Rebecca Spillane, National Co-ordinator for the Local Child Poverty Action Reports at the Improvement Service, writes about continuing engagement with vulnerable groups amid pandemic lockdown
“My plans for engagement activity are in tatters”
“I can’t get groups together to engage with them about poverty”
These are quotes from those leading work on developing their year 2 Local Child Poverty Action Reports. The Equality and Poverty Commission were clear that they wanted to see evidence of engagement and a gathering of the lived experience of poverty within the Local Child Poverty Action Reports. As a result many local areas were making plans to make sure that those with lived experience of poverty could influence future plans.
At the same time as plans for group engagement sessions have been ripped up, many of you have found yourselves working and leading on the Covid-19 response. This may be establishing school hubs, setting up food distribution centres, ensuring free school meal delivery or out delivering food parcels or family activity packs. In these new roles, you are at the heart of the response, targeting and supporting those who are most vulnerable at this time. Among them will be families with children of all ages. Some will have experienced poverty in the past, some will find themselves struggling in a way that they never anticipated.
With each of these interactions, there is a story. Each represents the lived experience of Covid-19, of vulnerability and of poverty. As you interact on a human level, you are likely to ask ‘how are you doing today?’, ‘what will help the most?’, ‘is there anything you need?’ In some cases, you or colleagues will hear more – perhaps in a shielding phone call, about what life is like, what families fear for the future or the immediate worries weighing on their shoulders. Note these stories, write down some quotes. Hold these with real value.
For some, engaging with a big group on a topic such as poverty can be difficult. People are proud and often will chose not to share their experiences. When I worked with the East Lothian Poverty Commission, we sought to gather stories from individuals and groups. Together with one Commissioner, I drank lots of tea and listened to individuals tell their stories. These were often about the choice of buying a weeks worth of cheap noodles to feed their kids or to buy one packet of grapes. They told of the stigma of carrying their ‘free school meal’ lunch bag out of school on a Friday afternoon. They told me they were hungry walking their kids to school. While these are individual experiences, they offer an insight into what many will experience but few will chose to share.
At this point, as you work with your communities, supporting them through the crisis, please see value in asking the question ‘how are you doing?’ and really listening to the response. If your partners in the voluntary sector are also doing this work, ask them to share the stories they hear. Add these quotes and experiences to your Local Child Poverty Action Report and importantly use them to continue to advocate for the importance of addressing child poverty. Words and experiences are powerful in reaching the hearts of those who need to shift resources to make a difference.
You might also be interested in: Impact of Covid-19 on Children and Young people: The response starts locally
For more information contact the National Coordinator Child Poverty Action Reports, Improvement Service: rebecca.spillane@