Comment & Analysis
How can we win the fight against food insecurity? (5/7/17)
The summer break should mean relaxation and fun, but for many families in Scotland the ending of free school meals brings isolation, stress and hunger. Children deserve better, writes Lindsay Graham
Summer 2017 is here and across the UK school holidays are underway. Six weeks with no lessons, no uniform and no homework.
For some, this may sound idyllic, but for others it means six weeks of no warmth, no friendship, no routine and no school meals. In households where money is tight, the school holidays – and particularly the long summer holidays – are a time of dread. School holidays mean increased food, fuel and childcare bills and no spare income to support summer fun or food, which leaves children all over the UK more at risk of hunger.
In the last few years, civil society has done more work to address what is termed ‘Holiday Hunger’. Hundreds of thousands of children are supported by community projects and volunteers funded by a plethora of sources from the commercial, statutory and charity sectors. However, more needs to be done to raise awareness and support communities to keep our children food secure.
In June 2017, Children in Scotland hosted its second food-focused national conference, The role of food in addressing wellbeing and attainment. It was a thought-provoking day with a range of expert speakers all working in food education, research and children’s wellbeing. Topics covered included: waste, cookery, poverty, the curriculum, current policy, children’s rights, and the latest research on ‘Holiday Hunger’. The conference had direct input from children and young people throughout the day.
The Good Food Nation Bill featured heavily in the day’s debate, as did the issue of how we as adults can support and prepare children to place a positive value on food that will stay with them throughout their lives. How can we encourage and channel skills, interests and talent towards Scotland as a food producing nation with world-class products?
We can only do this if there is equality of access to good food all year round. We must ensure that families and children are supported to make the best choices with the resources available, and signpost help for those most in need. That’s why holiday provision projects like Children in Scotland’s Food, Families, Futures initiative are so vital to keep children learning, safe and well fed.
The research from such programmes tell us that, through taking part, families are more food-secure, less financially pressured, and less socially isolated. There are less safeguarding issues, children are more active, and childcare is less of a burden.
So are the kids really alright?
A recent UNICEF report in June told us that in the UK one in five children lives in a food-insecure household. In June 2016 the UN told us that the UK had a lack of comprehensive data on child food insecurity. These findings suggest that the UK has some distance to go if it is to adequately tackle food insecurity.
On 25 April 2017, the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group inquiry into Holiday Hunger published its Hungry Holidays report. It made six recommendations on funding, policy, monitoring, research, training and resources to government that outline what needs to happen to alleviate the problem.
Child hunger is a symptom of child poverty and we need both upstream and downstream measures to keep our children safe, nourished, happy and achieving.
The good news is that across Scotland and the UK community groups will once again this summer step in to fill the holiday gap with meals, enrichment, fun and care. Let’s hope that 2018, Scotland’s Year of Young People, sees a more robust and measured government approach to this issue. It’s long overdue.
Read more about Children in Scotland’s Food, Families, Futures programme here.
Read our news story on the All-Party Parliamentary Group’s Hungry Holidays report here
Hammond focuses on fizz but Budget falls flat for low income families (9/3/17)
Analysis by Chris Ross, Assistant Policy Officer
The Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond MP brought the last Spring budget to the House of Commons yesterday with a great deal of rhetoric about investing in young people to make the economy fairer.
He noted the decrease in revenue from the sugar tax and suggested to the house that companies are reformulating recipes for fizzy drinks in response to decreased sales.
Children in Scotland welcomes a reduction in consumption of fizzy drinks, and sees this as positive for the health and wellbeing of children and young people.
Caution is however required in celebrating the announcement.
The tax only applies to fizzy juice so the decrease in revenue does not necessarily indicate an overall decrease in sugar consumption.
If the measure has indeed proved successful Children in Scotland would welcome discussion as to whether similar policy levers could be used to reduce consumption of other high sugar products.
The Chancellor also announced increases in the national living wage and the personal allowance, which he suggested would benefit low income working families.
Children in Scotland welcomes relief for the worst off. However, these moves do not go far enough to alleviate the poverty that many families currently face. We are in favour of far bolder and more redistributive policies to tackle income deprivation.
Turning to education, the Chancellor focused heavily on the study of technology subjects, saying he wants to bring about parity of esteem with other fields of study.
The introduction of T levels formed the backbone of this, with Hammond stating that he wanted to simplify qualifications in technology. The Chancellor also outlined measures that he hopes will make the pathway to work much clearer in this field.
The proposals also provide funding for a 50% increase in training time for students in technical subjects along with three-month work placements to ready them for the work environment.
There is to be an increase in maintenance loans for students attending the technological colleges, and the Chancellor announced funding for 1,000 new PhDs or studentships in STEM subjects.
The UK Government has also set aside £40 million to fund pilots for lifelong learning to identify best practice.
Despite the devolved nature of these issues Children in Scotland will be keeping a close eye on their development, with a view to identifying the success or otherwise of the projects and how they could potentially be adapted to benefit children and young people in Scotland.
The STEM announcements are of particular interest for us as we are currently engaging with children and young people to inform the Scottish Government’s STEM education and training strategy.
For more information on this project please contact my colleague Elaine Kerridge: email@example.com.
Money won't ease income poverty on its own – real support for families is needed too (26/1/17)
By Marion Macleod
The Royal College of Child Health today published a report that should concern us all. It indicates that the many policy initiatives and operational strategies intended to promote a better start for children and better outcomes through the life course are not having the effect intended. It also shows that early disadvantage too often has enduring impact.
This is bad news for the individuals, families and communities directly affected, but we should be under no delusion that it does not concern us all. The pattern of spending on health, education and social care is inextricably connected to the problems set out in the report. This affects the nature of our health provision in our communities, the priorities for spending in our schools and the level of support available for vulnerable individuals and groups in our society generally.
If we are to change the depressing picture the report presents, we need to be clear about the causes of the problems its identifies. Differences in health that are socio-economically patterned have increased significantly in recent decades. While there is an indisputably strong correlation nowadays between poverty and poor health, this was much less true several decades ago.
This is largely because health behaviours were much less socially patterned in the past than they are now – in the 1950s most mothers breast-fed, and most adults smoked, irrespective of social and educational status. What has happened in the intervening decades is that better-off, better-educated people have changed their health behaviours more quickly and to a greater extent than poorer people.
We must acknowledge the complex interplay of factors that affect health outcomes. Poverty, particularly severe and persistent poverty, is likely in itself to affect some health and wellbeing outcomes. Not being able to afford adequate food, warmth and security will clearly undermine the chances of good health. In addition, the stress and uncertainty generated by such circumstances also compromises wellbeing, particularly in terms of emotional and psychological health.
It is critically important that we acknowledge, however, that this problem cannot be solved by money alone. Strong support for families, particularly in children’s early lives, is an essential complement to addressing income poverty. We need to ensure the highest possible quality in our public health and early learning systems if we want future reports to be less pessimistic.
Marion Macleod is Policy Manager at Children in Scotland
Refections on the Bruce Perry seminar - 3 October 2016, Edinburgh
I really enjoyed this symposium given by Bruce Perry. I’ve read his books and heard him speak before, but the message he gives makes such a lot of sense its important to hear it again and again…and again. He has very interesting things to say about rhythm!
For me, the key message came towards the end of the morning, when Bruce explained the importance of relationships for children and of relationships within communities. He stresses that one single good enough relationship with an adult, enduring throughout a child’s life, is far more supportive than several. But he also stresses that the number of ‘lines of contact’ a child has throughout their day, with meaningful adults, really matters. Children who have fewer moments of contact don’t fare as well as those who have many.
Bruce finished by asking “how do we make the community ready to help these kids?” This is a big challenge, perhaps more than ever. With cuts in all agencies, there’s an increasing sense that we’re all withdrawing into our silos. There’s less time for inter-agency discussion and collaboration. As for actually getting out of the department and into the community - for most of us who work in community bases (ironically) this is becoming almost impossible. There’s increasing pressure to see more patients and clients sooner, to bring down waiting times. Understanding this primary commitment, it feels like there’s also an important need for us to resist the instinct to withdraw away from the community back into our departments. Under pressure, we’re in danger of forgetting lessons learned. We need to make the argument that time spent in building community relationships builds resilience in children.
Iain McClure, Child Psychiatrist.
Have you ever tried to do a jigsaw without the picture? All the pieces of the jigsaw lying in front of you , some pieces in places, others waiting to be slotted in. You know roughly what the picture will be and you just keep going. There comes a point when all of a sudden the big picture is clear and it all makes sense.
Well I had that moment as I sat and listened to Bruce Perry last week. All the pieces of the jigsaw which were in my head came together. I understand that many children I work with are unable to learn, are too stressed to take on anything new, that positive relationships made a huge difference. I know that small challenges can provoke extreme responses from stressed children. I know positive interactions are the biggest part of healing. I understand that the brain is hugely affected by stress. That the ability to reason, reflect and relate is inhibited by high levels of stress and trauma.
The hugely powerful picture Bruce shared with us brought everything into focus and it gave clear explanations of what we know
I have shared the picture with staff and will share it further.
Sarah Ogden, Headteacher, Pinkie St Peter's Primary School, Musselburgh.
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