As I walked to work on this crisp morning in early autumn, summer already seems ages ago. The end of summer always makes me wistful, and as I got to the office and cranked the heating up, I couldn’t help reflect on the work Fife Gingerbread carried out over the last few months.
In my last blog I wrote about how we had 95 summer activities happening across Fife that were all free, provided food, and let families have fun together. This number far surpassed last year and any year before that, which for a charity is bitter sweet; it’s great we have the staff and infrastructure to alleviate stress and anxiety parent’s face over the summer, but it’s also tragic that there is a need and demand for us to do this.
Fife Gingerbread has been supporting families in Fife for 30 years, and we have never, ever, witnessed the levels of poverty, hardship, deprivation and angst that we see now. Poverty is the number one consideration in all our work and is the root of many of the issues faced by families. It’s the main cause (and also a consequence) of a myriad of symptoms; anxiety, poor mental health, poor diet, substandard housing, ill health, broken relationships, lack of aspiration, etc. etc. . All of this creates poor conditions for children to grow, prosper or develop, a view shared by my many colleagues in the Voluntary Sector who also work with children.
A quick check of our work with partners tells us that from January this year we have mitigated poverty by £23,283, through various sources detailed below:
|Donated funds distributed in crisis response||£800|
|Food bank vouchers||£1,725 (69 vouchers @ £25 each)|
|Charitable grants/ assistance||£4818|
|Increased benefit take up||£13,323|
We have clothed countless families and provided furnishing for many homes; appeals for such basics are a weekly feature in our internal communications in our drive to support families. All of this is against the backdrop where benefit sanctions have reduced considerably in terms of families, so the hardship is not a result of sanctions; it’s more likely the consequence of low income and unexpected expenditure i.e. household repairs and replacements or benefit cap. This is more worrying than sanctions, which were time limited, as the cap is permanent and there is no obvious solution to the strain on expenditure, particularly where there are children in the house under five years old.
Fife is doing many things to mitigate poverty i.e. Cost of the School Day; good work is happening here but there’s so much more that could happen. I’d like to see a review of the ‘incidentals’ such as school photographs which cost £25-£30; is this realistic with today’s technology? Frequent ‘Theme Days’ and ‘Dress-Up Days’ also bring pressure and added expenditure for families who struggle to find any extra money.
We know through our campaign work and local research that children are being failed through the current and past Child Maintenance System with over £17m owed to children in Fife. Prickly subject for the adults concerned but it’s interesting to note that children over 12 can make their own claim! Such research and campaign work provides those with a ‘lived experience’ of poverty the opportunity to participate in consultations which is an important aspect of connecting people to policy.
Chief Executive Officer