Money matters, so why do we make it so hard to get financial support?

14 December 2021

Topic: Health and Wellbeing, Financial Insecurity
Author: Claire Burns

A father on a sofa with a young son and a babyAs families continue to struggle financially this winter, CELCIS's Director (Acting) Claire Burns looks at how financial support can get to people who need it most and the new ways local authorities are working with families to do this.

This article first appeared in Holyrood Magazine on 13 December 2021.

The Scottish Government’s announcement that the Scottish Child Payment will be doubled to £20 per week from April 2022 is welcome but we share the concerns of many anti-poverty campaigners who argue that this is too late to help families through this winter – a winter that will bring with it rising inflation and significant increases in fuel and energy costs that will undoubtedly affect the ability of many families to meet even their basic needs.

The Child Payment is one of many types of financial support families on low or no income could potentially access. Its key strength is the unrestricted nature of this regular support: this is not a ‘crisis loan’ for which a family has to get to, and prove, a point of desperation.

Anti-poverty work should be at the heart of providing support to children and young people in need of care and protection, their families, carers, and care leavers, as the impact of financial pressure on any household has significant effects. The work of researcher Professor Paul Bywaters on child welfare inequalities in the UK has made this connection clear: child abuse and neglect are often unrecognised consequences of poverty and children in the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods are over ten times more likely to be in care or on a protection plan.

Supporting families during the COVID-19 pandemic has provided helpful insights into how to more effectively contribute to the economic health and wellbeing of families – and what families don’t want. For example, there was a strong reaction from some organisations – and more importantly individual and families themselves – about the use of food vouchers. These were felt to be stigmatising and demeaning, with the decisions behind this form of support stemming from often unfounded notions of risk and mistrust.

This led to calls for direct payment of money to individuals and families. This approach was taken by North Lanarkshire Council who decided to distribute money directly to families and for families to have agency in the decisions to support their children’s wellbeing during the pandemic. With support from CELCIS, this approach was based on several core values and principles: listening to children, young people and their families and valuing their views of what could make a difference; supporting conversations on how the funding could be spent; and ensuring the process for assessment and payment of funds was as non-bureaucratic as possible. This approach resulted in improved mental health and wellbeing in families, and children being happier and having more confidence because of the opportunities that the payments allowed. The payments reduced the pressures, even temporarily, in the household and some of the financial difficulties that had resulted because of the pandemic.

These principles are being mirrored elsewhere. As part of the financial support for councils from the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 pandemic response, Glasgow City Council will be using some of this funding to provide a one-off winter holiday payment to parents of pupils who are eligible for free school meals. Notably, the term ‘winter payments’ is being used, much less stigmatising compared to ‘crisis loans’. After all, all older people get a Winter Fuel Payment universally, regardless of income.

Providing financial support that truly helps families whenever they need it is possible. We need to listen to what people tell us will help – they will always hold some of the solutions; ensure that language and approaches are less stigmatising and more empowering; and we need to support our national and local services to use creative ideas to respond to what children and families need.

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