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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/

Reposted from the OECD Forum Network

By WEAll Ambassadors Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson on behalf of WEAll and the Equality Trust

The coronavirus pandemic is changing the lives of children across the world, with both predictable and unforeseeable short- and long-term effects on children’s development and lifelong well-being. Children are experiencing massive changes in daily routines and education, many in families that are experiencing losses of work, income and loved ones, and fear and anxiety about infection and life beyond the crisis.

In the past, child well-being policies almost inevitably focused on the most vulnerable children – those living in poverty, or in deprived neighbourhoods, those who were refugees, abused or neglected.  In the United Kingdom in recent years, we have had epidemics of knife crime, self-harm and mental illness but these were not accompanied by any policies focused on the underlying root causes of poverty – inequality and austerity. Instead, we saw an emphasis on parenting interventions, as if the wider context were too difficult to tackle. Now, the coronavirus crisis is shifting our perspective, bringing into sharp focus the pre-existing vulnerability of too many children to the politics, policies and practices that perpetuate inequality. We can see that some children are more vulnerable to the impacts of lockdown – school and nursery closures, sheltering in place and physical distancing. But children in some of the more unequal rich countries hardest hit by the pandemic, the United States and United Kingdom, were already less resilient than children in more equal countries, with worse health, well-being and educational attainment. By comparing children in more and less equal societies, we might be able to learn the lessons of how to look after all our children better.

The key to a holistic understanding of how we create population-wide child well-being is grasping the fact that economic inequality – disparities in wealth and income – affects all children within a society. Yes, the poor suffer more, and children living in poverty and deprivation experience a double detriment, and even more so in the current crisis. But there is growing evidence that the effects of living in a more unequal society are felt even among the children of the affluent, well-educated middle and upper classes.

Figure from: Bird P, Pickett KE, Graham H, et al.

“Income inequality and social gradients in children’s height: a comparison of cohort studies from five high-income countries”. BMJ Paediatrics Open 2019; 0:e000568. doi:10.1136/ bmjpo-2019-000568

In our books The Spirit Level (2009) and The Inner Level (2018), we present and interpret the robust and broad evidence of the effects of income inequality on the health and well-being of whole populations. For children, inequality leads to lower child well-being when measured by Unicef indices, as well as worse infant mortality, child obesity, bullying, child maltreatment, teenage pregnancies, educational attainment and social mobility. Indirectly, children are affected by the impact of inequality on parents’ mental and physical health, long working hours, high levels of debt, drug and alcohol abuse and problem gambling.

All of these problems stem from the way in which greater economic inequality increases the importance of social status, class and rank within a society; the way in which material differences create social distances between us. In less equal societies people trust one another less, participate less in civic and cultural life, feel less solidarity with others and suffer more from the day-to-day social comparisons as we experience ourselves through other people’s eyes. There is more anxiety about status, more depression and, on the flip side, more narcissism and self-enhancement as well.  Relationships within wider society and the public realm, in workplaces and schools, and within families are all corrupted by the invidious psychosocial damage caused by inequality. This picture is supported by a wealth of both quantitative and qualitative academic research, across many decades and many disciplines. Brought together, the data tell a coherent story about how desperately we need to reorient our societal goals towards well-being. Politicians tend to think that’s what they’re doing but so often they are clearly not.

Knowledge is the first step in creating change. The OECD’s recent report “Changing the Odds for Vulnerable Children” (2019) will be part of changing the discourse and creating a framework in which to make well-being the primary aim of cross-sector policy making. Intervening to improve child well-being is challenging but we need to step up to the challenges and opportunities for change offered by the coronavirus and demand that policies address root causes and systems so that this generation of children can grow up healthy and resilient. There are many examples of good practice to learn from but one we know well is the Born in Bradford programme. In Bradford, a city in the north of England with high levels of deprivation and ill health, 10 years of collaborative work has created a research-ready, people-powered and data-linked test bed to co-produce, implement and evaluate early life interventions to promote well-being and reduce inequalities. Just as the coronavirus hit, we were building the ActEarly City Collaboratory to provide a whole system environment where the public, scientists, policy leaders and practitioners can work with each other to develop upstream preventive solutions for a healthier, fairer future for children.  Now, the focus has shifted to help the city respond to the immediate crisis and prepare for an inclusive recovery.  We hope that readers of this article will engage with the projects, track our progress and share their own good practices.

Read the OECD’s COVID-19 Policy Responses on Learning Remotely when Schools Close

We are sometimes asked whether the rich and the powerful simply don’t care about children. The answer is, of course, they do – but too often only about their own. That would be less worrying if they used the same schools and health services, but it is dangerous when they don’t. Now, more than ever, we need to foster cultures where we care for each other’s children as for our own, so that we create the policy environment to support all children during and following the coronavirus pandemic.

Finally, we need to listen to children as they tell us about their experiences and their hopes and fears for the future, and be guided by them in setting our priorities. John F. Kennedy said that, “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see”. That is true, but we also need to be alive to the messages children, such as Greta Thunberg, are giving us – about how we have failed them in the past, in the time they could never see, how we are letting them down now as they live through this crisis. They can tell us what we need to do to build their opportunities and their resilience.

Photos: Shutterstock/Liderina and Photo: Shutterstock/Lolostock