Last month, hundreds of delegates gathered in Central London for The Childhood Trust’s third annual Child Poverty Summit.
Date: 14th October 2021
The summit was a sobering affair. While an air of optimism prevailed, there was no escaping the sombre reality that poverty, hunger and malnutrition remain prominent issues in England’s wealthiest city. Indeed, these issues have deepened and worsened over the course of the pandemic, epitomised by the episode in March 2020 when a photo of a measly food parcel sent to one family went viral on Twitter.
According to The Childhood Trust, 800,000 young people live in poverty in London alone – a staggering number. Prior to the pandemic, the organisation reported that 400K children in London were living with food insecurity, rising to 600,000 during the pandemic. By September 2020, 83,000 children were homeless and/or living in temporary accommodation.
The summit began with a powerful film produced by young people in partnership with Octavia Foundation and The Childhood Trust, called In the Music. In the Music follows a young teenage girl, Desha, in London on a school day. Desha is dissociated from the world around her, taking refuge in her prized possession, a Walkman. Instead of participating in class or laughing with friends, Desha is preoccupied with finding money for food, and ultimately, hunger and survival. In the eyes of this film, getting her homework done seems like a luxury compared to her daily struggles.
When we hear the word poverty, our minds conjure images of the most abject kind. We don’t see or recognise the invisible kind of poverty that is rife – the insecurity that walks, and lives, and breathes, and takes so many shapes and forms, unseen, all around us, every day.
‘’Living in poverty is more than simply material deprivation. It is the food that you don’t eat, the clothes you don’t wear, and above all, the words you don’t hear.’’– Hashi Mohamed, Author and Barrister
Chris Price, Chief Executive of Pecan, a community development charity, has first-hand experience of helping the hungry through his work running the Peckham Pantry, a membership scheme helping people buy healthy groceries at a lower price.
Price declared that there is ‘no such thing as food poverty; rather, the issue is that people don’t have the cash to buy it’. Issues such as hunger, which dominate the headlines, often only serve to obscure the reality on the ground. In reality, poverty is not one single problem, but a complex web of extenuating, various, numerous and layered issues that conspire.
Food for Thought and Takeaways
- ‘Free’ or State education is not free at all – it is estimated that it costs an average of £21,000 per year for a student to attend a non-tuition school once stationary, equipment, school trips, books, uniforms, and food are all taken into account.
- In-work poverty is a growing issue with stagnating wages and £36bn taken out of the social care system (75% of children growing up in poverty live in a household where at least one person works)
- Benefit cap reductions and the Universal Credit Policy reduction, which campaigners estimate:
- Will pull 500K people into poverty including 200K children, as cited by the Child Poverty Action Group (the case will be heard at the High Court this November 2021)
- Up to 76,000 households were affected by the cap in February 2020, before Covid-19 hit the UK. By November 2020, the number impacted had soared to 180,000. The introduction of the two-child limit for the Child Tax Credit in 2017
- Welfare Assistance is undefined and unsupported. The lack of referral mechanisms and awareness around welfare assistance at the local level disconnects people from finding the support they need
- Scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) in England was a mistake
- Poverty in early years is particularly damaging because stress levels affect the prefrontal cortex, which affects development, entrenching long-term poverty
- There is a fundamental difference in having compassion for and having compassion with people suffering financial and/or food insecurity. Remembering that dignity is crucial at every touch point
Another important misnomer is the idea that hunger and obesity are separate issues. According to the Nuffield Foundation, 27% of the most deprived children in the UK aged 10-11 are obese. Among the least deprived children in the UK, the figure is only 14%.
Speakers at the Poverty and Hunger Panel discussion argued persuasively that obesity is more of a social issue than an individual issue. This rings true when we consider the types of foods that are most readily available, and the amount they cost relative to healthier options.
The Poverty and Childcare panel was particularly hard-hitting. In this session, it was laid bare that whilst the government spends £5.9bn annually on childcare, this figure takes no account of the experience and overall quality of the care provided.
Meanwhile, those who work in childcare are themselves regularly paid minimum wage and often less, as these same workers spend their own money to improve the experience for children in their care. These workers are often on the poverty line, struggling with food insecurity themselves.
It was also revealed that chefs in nurseries are not trained in infant/child nutrition, and that provision and standards for early-years education is insufficient and ill-defined.
What was made clear time and again throughout the day is that child poverty is not a single-issue travesty any more than it is a single-issue experience. The passion, knowledge and commitment from everyone who spoke, from organisations and charities to individuals, was clear, palpable and heartening.
Certainly, we from TAPF UK left with a greatly deepened understanding of the complexities and myriad of issues than when we walked in the doors on Oxford Street that Thursday. It has inspired us, as a charitable organisation specialising in nutrition for education, to think along and across different lines. To think about how we can augment our offer and develop new ways of engaging both with the communities we serve, and the partners we collaborate with. As our CEO, Bhawani Singh, often reminds us:
A big thanks again to The Childhood Trust, each and every speaker and attendee, and to the incredible young people who shared their stories and art with us. The full report from The Childhood Trust can be accessed here.
~ Erika Loch on behalf of TAPF UK.