Children England and the 4in10 London Child Poverty Network visited one inner London setting and one outer London setting, working with two very different groups of children and young people to gather their ideas on the Mayor’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy

Download the pdf of our full submission to the Mayor's consultation or read the submission below.

  1. Are these the right priorities? Are there other priorities we should consider?

We focussed on the child poverty element of the strategy. As organisations we believe that child poverty is an extremely important priority for London’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy but also that children and young people, as a group who are vulnerable to exclusion because of their age (and are the only age group not protected from discrimination by legislation), should be taken into account across and beyond the priority areas – ie children’s own priorities for improving their experience of growing up in London are by nature priorities for an inclusion strategy.

Whilst we gave each setting the option of focussing on any part of the strategy, and suggested that schools and health were also very relevant to younger people, professionals in both chose child poverty as the most relevant for the groups they work with. You’ll see from our submission, however, that there are clear links between children’s experience of poverty and their health, school experience, leisure and relationships with adults. Even younger children talked about wanting to get a job so that they could earn money, either to buy things for themselves or to contribute to struggling family finances.

  • Group A were all residents of one housing estate in Camberwell, aged roughly from 10 to 18
  • Group B were autistic young people from Waltham Forest using a specialised summer scheme, aged roughly from 11 to 21

Early on in each session we asked the young people to consider as individuals what was best and worst about where they live in London, which gave us an idea of their unprompted priorities for change in the local area.

Common themes across both groups were:

Good things

Things they would change

Being close to a park / green space

Make the area safer

Amenities like football pitches and youth clubs

Make the area cleaner

Places to buy food

More police presence

 

Themes that diverged between the groups:

 

Good things

Things they would change

Group A

Family and friends being nearby

Gangs

Community activities

Threat of arrest / imprisonment by police

 

Not having enough money

Housing issues – including bad plumbing, rats, mice and cockroaches

Smoking

 

Group B

Quiet spaces

More things to do, including music events and youth clubs

The local cinema

Easier access to amenities – either make them closer or improve transport links

 

Both groups readily identified what it was like to be a child in a poor family in London – whether through personal experience or indirect knowledge. Their observations about the realities of poverty for children and families focussed on

  • Food – not being able to afford good quality food, going hungry
  • School – not having the clothes, equipment and money for school trips that other students have, and possibly being bullied as a result
  • Adults – children can feel frustrated that their parents are spending money on the wrong things (eg cigarettes) but also be affected by the sadness of parents who are struggling to provide for their children (“parents might feel heartbroken’ commented one young person)

Several young people in group A commented throughout the session on how expensive they found the sort of food they bought themselves (ie snacks, crisps) and wished the prices were lower.

 

  1. What evidence of inequalities do you or your organisation have that we could include in our evidence base?

The recurring themes in each group starkly illustrate the inequality in the lives of young Londoners, partially in disparities between the two groups and partially in both groups’ awareness that life can be, and is, very different for others in London – whether because those others live in a different area, have a higher income or experience fewer systemic barriers.

Security and the police
Both groups talked about wanting their area to feel safer, and wanting to feel more protected by the police. However this manifested itself in different ways: the young people in Waltham Forest had a generalised sense of insecurity and wanting to see more police on the streets, while the young people in Camberwell had specific fears about being both the victim of crime (knife crime and gang activity) and the subject of criminal justice (being arrested or imprisoned) in addition to some wanting more police stations in order to feel safe. One young person in Camberwell’s main ‘message for the Mayor’ (included below) was that all areas should have security, not just ‘places that are expensive because they can afford it’.

Housing
Young people in the Camberwell estate mentioned housing problems frequently and casually – as though these issues are ongoing and ubiquitous for them personally. Their two concerns were the poor quality of their own homes, with leaking pipes and frequent infestations of mice, rats and cockroaches; and the lack of new homes for others, with new flats being put up for sale rather than offered for rent at affordable prices (“They are not renting the new houses only selling them which people cannot afford” said more than one young person). They perceive homelessness to be a big problem in their area.

Inclusive and accessible spaces
Young people in the Waltham Forest group clearly appreciated the facilities they already had – such as parks, the cinema and public transport – but didn’t feel that their area offered enough for autistic people, young or older. Some wanted the more general facilities, such as libraries and cinemas, to be more accessible, while others with particular passions wanted more accessible opportunities to pursue these – specifically live music performances and basketball. The most commonly mentioned way to make these activities more accessible for them was to make them quieter, less crowded, cheaper and with a chance to meet individual performers. “A theme park for autistic people (less loud music, no queues)” – suggests gathering many activities into one accessible space would also help.

In both group sessions children were aware of poverty and inequality in the capital, whether through lived experience or observation. They spoke about the issues referenced in statistics on low pay/ child poverty, food poverty, housing, school costs, and access to youth and community services:

  • Government figures show that 37 per cent of children in London are living in poverty after housing costs, compared to 29 per cent in England.[1] However independent research from the Centre for Research in Social Policy and Trust for London finds that 60 per cent of children in London are in households with incomes below the Minimum Income Standard (MIS), which sets a minimum income needed for a standard of living considered acceptable by the public, compared to 45 per cent nationally. This figure rises to 80 per cent of London children in lone parent families.[2]
  • 40,679 three-day emergency food parcels were given to children in London by Trussell Trust foodbanks alone in the year between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017.[3]
  • Children living in overcrowded, inadequate housing are more likely to contract meningitis, have respiratory issues, mental health problems and miss school more frequently due to illness.[4]
  • 63 per cent of children in families who are ‘not well off at all’ said they had been embarrassed because they could not afford a school cost and 27 per cent said they had been bullied as a result.[5]
  • Over the last five years London’s councils have reduced spending on youth services by 36 per cent, while the number of youth workers has been reduced by 40 per cent.[6] In a survey of young people about the impact of youth service cuts, 83 per cent reported feeling that youth cuts had led to increased crime and antisocial behaviour, 65 per cent said young people were finding it harder to get jobs and 91 per cent said the cuts were impacting young people from poorer backgrounds the most.[7]

 

  1. What are the most effective actions we could take to act on our priorities?

We invited each group to discuss the Mayor’s proposed actions on child poverty and consider which were most important, which least important, and why. The conclusions were fairly consistent across both groups:

Money cannot be ignored
Decent wages
were almost universally the top priority for the young people we talked to, with persuading government to improve benefits the alternative top priority. Young people all seemed to agree that families having enough money was a prerequisite to any of the other parts of the child poverty ambition being achieved. The Mayor’s strategy should promote the benefits of paying the London living wage to business and local authorities. The Mayor should also encourage flexible jobs, apprenticeships and training opportunities which support parents to move into work and progress in their careers, whilst making the case to government to improve benefits for families who are unable to work but must meet the higher cost of living in London. 

Provide families with good quality homes
Decent, affordable homes was everyone’s next highest priority, with individuals feeling that for a child / young person the quality of their home affected everything else in their life. Young people in both groups clearly see homelessness and the housing problems of others regularly too, and notice the difference in the quality and safety of housing between poorer and wealthier groups of people. Therefore the Mayor’s recognition that Londoners need ‘affordable, accessible decent homes’ is welcome. As a priority the Mayor should work with housing associations, the private sector and local authorities to improve the supply, quality and affordability of housing for families in London.

The Mayor should adopt and encourage local authorities to adopt a ‘health in all policies’ approach[8] to housing, regeneration and urban planning, which could address issues of poor quality, overcrowded housing, as well as continuing to make the case to government for greater devolution of housing powers to enable regional action to improve the situation for families in London’s private rented sector.

Transport in general doesn’t need as much action
Neither group of young people felt that significant action was required on transport – partly because under 16s are eligible for free travel and partly because transport services and connections where they live are good. However, the importance of feeling safe while travelling (especially for the autistic young people) and not having to travel far to reach the activities they enjoy was clear, and reinforces the Mayor’s plan to ‘tackle safety concerns’ on transport.

The cost of childcare, food and other necessities
While both groups recognised the implications of rising or fluctuating prices for food, fuel, childcare and other things, and agree that decision-makers need to understand the impact on families, some of these were less directly pressing for those too young to be paying themselves. Only the Camberwell group mentioned personal concerns about specific costs, with many wishing food were less expensive and one or two mentioning household bills. Young people on the Camberwell estate in particular might be finding childcare less of an issue for their families, as they have such close-knit networks of family and friends nearby.

The Mayor should support local authorities to develop food action plans and encourage youth activities and childcare to provide meals during school holidays. Good quality early education has a levelling effect by benefitting disadvantaged children most, yet there are insufficient childcare places for children with SEND and concerns that the expansion of ‘free’ childcare to 30 hours for working parents will reduce the quality of provision for disadvantaged children.[9] The Mayor’s strategy should support London’s childcare providers to deliver inclusive, affordable, high quality childcare places, for example through offering empty GLA and TFL buildings to providers at discounted rates, and providing training and grants to improve quality and inclusion.  

Other action young people feel is necessary
After discussing what is in the child poverty outcome of the Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, we invited young people to suggest any additional actions they felt were necessary. Some of these relate to other areas of the strategy and some are principles we’ve extrapolated from how young people talked about living in London – all of which we think are important for the Mayor’s strategy to take on board.

  • Whilst transport is good, young people with special medical needs have to travel too far to get to health appointments because health facilities are increasingly specialised and less local. The length of travel time, plus waiting time at the hospital, is impacting on young people’s quality of life.
  • Children and young people want to feel safer where they live, whether from crime, terrorism or environmental problems. In accordance with the Mayor’s strategy for “building confidence in a more diverse police force focused on community policing and on engaging more with Londoners”, they want more of a police presence, but this needs to be non-threatening and to engage positively with younger residents.
  • Children and young people are very much affected by the experiences of the adults around them, whether it’s the parents they live with or the homeless people sleeping rough on local streets. Therefore children’s experiences of London will not be made totally positive whilst adults struggle alongside them. The strategy should recognise the knock-on effect of policies that help – or hinder – groups of Londoners who aren’t defined by youth.
  • Despite the majority being too young to be actively seeking work, many young people were clearly anxious about the barriers to finding a job – for themselves and for others. Some Camberwell young people thought there should be more job centres to ensure young people got help finding employment and one younger girl even suggested there should be places where children could work when their parents were too sick to work. Young people in Waltham Forest felt that autistic adults struggled to find jobs and that more jobs should be within walking distance of home. The Mayor’s plan to improve careers advice is welcome, as is the plan to provide more opportunities through apprenticeships, volunteering and engagement with employers: however it’s important that these initiatives reach all disadvantaged young people, not only those such as teenage mothers identified in the strategy.
  • Children and young people’s lives need to be seen in full, not compartmentalised. While the young people with autism love using the summer scheme where we met them, and find some local activities easy enough to engage with, these are relatively isolated experiences rather than a consistently inclusive daily life. An inclusion strategy should address the day-to-day needs of these young people for quiet spaces, a feeling of safety (for example on the street and on transport), variety in the activities they can access – and also look at supporting consistency across transitions, eg from term time to holiday activities and from children’s services to adults’ services.
  • As the Diversity and Inclusion Strategy recognises, listening to young people is important. And children and young people are keen to be heard – empathic, thoughtful, insightful and positive about opportunities for improving London’s inclusivity – so the Mayor’s office should seek to involve them wherever possible.

 

  1. What best practice exists in the areas we are focusing on that we can learn from?

Manchester City Council co-produced its Family Poverty Strategy with young people

Manchester City Council has been working on a refresh of its Family Poverty Strategy which is due to be launched in October 2017. The team took a strengths-based ethnographic approach to developing the strategy and spoke to residents about their lived experiences of poverty. They also recognised that children and young people have valuable insights about poverty and a right to be heard alongside adults. This led them to commission sessions at the Contact Theatre Group and at the Z-Arts centre in Manchester as well as working with school children across deprived areas of Manchester. Through these sessions children and young people were able to feed their experiences and ideas into the strategy. A qualitative analysis of what young people and families told the team about their lives has been developed into recommendations for action within the refreshed Family Poverty Strategy.

For more information contact Stacie Cohen, Policy Officer (Poverty and Growth) at Manchester City Council. s.cohen@manchester.gov.uk  0161 245 7421

 

  1. Could we work together with your organisation on our priorities? How could we do this?

4in10 is a network of 200 voluntary and statutory sector organisations working together to address child poverty in the capital. We were set up following the 2008 London Child Poverty and many of our members work directly with families on low incomes. Please contact 4in10 programme manager Laura Payne about our network can offer support the Mayor’s work: laura.payne@childrenengland.org.uk

Children England is currently working to help London’s voluntary and statutory sectors better involve children and young people in policy and practice decisions. We would be delighted to talk to the Mayor’s office about how pan-London decision-making could involve younger Londoners in making the city fully inclusive of them, and to help the two sectors work together to achieve this. Please contact our Policy and Campaigns Manager Chloë Darlington to discuss this: chloe.darlington@childrenengland.org.uk.

The two groups we visited would welcome contact from the Mayor’s office to discuss working with them further. They are:

Pastor Margaret Musa, Co-ordinator, Children and Families Empowerment Foundation
cfef2@yahoo.com
07948 564471

Liza Dresner, Director, Resources for Autism
Liza@resourcesforautism.org.uk
020 8458 3259

 

Appendix: Young people’s messages for the Mayor
Once the groups had finished considering the Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, we gave them a chance to write an individual message for the Mayor to suggest how he could make London better for them, irrespective of whether it was already in the strategy or not. A few photos are included here, and the full list below.

Group A, Camberwell

London would be a better place for me if…

  • There were more trees in the world so people could live a longer life. And also make the world a better place by giving everyone a good home.
  • People could afford houses making sure the house is secure. One year free university, pay bills eg water bill.
  • They had more shelters for the homeless. And it would be better if they could increase wages.
  • There wasn’t bad people to ruin our lives. And people should be free to learn and have a good education.
  • Build more job centres so people just getting out of school will find it easier to get into the work force.
  • You don’t make too many buildings and make more parks in Camberwell. Also a place called little world which is everything is a little bit smaller for children so they can work if their mum or dad is sick.
  • There is more security in places that often attacked instead of the places that are expensive just because they can afford it.
  • We had food that were on lower prices. If young children could vote. And if we all had a clean environment and children all had bank accounts and we had £1 every day J
  • We treated everyone the way we would like to be treated and if every poor person had somewhere to live in.
  • I had money. London would be a better place for me if I had family.
  • For you to give people houses instead of streets.
  • We had everything for free and there will be no litter on the floor.
  • Oysters were free for under 16s if you lost it.
  • People get houses instead of people living on the streets.
  • I was cool and rich.
  • Smoking was illegal.
  • The food prices were a bit cheaper because a packet of crisps is like £ss it needs to be cheaper.
  • We get free education in university and being drunk and doing drugs to be an illness [as opposed to a crime]
  • London would be a better place for all citizens if the police would reduce the rate of crime and provide more housing for the people.
  • You could drive at the age of 15
  • We can have everything for free and can drive at the age of 10.
  • Food and other needed resources such as houses, school and transport were affordable for less fortunate people.
  • Allow young children to have jobs. Reduce crime.

Group B, Waltham Forest

London would be a better place for me if…

  • There was a place for autistic children and adults to get a job and meet new people
  • Have more music festivals for kids
  • Make area more safer and jobs for other people
  • Improve public transport; basketball like New York; more sport; Food like KFC
  • More play schemes
  • Children could drive cars
  • The trains would have their tracks on the road and there were a lot of blimps and airships. Also it would be better if it was fancy at night as Tokyo. It should be bright and colourful and fancy like Tokyo and it will enhance London.
  • We had more police in my area to patrol the area more often to make you feel safer (less crime and burglary and stop bad things). Make other people’s houses more bigger where I am for people to have more space. More free music events closer to where I live to my home plus more free music meet and greets artist in my local near my area for example artist like Conor Maynard because he is one of my favourite artist plus The Vamps and many more. Cheaper prices for the cinema / bowling etc. More cheaper shops like make the prices cheaper. Cheaper petrol for people who owns a car. Free meet and greet football players like Arsenal players. Free football training. Bus time quicker.

Footnotes:

[1] ONS (2017) Households below average income 1994/95 to 2015/16

[2] Padley, M., Davis, A., Hirsch, D., Horsley, N., Valadez, L. (2017) A Minimum Income Standard for London 2016 /17. Centre for Research in Social Policy and Trust for London.

[3] Trussell Trust (2017) End of Year Stats

[4] Rough, E., Goldblatt, P., Marmot, M. and Nathanson, V. (2013) ‘Inequalities in Child Health’ in BMA Board of Science (2013) Growing up in the UK – Ensuring a healthy future for our children

[5] The Children’s Commission on Poverty (2014) At What Cost? Exposing the impact of poverty on school life. The Children’s Society

[6] Sian Berry (2017) London’s lost youth services. The dramatic disappearance of support and facilities for young people in London.

[7] UNISON (2016) A Future at risk: cuts in youth services.

[8] Public Health England (2016) Health in All Policies: Overview

[9] Slater, H. (2017) At What Cost? The 30 hours ‘free’ childcare promise in London. 4in10.