A group of children, young people and parents with experience of living in a low income in London, have this week launched a new report, Pushing back: Our take on life in poverty in London. The group, known as the ‘A Different Take’, worked with CPAG and the University of Leeds between January and June 2019, to discuss their experiences of living on a low income and to develop their own agenda and solutions. In this blog post, 15-year-old Londoner Beatrice Franks reports on her experience.
In the first half of this year, I attended CPAG’s ‘A Different Take’ sessions. The aim of the sessions was to hold productive discussions on the main problems affecting low-income families and young people. Ideas and experiences shared in the sessions were made into a report.
Every Sunday, a group of 8-10 of us shed light on our personal experiences of being on a low income, recommending solutions and challenging assumptions of people who struggle. The sessions showed the value of listening to each other’s experiences and proved that, behind the hard statistics, there are people; people with valuable voices to be heard.
As a 15-year-old girl living in east London, I can’t deny there are many issues affecting my generation: from the extreme pressures of school to our capital’s sudden increase in knife violence. When Alice W from CPAG told me about the ‘A Different Take’ sessions at a Hackney Citizens event, I knew I was keen to be involved. As someone who has been on free school meals and has access to a pupil premium, I was intrigued by the sessions.
I found the sessions to be a comfortable, open place in which to contribute ideas and opinions on issues such as the impact of poverty, the education system, the knife crime crisis and the growing housing problem – to name a few. Throughout the sessions, I felt my voice was truly listened to.
One of the first topics we talked about was how it can feel coming from a lower-income background in school. Our education system is underfunded and that has an impact on every child. In addition, the strain and pressure on students is unbearable for many. However, something we all agreed on was that children from lower-income backgrounds are undeniably hit harder by the consequences of these cuts. We talked about how the cost of school uniform is increasing, with many lower-income parents having to work extra hours to simply clothe their children for the school day.
We shared experiences of how, in many schools, the options for those on free school meals can be considerably less than for those who pay. And, we discussed how valuable educational trips are not sufficiently covered by the pupil premium at the majority of secondary schools and sixth forms. Subsequently, many students from lower-income backgrounds are not going on trips that their peers are. Disparities like these leave little to the imagination as to why those on free school meals and those receiving the pupil premium are 27 per cent less likely to achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C, including English and maths.
Another key topic covered by the discussions was the housing crisis and the impact not having a home can have on family life. We discussed how not having a home can have a large effect on school and how staff members in school don’t always understand the effects it can have on a student. We talked about how many families, with various incomes, don’t feel they can afford to live in London and stay in their local area. The housing market in London has become unaffordable for working people with many – often large – families being forced to inhabit unbearably small spaces.
A unanimous opinion throughout the sessions was that the government is not sufficiently investing in young people in inner-city areas, resulting in an unprecedented rise in knife crime. At a large proportion of secondary schools and primary schools, extracurricular activities can cost as much as £10. We shared experiences of how, for many working parents, the cost of a one-hour extracurricular club can be their hourly salary. Fewer students are getting involved in sports and games out of school. Many schemes which were once there to help give less well-off students a boost have been cut back. A large proportion of youth clubs, places which many children and teenagers went to for support, have been shut down. With children’s services being cut by just under £1 billion over the past five years, we agreed that many young people feel disenfranchised and removed from society.
Throughout the project, not only have I had the chance to share my thoughts and experiences, but I have had the invaluable opportunity to listen to the thoughts and experiences of others. We have talked about an array of topics in the productive discussions and I am hopeful that the conclusions we made to go in the report will be acted on with positive effect.