Ensuring there is choice in financial help
For Challenge Poverty Week 2020, this blog post from Mhairi Reid on behalf of the Life Changes Trust and their Advisory Group, takes a look at how the Young People with Care Experience Programme responded to the new challenge of COVID-19.
‘It’s important not to always look at the macro level, we also need to look at the small things that give people choices and chances. We provided immediate and grassroots support for young people and it’s important to recognise that this might be what people need at that moment in time to get them through the day or the week or the month. It’s not always about getting people to the end goal, it’s sometimes about helping them make life a little better right now.’
Advisory Group Member
Young people with care experience are all individuals with unique talents, skills and potential. As a group, they also face significant challenges. At the Life Changes Trust, we believe that in tackling these challenges it’s important to invest directly in young people and get alongside them. We think young people themselves are best placed to decide what can make a difference to them.
Challenging poverty in all its forms is a thread that runs through almost every initiative from the Trust’s Young People with Care Experience Programme, and our commitment to challenging poverty has deepened as we support young people through the current public health crisis.
In the early stages of the pandemic we decided that providing funding directly to young people was the best approach we could take during such a challenging time. We knew that lockdown would deepen inequalities and exacerbate existing issues around poverty, mental health, physical wellbeing, loneliness and much more.
Working with members of our Advisory Group we understood that other lifelines and sources of support had stopped and we wanted to design a grants fund so that we could be proactive in meeting the more immediate needs of young people with care experience during this time.
The Keep Well Fund
Within three weeks, and after countless hours on Zoom, the Trust and our Advisory Group had co-produced and launched an individual grants initiative offering up to £250 to young people with care experience to improve their physical and/or mental wellbeing during this crisis. We called it the Keep Well Fund.
The response was overwhelming. With additional funding kindly donated by a range of funders (Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the William Grant Foundation, the Cattanach Trust, Cycling Scotland and Inspiring Scotland), we were able to offer 691 funding awards and awarded over £138,000 directly to young people with care experience.
As we read through each application it was sobering to see the confirmation of much of what we already know – that young people with experience of the care system are disproportionately affected by poverty in all its forms. It is vital that we acknowledge this reality and let young people know that we see and hear them.
An applicant told us: “The kids being off nursery and school the days are getting harder to fill with activities for us as a family. I am not in a position financially to invest in crafts or games to keep the household fulfilled, active and as normal as possible at such uncertain times. Basic household supplies such as food, toiletries are running low which is adding more stress to our situation. I am currently still working full time nightshift and trying to keep on top of everything. It definitely feels like a mountain sometimes.”
In terms of what we learnt about poverty, the numbers are stark. Nearly a quarter of the young people with care experience who applied to the Keep Well Fund came from the most deprived areas of Scotland. Almost three-quarters of applicants came from the top five most deprived areas and forty-two percent of those who applied were unemployed. Furthermore, applicants who were in employment often expressed concerns about the security of their jobs and/or stated that they were still experiencing financial shortfalls (in-work poverty).
The financial pressures - and related challenges of food and digital poverty - that many face have been amplified during the pandemic. Although financial hardship was a recurring experience across almost all applicants, some young people such as those who have experienced homelessness, those who have experienced the justice system, and young people seeking asylum, appear to be particularly exposed. These applications magnified the multiple layers and complexity of inequality often experienced by young people with care experience. Our Advisory Group was clear that we know that someone can have experience of care but also have experience of other inequalities. It was important for us to try and reach these young people through the Keep Well Fund.
It was also clear from applications that technology and data poverty remain highly prevalent. Over half of the grants made by the Trust supported the purchase of mobiles, laptops, tablets and other forms of digital technology. Digital exclusion often prevents young people from receiving support and engaging in activities that not only promote their well-being, but also have the potential to radically improve their life chances such as further/higher education.
The power of choice
The events of this year have highlighted the inequalities that continue to stifle potential and limit quality of life. This year has also showcased the determination of the human spirit and our capacity to care for one another. We have been encouraged to hear stories of changes to policy and practice that allow people to be more responsive and flexible, such as the expansion of the Connecting Scotland scheme to support care leavers.
As one of our Advisory Group Members put it: “‘A real positive has been hearing how much of a protective factor some support services are for young people with care experience and its once again highlighted how important human social contact is for young people, particularly those with experience of care.“
The applications to the Fund also highlighted, once again, the ongoing determination of young people to take control of their circumstances in ways that promote their well-being. It has shown us how important this type of accessible, personalised and flexible funding is for young people with care experience as we seek to offer support.
As we seek to challenge poverty this week and every week going forward, funders, policymakers and practitioners must all continue to listen, learn and reflect to ensure the support we provide, and the way in which we provide it, is what young people need. Providing opportunities where young people have choice and control to decide what would make a difference in their own lives is vital. We all need to hold the power in our own lives.
The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of CELCIS or our funders.
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