Happy, Healthy Starts

Latest figures show that child poverty is rising. There are currently 4 million children living in poverty in the UK, and there are projected to be 5.1 million by 2021. While the government doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge this reality, most starkly illustrated by its refusal to discuss the impact of universal credit on child poverty, others are keen to find practical ways to address the problem. Child Poverty Action Group has been supporting Orbit with its Healthy, Happy Starts campaign, which looks at the role housing providers can play in tacking child poverty.

Crucially, Orbit started this project by talking to children and their parents living in poverty. They wanted to understand the challenges families face, and what would improve their lives. The 40,000- home housing association houses 16,000 children under 16 across the Midlands, East and south-east England, but their findings will be useful across the country. They found several issues they could address with practical measures – both to ease financial pressure on parents and improve the environment for everyone in the community.

Firstly, Orbit looked at what they could do to improve the home environment. They decided to keep flooring and curtains in properties when the tenants changed, and to provide furniture packs for those struggling financially (overall, only 2% of social housing is provided to tenants furnished – and usually all carpets and curtains are ripped out after a family leaves). Next, they looked to the wider environment around the home, and how they could create safe, decent outdoor spaces for play – in keeping with the community’s wants and needs.

The project also focussed on how families can maximise their incomes, with Orbit committing to provide advice about social security, money management, alternatives to high-cost credit and sustainable employment (precarious jobs with unpredictable hours are a huge concern). They want to help their customers feel in control of their finances, acknowledging that household budgets can be stretched to the point that even small additional costs can create problems. These can include school costs like trips and uniforms. Orbit is working with us at Child Poverty Action Group to implement our ‘Cost of the School Day’ programme with an initial pilot to identify when additional costs put pressure on families or mean children are excluded, and how these barriers can be removed.

As a society we don’t want any children to miss out – but many do because poverty restricts their opportunities. These practical steps can make a huge difference to the lives of children in poorer families. We support Orbit’s call to other housing providers to take on these practices in their communities. As universal credit rolls out across the UK it will leave many families worse off. Local support will be vital to make sure families have the financial resources they need, and that children can be free to enjoy their childhoods.