Imagine a ‘pyramid of need’: at the top of the pyramid is a child who is flourishing in life and beneath that child are the building blocks for optimal well-being. At the base of the pyramid is BASIC NEEDS MET, on top of that is LOVE & BELONGING…and on top of that is: PLAY, EXPLORE & LEARN plus FEEL HEARD & UNDERSTOOD, and just beneath the flourishing child is GUIDANCE AND BOUNDARIES. If the foundation is flaky, the pyramid will crash and the child will topple.
Basic human needs—food, water, clothing, sleep and shelter; these are the bare necessities to ensure survival. Without these necessities, children cannot thrive. Now, if you’re not already a parent, imagine that you are one; and you have to choose between switching the heating on in winter, replacing your child’s worn school shoes, buying groceries or paying bus fair to get your child to school? To be cold, late or hungry? And then…once you’ve decided what to sacrifice, imagine having to muster the mental bandwidth to play with your child, listen to and love your child, guide and provide boundaries for your child.
It might just be easier to sit your child in front of the TV for a while, so that you can figure out how to get through the next minute, never mind the next day. And you’ll do this alone because research shows that people with lower incomes are more at risk of social isolation and strained relationships within families than those on higher incomes.
Before the pandemic, there were 4.3 million children living in poverty in the UK, up 200,000 from the previous year—and up 500,000 over the past five years. That’s 31% of children, or nine in a classroom of 30. The trajectory of the numbers is up, even without the impact of Covid-19. The proportion of children living in poverty who are in a household with at least one working adult has also increased sharply across the UK, up from two thirds (67%) five years ago to three quarters (75%).
A recent survey by the NHS has found that for 8% of children aged six to 16 in 2021, parents reported having recently fallen behind with bills and for 4%, parents could not afford to buy enough food or had needed to use a food bank more. Children with a probable mental disorder were more likely to live in households that had fallen behind with bills, rent or mortgage during the pandemic—13% of parents of six- to 16-year-olds with a probable mental disorder reported this, and 9% had become more likely to be unable to afford to buy food, or had used a food bank. This compares with 7% and 3% respectively of those unlikely to have a mental disorder. These findings were similar to levels in 2020. Black and Black British six- to 16-year-olds were about three times more likely to live in a household that had recently fallen behind with bills, rent or mortgage (19%) than children in the White British group (6%).
Rising poverty across the UK is rendering families in already disadvantaged communities unable to cope and it is the children who suffer the most with a range of emotional, psychological and social problems.
At Kids Matter we cannot fix poverty but we can challenge poverty; we can raise our voice in unison against poverty and shine a light on visions for a more just, compassionate and opportunity-filled country. We see, first hand, the effects of poverty on mums, dads and carers—how it affects their children and families. We recognise that confident parenting plays an important part in bridging the gap (between parent and child) created by poverty. Our mission is to reduce the impact of poverty on children through community-based programmes; we engage local churches to equip mums, dads and carers facing disadvantages with the tools to build strong families.
In that moment, where a mum or dad is sitting, head in hands, trying to decide which meals they need to skip this week so that their children can eat, we want them to know that they have people they can turn to, that there are others baring the same burdens—and whilst the pyramid might be fragile; with confidence, competence and community, it will stand. Children will thrive.
Kids Matter is a programme that engages with families and young children before crisis point—it strengthens families by giving mums and dads the tools to be competent, confident parents or caregivers. To get involved, as a volunteer or by financially supporting our programme, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.