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Archive for the ‘Poverty’ Category

Today we are going to the funeral of one of our service users.  In the ten years that I have been involved in this kind of work I have been to far too many of these.  As with any other funeral it is a time to reflect on the good memories we have, which really helps us to forget about the challenges people face and ensure we bring their humanity to the fore.

The guy whose funeral it is today was a fantastic story teller; and he had some great stories.  What I’ll remember about him is the way in which he always told his tales in such hushed tones that you had to lean in to hear him properly, it created fantastic anticipation for what you were about to hear…

The other side to this for us is how the other people we support cope with the death of a friend.  For many it is a double edged sword, not only is there the grief of a lost friend to deal with but also the reminder of how fragile their own life could be.  We aim to use this fragility as a way to power motivation to change, but sometimes it pushes people deeper into their feelings of hopelessness.

That’s why we can never lose hope!

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Listening to BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show yesterday left me feeling deflated.

In a debate about the archaic cliché “the deserving and undeserving poor” the overwhelming message coming back from callers and interviewees seems to be that we should stop giving out state benefits to those who are not deemed to be deserving of them, i.e. those who do not actively try to secure work, those who have ‘too many’ children, those with addictions and endemic social problems. 

One particular caller spoke of her belief that the children of these so-called undeserving poor were not at fault for their situation and therefore should not be deprived of the benefits afforded to their parents to care for them.   This was met by a counter argument that this was not the way to support these children…but not followed up with any productive suggestion of how the state should intervene to support them and break the cycle of poverty and benefit dependence. 

What struck me throughout this debate was people’s inability to make the link between the children in question who are often lacking in balanced diet, education and opportunities; the “deserving poor”, and the adults being described as “undeserving”.  These deserving children are the undeserving adults of tomorrow and I can’t help but wonder when and how exactly these callers and politicians will nail down the transition from one to the other?   Taking benefits away from this group of people is not going to miraculously fix society’s ills, but rather exacerbate them.   So long as we live in a society that seeks to deprive those without skills, opportunities and education, there is always going to be a need for the support workers in organisations such as Simon On The Streets.   It will be a fantastic day when there is no need for our service!

Helen, Simon on the Streets

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According to a report out today:  “The gap between the poorest pupils and their better-off peers in struggling  schools in England is wider than in other schools, research suggests.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14082644

In schools below the national average standard a Sutton Trust study found that primary school children eligible for free school meals were half as likely to achieve their targetted standards as other pupils and by secondary school this had dropped to one third as likely.  The BBC news report commented that “these attainment gaps are significantly larger than the gaps between free school meals-eligible pupils in all schools and their peers who are not eligible for free school meals” .

It seems, from the news report, that this is to cause a high level of focus on these underperforming schools, and through them target the children who are struggling.  Although this is a necessary measure there is little or no mention of interventions outside of school.  From our experience of working with adults who have been undeperforming poverty stricken children it seems obvious that support needs to be offered in the homelife to give any chance at all of positive changes in the school life.  It’s a bit like focusing on achieving housing for a rough-sleeper without taking account of any of their other issues.  But sadly it seems by the time someone has ended up sleeping-rough or similar they are fairly used to having their life divided up into silos of support need instead of being treated as a whole person.

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The Children’s Society yesterday reported on the numbers of pre-teen runaways increasing (link below) and the risks that these young people face once they have fled their home or care. The report noted that a child runs away from home every five minutes in the UK and one in three of these will go unreported.

As a society we seem easily able to understand the impact that this type of thing has on children and how unacceptable it is that they are left in such a vulnerable position. The report also said:

“Agencies are unaware of the scale and nature of the problem and often fail to see runaways as children in need. Yet the report reveals that a quarter of them are forced to leave, often fleeing violence, abuse and chaos at home.”

For us we know these young people who miss out on a good start in life and then slip through the net of services all too often end up as adults with some fairly challenging support needs. The tough bit for us to swallow is when these people aren’t children anymore ‘as a society’ we seem to think differently. But they are the same people with the same traumatic pasts, they simply can’t be seen as ‘helpless’ anymore even though they are officially vulnerable adults.

A few hundred years ago these people were known as ‘sturdy beggars’, and were punished for begging when they were physically able to work. Today society is still obsessed with people’s physical ability to work and blames ‘choices’ to become drug or alcohol dependent adults or their irrational and problematic behaviour as the reason for their situation. As the above shows we have to get away from the physical and have more capacity to work with the emotional and psychological state if people in this situation are to find a way to reach their own potential.

http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/news-views/press-release/report-worrying-new-trends-increasing-pre-teen-and-male-runaways

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The local Government Ombudsman has expressed concerns around how Local Authourities behave when people seek help and advice around their homelessness issues in the current economic climate.  ‘Gatekeeping’ is the term that keeps popping up.  We certainly find it frustrating that the people we support who really struggle to engage well with support services and have many complex support needs can find themselves not only wanting help but needing to be motivated enough to fight hard in order to get what they are entitled to.

Dr Jane Martin, Ombudsman and Chair of the Commission for Local Administration in England, said:

“The complaints we receive suggest councils should consider how they meet their responsibilities to homeless people. We see too many cases where individuals have suffered injustice at a particularly precarious moment in their lives when they most needed help.

“Often extremely vulnerable, they can find themselves sleeping rough or on people’s sofas, struggling to find the foothold that would allow them to change their circumstances. When councils fail to give them a helping hand at that key moment, it can affect that individual for years.

“I am concerned that more people could now suffer injustice because of the combined impact of a tough economic climate and the serious budget pressures on councils. It’s really important that councils are alert to this very significant risk. We want to help them understand the dangers and take action to avoid mistakes.”

For more info: http://www.lgo.org.uk/news/2011/jul/lgo-highlights-councils-failings-legal-duties-homeless-people/

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More news of Family Finance

Further to yesterday’s blog post  (Fairness?) the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have released a report on income standards for 2011.   (see the full report at http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/minimum-income-standard-2011-full.pdf ).  The part that fits with what we were saying yesterday, in summary is:

“For  families with children, by contrast, the earnings required to make ends meet  have risen much faster than living costs, because Child Benefit has been frozen  and tax credits reduced for many families. Most importantly, tax credits  helping low-income families to cover childcare costs have been cut. Typically,  families requiring childcare would have to earn over 20 per cent more in 2011  than in 2010 to meet the shortfall. ”

 

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It’s really tough trying to find absolutes in defining causes of homelessness.  But one theme that is hugely common amongst our service users is having challenging childhoods.  There’s a bit of a myth around homelessness – that it ‘could happen to anyone’.  Strictly speaking that is true, but in reality the overwhelming majority are from poverty striken backgrounds.  Perhaps Tuesday 7th June’s BBC1 show at 10:35 will shed some light on this.

POOR KIDS:

Documentary telling the stories of some of the 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK. It is one of the worst child poverty rates in the  industrialised world, and successive governments continue to struggle to bring  it into line. So who are these children, and where are they living?  Under-represented, under-nourished and often under the radar, 3.5 million  children should be given a voice. And this powerful film does just that.

Eight-year-old Courtney, 10-year-old Paige and 11-year-old Sam live in  different parts of the UK. Breathtakingly honest and eloquent, they give  testament to how having no money affects their lives: lack of food, being  bullied and having nowhere to play. The children might be indignant about their  situation now, but this may not be enough to help them. Their thoughts on their  futures are sobering.

Sam’s 16-year-old sister Kayleigh puts it all into context, as she tells how  the effects of poverty led her to take extreme measures to try and escape it  all.

Poor Kids puts the children on centre stage, and they command it with honesty  and directness. It’s time for everyone to listen.

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