Giving a fuller picture of childhood poverty
Last week representatives from the government’s Child Poverty Unit (CPU) met with children, young people and their support workers at our New Londoners project to speak about experiences of poverty and the services delivered by our project.
The aim of the visit was to give the CPU an opportunity to learn more about the experiences of poverty among particularly vulnerable groups of children and young people, and to see how we have responded to this situation. New Londoners has supported young refugees, migrants, Roma and trafficked children since 1996.
The government has made clear its commitment to ending child poverty by 2020, in line with the Child Poverty Act 2010. The CPU helps to achieve this by bringing together the Department for Education, the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Treasury to develop a new Child Poverty Strategy every three years.
Sharing ideas and experiences with government officials
The visit was a unique opportunity for young people, families and practitioners to share their stories directly with government officials, and talk about the problems they face in trying to resolve difficult situations.
Clair Cooke, Programme Manager at the New Londoners said: 'We were very pleased that the CPU wanted to know about issues that directly impact families and young people affected by the immigration system. It was a valuable opportunity to highlight the inequalities and hardships they face.
'All too often these children and young people suffer multiple deprivation as a result of systems that prohibit them from meeting even the most basic of needs causing them unnecessary additional stress, anxiety, isolation and health problems.'
One of the young people explained: ‘Speaking about the issues I've faced and am still facing because of child poverty makes me feel like someone out there is listening and cares for young people. However, I would like to see something happen after what we said.’
Two young people describe being caught in the immigration system
The scale of poverty among some vulnerable groups, such as young asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants, is currently not picked up in the government’s measurements of child poverty. This is something we highlighted in our joint consultation response on measuring child poverty.
During the visit, two young people bravely shared their stories.
One young person, who had come to the UK as an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child, told the group about the difficulties she faced as a care leaver because of the immigration restrictions on the support she received.
Another young person, who had been left in the UK by her father at age 13 and was now undocumented, was made homeless and destitute as a child, and experienced abuse and exploitation because she had no-one looking out for her.
Both young people spoke about how immigration restrictions meant that they weren’t able to go to university or continue with their education. Their stories echoed findings from our report I don't feel human on children and young people’s experiences of destitution.
Our practitioners at New Londoners explained how the holistic one-to-one support and advocacy they offer these children helps them to overcome some of the difficulties. This encompasses not only the issues raised by their immigration status, but also has the flexibility to deal with interrelated issues such as housing, education and healthcare.
Families in crisis
CPU staff also met a father and his two young children from an EU country. The father and his wife had been working in the construction and hospitality industries to support their family until they were evicted from their home with no notice. Their unscrupulous landlord made them immediately homeless.
The father explained the important role of staff at New Londoners who acted as advocates for them when seeking access to tax credits, housing benefit and maternity allowance which they were entitled to but did not know about.
The family talked about how this process took almost 18 months and the gap in their finances was vitally filled by crisis loans. Our recent report, Nowhere to Turn?: Changes to emergency support, however, reveals that money given to local authorities for these funds has almost halved in the last three years.
We will continue to work closely with the CPU to ensure that these vulnerable groups are included in the government’s next child poverty strategy due for publication in 2014.