E-newsletter: ‘Trying to get by': Consulting with children and young people on child poverty
15 September 2011
By Kerry Martin and Ruth Hart - National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER)
The development of the Government's first national Child Poverty Strategy earlier this year was considered by the Office of the Children's Commissioner (OCC) as another opportune time for children and young people's views on child poverty to be gathered, heard and taken seriously.
The OCC captured what they said in the qualitative research, ‘Trying to get by' - Consulting with children and young people on child poverty', which was carried out by the NFER. A total of 73 children and young people from some of the country's most deprived areas (details in full report) were asked what they understood about poverty, what it really means to them, and how it impacts on their lives. They had some straightforward but powerful things to say about poverty and what could be done to address it.
"If you're in poverty, or you don't have much money and you're just trying to get by, you suffer mentally, because you get bullied, unless you're strong enough to shrug it off."
Inequality and disadvantage
In the research, children and young people defined poverty in terms of inequalities, and specifically talked about inequity in terms of access to social experiences and material circumstances throughout childhood, adolescence and early adult life. They told us they could be disadvantaged by a lack of basic equipment such as pens and books. In some schools, teachers did not appear to understand the financial hardships they faced:
"Schools are becoming computer-oriented, and it can be a problem if you haven't got that access, or you've got very limited access."
Children and young people who are poor are accustomed to going without possessions and things that others in society might take for granted, like branded clothing, trips to the cinema, holidays and entertaining friends at home. Limited access to technology also means that young people can feel socially isolated. As a result, developing and maintaining friendships was said to be difficult for those who struggle financially.
Difficult economic times
Young people are aware they are living in difficult economic times and recognise this is making life harder for many people.
"My mum works seven days a week ... [she] starts at like eight o'clock in the morning and comes home at like seven [pm]".
They spoke about just how wearing it is being poor - the relentlessness effort to make ends meet and the impact of this on stress levels, sometimes leading to family breakdown. Young people were not all negative in their views however and many spoke warmly of strong family and community relationships.
In addition to the disadvantages experienced at school, young people identified how poverty can sometimes impact on aspirations around, and access to employment. Youth and lack of experience can place young applicants at a serious disadvantage.
Young people we spoke to saw increases in the cost of further and higher education as a deterrent to self-improvement and expected such increases to have a negative impact on aspirations.
"Young people are the hardest hit. They are going to end up stuck in a cycle of poverty because they can't get the education ... they can't get the jobs ... and it's just going to continue with generations of poverty because they can't escape from it, and ... something must be done to stop that."
Lifting children out of poverty
In order to improve their outcomes, the children and young people involved in the research said they would like:
- a sensitive and flexible benefits system
- far wider access to free or subsidised travel for those who struggle to access either services or a job without it
- socially conscious universities, companies and employers going the extra mile to provide greater
- better publicised and funded opportunities to children and young people whose lives are hard, and
- To be taught about effective money management
We are pleased to report that this exercise has not been in vain and the children's voices in this research are being listened to and acted on. Their views are included in the Government's first national Child Poverty Strategy, which was published on 5 April.
The OCC will continue to draw on this study throughout the next year in their policy work examining the links with child poverty and bullying, family relationships and educational experiences.
By adding to the evidence base to lift children out of poverty with this report, the Children's Commissioner for England hopes that children and young people's voices will have a greater presence in policy discussions and developments to eradicate child poverty in England; this will remain a firm focus for the OCC during the coming months.
Kerry Martin and Ruth Hart are researchers at the NFER. They facilitated the children and young people's discussion groups and worked with the OCC in preparing the final report. The NFER aims to make a difference to learners of all ages, especially to the lives of children and young people, by ensuring research improves the practice and understanding of those who work with and for learners.
Download a copy of the OCC's report ‘Trying to get by' - Consulting with children and young people on child poverty'
For further information about this work, please contact:
Ross Hendry, Director of Policy - Ross.Hendry@childrenscommissioner.gsi.gov.uk