It is with great sadness that we read the United Nations (UN) official report into Poverty in the UK in 2018 (Professor Phillip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, November 2018). The report finds that poverty in the UK is unacceptably high with 14 million people living in poverty.
The report cites parents ‘…not having a safe place for their children to sleep’, ‘…millions of children locked into a cycle of poverty’, ‘…the devastating impact of the closure of hundreds of Children’s Centres’ and‘…the concern that hundreds of children are at greater risk of harm due to rapidly deteriorating child protection services.’
The UN paints a bleak picture that is unfortunately one witnessed by Home-Start staff and volunteers on a daily basis. The impact of Universal Credit’s implementation, the loss of any benefits for struggling families for 5-6 weeks is something we support families with regularly. The choices made by parents to feed their children or heat their home and the resulting issues when parents choose not to pay their rent in order to clothe their children. These are very real choices faced by the families we support – the very real impact is felt by the children of these families, the children that Home-Start exists to help, to make their lives better. But how can we make a difference to a child’s happiness, security, their school readiness when the background is often a family on the brink who cannot afford to properly house, feed or clothe their children?
This is the impact of the political choice that was ‘Austerity’. More and more children thrown into poverty, more and more parents accessing foodbanks. And amongst this daily struggle, increasing mental health issues for both parents and children that not only affect us today, but store up huge issues for the future. The report cites a greater need for mental health services and people being pushed towards more expensive services that can’t turn them away, like A&E. This costs the economy more that it would to invest in prevention.
We provide specialist mental health support via our Mums In Mind peri-natal mental illness course, provided accross the county in order to support Mums (and Dads) experiencing post-natal illness. Our provision is limited by the funding we can secure, despite the fact the Health Visitors accross the County contact us on a weekly basis to refer Mums in desperate need of support that cannot be accessed elsewhere.
Home-Start is just one of these Early Help, Preventative services that intervene in order to avoid crisis, saving the economy money and supporting families on the brink. Home-Start is just one of many charities that suffered loss of funding with the onset of austerity. When once, Local Authorities used to fund Home-Starts as a critical service that filled the gap between universal services and social care, now they can no longer do so. The families we are now able to support are solely due to generous donations, corporate support and finite grant funding that diminishes year on year. The funding allows us to reach around 300 families a year in Leicester and Leicestershire. Our referrals show that the need we support is ever more complex, and the number of families we cannot support is growing due to simple lack of funding and hours.
Things need to change to provide our children and our future a better chance. Changes to the welfare system need to be reconsidered. Support to those that slip through the gaps in the system, the gaps that were there in 1973 when Margaret Harrison first conceived Home-Start, has to be funded by Government. Where Local Authorities can no longer afford or provide the support necessary, something needs to change to facilitate charity’s role in providing critical early help, preventative services.
Stuart Sullivan, CEO Home-Start Horizons