, and their parents possess the resources to absorb or offset adversities along the way.”
The families we support are experiencing the most abject poverty, often entrenched over many generations, with multiple areas of disadvantage. They lack the resources and resilience needed to rebound from adversities. In our view the current policies seek to influence and improve the situation of the majority whilst leaving the circumstances of the families we support more or less in the same position. They will be the children, young people and families in the 10% still experiencing poverty if Scotland meets it’s 2030 target. For includem it is not acceptable that this is the case. We need to be bold. We need to build infrastructure around these families, and we need to take risks to do something different.
Here at includem we believe we need to move away from talking just about the poverty related attainment gap and start talking about the broader wellbeing gap, of which poverty is only one aspect. Talking about the wellbeing gap recognises that there is more to achieving positive outcomes for children and young people than attainment and the effect of poverty and other adversities is greater than just attainment much more gets in the way of children and young people achieving their best. We know that those who experience these adversities are more likely to experience poverty and we know that those who experience poverty are more likely to be excluded from education, come into conflict with the law, struggle with addictions and recovery and experience homeless and its resultant negative outcomes.
If we want to be a country in which children grow up loved, safe and respected so that they realise their full potential we need to address all the social factors that influence wellbeing. If we consider the wellbeing indicators, otherwise known as SHANARRI, achieving is only one eighth of the puzzle. We need to build all eight of the protective factors through responsive services, trauma informed care, family and social support as well as financial security.
From our experience of delivering family support to Scotland’s most vulnerable families we know that there is a poverty of aspiration, opportunity and support which applies equally to those receiving social security and those experiencing in work poverty.
The poverty of aspiration, opportunity and support will not be addressed by the Scottish Child Payment at £20 alone. It will not be addressed by continuing the uplift of Universal Credit. The families we support have told us that at best this will let them keep their head above water, but they have no back up for when essential items break and need replaced, they have no extra cash for activities or holidays, they cannot stay ahead of their debt unless they make considerable sacrifices and difficult choices about which day to day need to meet and which to forgo.
Fundamentally they tell us that they want time and relationships that build hope and aspiration as well as providing material and practical support. One family recently told researchers, “They can see what a struggle it is for us. The support they give us. It is just…. We wouldn’t still be standing as a family. It felt – because it’s natural and they know us – it wasn’t a criticism or we could do better. I can’t think that anybody – in all the years we have been involved- I can’t remember anyone saying are you ok.”
Encouraging and facilitating families to tell us of their experiences is not easy. For many of our staff there is a reluctance to talk about money, finance, debt – it is the old adage that you don’t talk about money, sex and religion. For our families there is the fear of the consequences if they tell us the true extent of their poverty – after all children are ten times more likely to be taken into care or placed on the child protection register if they are in poverty. How did we overcome this? In the first instance we have employed peer researchers, those who have been supported by includem in the past and who have experienced the adversities and trauma also experienced by the families we support. They have been able to share their own experiences to overcome the stigma and reluctance to share. They have provided anonymity to take away the fear of consequences of sharing. They have connected with families in a way that can be difficult for services and workers. The above quote comes from this research.
We need to starting talking about destitution and addressing the wellbeing gap. We need to look at developing infrastructure which addresses the root causes of the wellbeing gap. We need to acknowledge that the gap, wellbeing or attainment, is not created in schools so will not be fixed in schools.
Fundamentally what families tell us is that they need support that truly meets all of their needs; they need support that gives them greater access to leisure and cultural activities, that reduces their exposure to prolonged levels of household and community stress and builds their financial, social and emotional resilience. We need to walk alongside them in a way which raises their aspirations and gives them hope.
“Not only must the most privileged feel they are brother and sisters of the most destitute, but the most destitute must feel as well that something within them makes them equal to the greatest sages and geniuses.” Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov