five children sitting on bench front of trees

We asked Meg Thomas, Head of Policy, Participation, and Projects at Includem, to tell us about the work being done at Includem and how it relates to the wellbeing economy. Read her guest blog below.

At Includem, we work 24/7, 365 days a year, to support families when they need it the most. We provide intensive, bespoke support to young people and families in challenging circumstances, building solid relationships of trust to help young people realise their full potential.

For many of the young people and families we support, entrenched poverty is the most common and persistent issue they face. This has of course been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our families report regular issues affording the basics, telling us they struggle to put food on the table, pay the electric bill, and cover the costs of internet access. Social security payments are too low, wages are often insufficient, and the cost of living is too high. This in turn has caused a deterioration in mental health.

That is why discussions of a wellbeing economy are so greatly welcomed – a shift towards a social understanding of the economy beyond the narrow parameters of GDP could provide a vital framework (and impetus) for policies that end poverty and give families such as those we support a strong and reliable financial foundation.

To develop a wellbeing economy, it is crucial that the voices of those at the margins of society – who face the sharpest consequences of current economic policy – are at its heart. The increased emphasis on lived experience in policy development across Scotland gives us reason to be hopeful this can happen.

Initiatives such as Get Heard Scotland enable those affected by poverty to have their voices heard on the policies and decisions that impact their lives; Youth Justice Voices has given young people with care and justice experience a direct route to shape national policy and practice; and The Promise has put those with experience of the care system it is set to transform, front and centre.

At Includem, we too have focussed on amplifying the voices of our young people and families, conducting research on Digital Access and Poverty to highlight the key issues they face, as well as ensuring young people’s lived experience shapes our policy submissions to the Scottish Government.

But while progress is being made in Scotland, there are significant engagement barriers that must be dismantled to ensure marginalised voices are fully and authentically involved at all stages and in all areas of policymaking, service design and delivery.

Without access to equipment, the finances for broadband costs and electricity, or sufficient digital literacy and confidence, many families are unjustly excluded from fully participating in society.

A key obstacle is digital exclusion, an issue that has become particularly prominent over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Without access to equipment, the finances for broadband costs and electricity, or sufficient digital literacy and confidence, many families are unjustly excluded from fully participating in society. Their voices are lost in the process. It is imperative that children, young people, and families can participate in decisions that affect them, and digital access is a crucial pillar in ensuring these rights are upheld.

From our experience of delivering intensive family support services, we also know that both stigma and a distrust of statutory services can prevent young people and families from engaging – particularly as families in poverty are 10 times more likely to have their children on the child protection register and to come into care.

Regrettably, this is rarely considered in discussions of tackling poverty and centring the voices of lived experience. I was particularly struck by Dr Calum Webb’s piece on Child protection and removal: the hidden inequality where he remarks on reviewing thirteen of the top selling and topcited books on the topic of inequality, injustice, and its consequences, including four of the highest cited books on the public health consequences of inequality, only to discover none of these books had a dedicated chapter about child protection or social work.

Despite the fact that families in poverty are more likely to receive state intervention, the most deprived local authorities in England “have seen the greatest cuts to their preventative spending, fuelling more disruptive and damaging forms of intervention.”  I would argue that true preventative spending addresses the underlying causes of poverty, not the behaviours resulting from it. 

Fundamentally, parents should not fear being separated from their children because of poverty – a structural inequality which current economic and social policies perpetuate.

I am Australian. I had an aunt who was from Australia’s First Nation. She was one of Australia’s Stolen Generation where children were forcibly removed from their families solely due to race. If current practices continue, we risk having another stolen generation, this time due to poverty.

It is vital that young people and families are given the space to be open and honest about their experiences and struggles without fear or likelihood of consequences. If we do not urgently create such an environment, they will continue to be afraid of speaking out, go unheard by decision-makers, and their voices lost.

As a society, our collective mission must be to ensure that those who are most marginalised have their voices both heard and acted upon. Ultimately, all children, young people, and families should be able to exert their right to be heard. Only then can we truly shape a wellbeing economy for all. 

Meg Thomas is the Head of Policy, Participation, and Projects at Includem.

References

Bywaters, P., Scourfield, J., Jones, C., Sparks, T., Elliott, M., Hooper, J., McCarten, C., Shapira, M., Bunting, L., Daniel, B (2018) Child welfare inequalities in the four nations of the UK
https://pure.hud.ac.uk/en/publications/child-welfare-inequalities-in-the-four-nations-of-the-uk

Includem (2020) Poverty and the Impact of Coronavirus on Young People and Families in Scotland
https://www.includem.org/resources/Poverty-and-the-Impact-of-Coronavirus-on-Young-People-and-Families—Includem—Oct-2020.pdf

Includem (2020) Staying Connected: Assessing digital inclusion during the coronavirus pandemic
https://www.includem.org/resources/staying-connected-includem-digital-inclusion-report-may-2020.pdf

The Poverty Alliance Get Heard Scotland
https://www.povertyalliance.org/get-involved/get-heard-scotland/

The Promise
https://www.thepromise.scot/

Staf and The Children’s and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ) Youth Justice Voices
https://www.staf.scot/blogs/blogs/category/youth-justice-voices Webb, C (2020) Child protection and removal: the hidden inequality
https://socstudiesresearch.wordpress.com/2020/10/26/child-protection-and-removal-the-hidden-inequality/

Webb, C (2020) Child protection and removal: the hidden inequality
https://socstudiesresearch.wordpress.com/2020/10/26/child-protection-and-removal-the-hidden-inequality/


For further information on Includem’s policy and research work, including government consultation submissions, please see: https://www.includem.org/about-policy-research/

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