The Safety Net is Gone

Post date: 
05 August 2020

To understand the impact of child poverty on the lives of children and families in England better, CPAG, the Child Welfare Inequalities Project (CWIP) and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) conducted a survey of social workers between January and March 2020 to ask them about the experiences of the families they work with. Social workers were asked about the prevalence and severity of poverty among the families they work with; changes to the social security system and cuts to services, and how these changes have affected families; and finally how poverty affects their ability to conduct effective social work with children and families. Read the report

Key findings

Prevalence and severity of poverty
Social workers told us that the vast majority of the families they work with are living in poverty. Families are experiencing food insecurity, homelessness, an inability to keep warm and stress associated with debt issues on a regular basis. Nearly all respondents (94 per cent) told us that the prevalence and severity of poverty experienced by families they work with has increased in recent years.

Impact on effective social work
Social workers reported that working effectively with families who are living in poverty is more challenging. Common experiences ranged from the practical challenges of families not being able to afford travel to appointments, or those posed by insecure work which makes it difficult to arrange or attend appointments, through to the emotional barriers arising from the stress experienced by parents facing financial strain trying to meet their children’s needs with insufficient financial resources.

Impact of changes to the social security system
Social workers were asked about how changes to the social security system have affected the families they work with, for example cuts to benefit levels, the introduction of UC, and policies such as the two-child limit, the ‘bedroom tax’, and the benefit cap which disproportionately affect families with children. 78 per cent of respondents reported that over half of the families they worked with had been affected by these changes. The adequacy of benefit levels was a key issue raised by social workers.

Impact of cuts to services for children and families
Social workers were asked about the impact of cuts to services for children and families on their work. Respondents overwhelmingly told us that the lack of support services in local communities had a negative impact on the families they work with, and led to situations escalating in severity as there was little scope for preventative work. Cuts to child and adolescent mental health services were most frequently cited by respondents, but children’s centres, youth services, libraries and cuts to more preventative aspects of local authority children’s services (e.g. early help) were also mentioned frequently by respondents.

  • The impact of poverty on the ability of families to support and protect children needs to be addressed across government departments, ideally as part of a cross-government child poverty strategy.
  • The impact of the cuts to local government on the ability of services to support children to be cared for safely within their families and communities must be urgently addressed through the provision of adequate funding to local government and other support services for children and families.