Every day, includem works with children, young people and families facing complex challenges related to poverty and destitution. We welcomed the opportunity to amplify the voices of the families we support and submit evidence to the Poverty CPG inquiry into poverty-related stigma.
In our response, we discuss how challenging those working in services find discussions about poverty, the continued reluctance to discuss these difficulties with children and young people, and the power of using peer research models to counteract shame and stigma. What was striking was how stigma has become ingrained not only in the wider population, but also in how those facing destitution perceive themselves. It impacts both how we, as a social and political system, qualify those worthy of support, and how the scale of poverty impacts the perceptions of those who may be struggling.
Families facing these circumstances must be resourceful, managing strict budgets around essentials like food and fuel and seeking out support from family or doing without to ensure their children are fed. This is particularly concerning as the current, and worsening, cost of living crisis will result in these necessities becoming even more unaffordable for low-income families who are already under immense pressure.
Those we spoke to just barely miss out on qualifying for support, feeling like their “back is against the wall”. This leaves parents and carers struggling to respond to the educational and day-to-day needs of their children, and growing resentment around thresholds for support that no longer match the true cost of living and wide-spread low-income employment.
This daily struggle was a constant source of stress, with ‘big things’ from shoes for growing children and household maintenance becoming major pressure points in their ability to cope. While we in Scotland discuss the need to respond to prevalent mental health and wellbeing issues in the recovery from the pandemic, we must recognise how material support and a moment of respite for families under constant pressure could have a significant role in improving their life chances.
Families feel judged, not believed or listened to when asking for help to access wider services and struggle to get appointments or enough time with practitioners when they do. This provides fertile ground for growing distrust in services and leaves many unable due to financial constraints to respond to their family’s needs by turning to private services.
Tackling poverty-related stigma will take time.
Time to change ingrained public perceptions.
Time to develop resources as entitlements rather than handouts.
Time to improve support services to be responsive to those who need them the most.
Time to support practitioners to feel confident to speak about poverty, especially with children and young people.
And time to rebuild trust with families.
The time to start – is now!