I’ve been wrangling how to pitch MOAL at this time. The news is overwhelming and I don’t want to add to that, but equally, I do want to stay plugged-in and find particular value in hearing individual humans stories.  Little Village is a London based charity that works like a food bank, but collection clothes, toys and equipment for babies and children up to the age of 5 and passing them on to families who need them. Founder Sophia Parker gives a glimpse into the impact the Coronavirus is having on child poverty:

Like every other person running a frontline charity, I’ve been flat out over the last two weeks. We’ve redesigned the whole of Little Village’s operations, launching Virtual Village so that we can continue to support struggling families across London during the pandemic. We’ve applied for many grants and set up a crowd-funder. We’ve re-forecast our budget (scary) and reviewed our fundraising pipeline (very scary). At the same time, our team, including me, have suddenly acquired a new full-time job of schooling and parenting their kids 24/7. It has been epic.

And then, the weekend came, and with it some sunshine and a hint of headspace. Here are a few reflections from me, based on what we’ve learnt. 

  • There are two crises going on and both are going to hit poorer families hard.

  • The health crisis, which we watch unfolding everyday as awful reports of daily death rates and hospital admissions fill the news. The virus is seemingly indiscriminate in who it infects. 

  • But the exposure to infection is higher for people working in so-called ‘low skilled sectors’ —  carers, delivery drivers, shelf stackers and hospital support workers — whose jobs cannot be done from home. They’re exposing themselves to the risk of infection in far greater numbers than better paid managers and ‘knowledge workers’.

  • The second crisis is an economic one, as jobs disappear overnight, despite huge amounts of government money being spent on shoring up faltering businesses. This crisis will also hurt poor households the most. 

  • Why? Well, two thirds of kids in poverty have a parent in work.

  • The kinds of jobs these parents have are low paid — often in the hospitality, retail and care sectors — all sectors that are taking huge hits. Reduced hours and business closures, as well as crappy sick pay policies and no permitted time off to care for dependents, will cause most hurt to the families who were already struggling.

  • We won’t know the extent of how badly employment has been affected by coronavirus until the figures are published in summer. But the surge in applications for Universal Credit (950,000 in the last fortnight compared to a usual rate of around 100,000) gives us a clue about what to expect.

  • So the wages of low income families will suffer. That might be ok if you have savings. But Resolution Foundation analysis of government data shows that one in ten households wouldn’t survive a week if they lost their main source of income. There are 3 million low income households across Britain who couldn’t survive three months if their income dropped by 50 percent. 

  • The truth is, poor families have been teetering on the edge of crisis for a long time now – Almost half of inner-London kids are growing up in poverty.

  • Will this crisis help us to wake up to the way poverty is blighting so many of our children’s lives? Or will we continue to be blind to the unacceptable living conditions of so many children in one of the wealthiest cities in the world?

  • Little Village is here to make it as easy as possible for families to help each other. And trust me, families need help now more than ever. We’re deeply concerned about what lockdown life is doing to children living in poor households. 

  • We’ve supported over 170 families in the last two weeks. Some are living in single rooms, sharing kitchens and bathrooms with other families. What does social distancing look like in these situations? How can a sick family member self-isolate? How can you entertain kids in such a confined space for days on end?

  • We’re also hearing stories of parents unable to afford the basics for their kids, often as they await social security support after a sudden loss of job or an income drop due to illness.

  • Even those who have some funds are struggling to buy the most affordable items —nappies and wipes in corner shops can be three times the price of own-brand supermarket versions. 

  • Parenting in the lockdown looks very different if you can’t access broadband and can’t afford much data on your phone to help with home learning. It can be hard to get broadband installed in temporary accommodation. Many families we meet depend on data packages on their phones. We are scared for the bills they’ll incur to keep their children connected to friends and engaged in learning.

  • The parents we meet want to the best for their kids, but the lockdown has made that even harder than before. The odds are stacked against them.

  • These practical challenges are going to be compounded by the impact of the lockdown on mental health — for parents and children alike.

  • Like Little Village, lots of charities have had to shut drop-in sessions to comply with physical distancing guidelines. Many families we support were socially isolated even before the lockdown. The closure of these sessions will make that isolation even more pronounced.

  • For example, I chatted to one mum we’ve previously supported this week. She now volunteers with us, and told me Little Village sessions were the only time in the week she chatted to people beyond her partner and baby. I am worried for her.

  • I’m also worried about how we’ll ever re-open our doors. Our future fundraising pipelines are disappearing before our eyes, as community and sporting events get cancelled. The Directory of Social Change warns that seven in ten charities are at risk of going bust in the next 6 months without help. Who will be there for these families if we aren’t? Why is the government so utterly silent on how charities are going to get through this?

  • Beyond the voluntary sector, the vital support offered by statutory services is falling away. Children’s Centres have closed during the pandemic. Health visitors have been advised to avoid home visits. And those services that are still going are struggling due to staff self-isolating or caring for family members.

  • Sorry, this is very depressing isn’t it?!

  • I feel I should offer some ideas for how we might mitigate this second economic crisis that is taking hold as firmly as the public health crisis we’re in. Lots of people who are smarter than me have made proposals about what we do. Here are my favourites.

  • In the immediate term, we need government to get money to households as fast as possible, given what we know about how close to the edge many of our poorest families are. That Resolution Foundation analysis I mentioned earlier shows that 90% of families would be ok if they received money within a week. This drops to under 75% if the wait is a month. Speed really is of the essence. 

  • We need to tackle the gross injustices that drag down family life in poverty even further. High on my list would be doing away with the ‘no recourse to public funds’ category which prevents people whose asylum cases are being decided from working or accessing support, including from the NHS. Many of these people are qualified workers — midwives, nurses. We are all humans and now more than ever we need to look after each other. NRPF stands in the way of that possibility.

  • In a similar vein, we need to see action to outlaw tenant evictions during this period, just as the government promised (in the end, in their emergency bill they just extended the landlord’s required notice period for evictions from two months to three — hardly the same thing).

  • I think we should invest infrastructure money into super-fast broadband, making it a public utility that’s free for everyone. This would be good for the environment, good for family life, and a way of ending the digital divide which is at risk of leaving poorer kids behind. Oh, and it might be cheaper than other options too — a mere snip at £30bn. Compare that to HS2’s current estimated budget of £106bn.

  • Most of all, we need to build shared habits around this new passion that has been unleashed for looking after each other in our communities. Sure, it’s messy, not professional, not everyone has had the police checks normally required, but the energy is palpable. 

  • We can’t let this energy go when we finally emerge, dazed and confused, from this crisis. How to create habits around this newfound solidarity is a crucial question to start work on now. It’s very much on our minds at Little Village and I know others are on the case too.

  • More than ever, I believe it takes a village to raise a child, even in this global city. Child poverty is frequently invisible, hidden behind front doors. This virus is exacerbating levels of inequality that as a society we have chosen to live with and accept, rather than challenge and demand better. 

  • I fear that unless organisations like ours keep banging this drum, children in poor households will continue to suffer in the face of the economic crisis that is unfolding.

  • I hope we come out of this crisis with a stronger sense of mutualism and togetherness. That solidarity would force us to confront the unacceptable levels of child poverty that still exist. 

  • I believe there is an opportunity to build a movement of parents against poverty, united in a belief that no child should go to sleep hungry or cold, and that every parent should be able to give their children the best possible start in life. The work to build that movement begins now.

To support Little Village’s work to reach families across London who need help, you can donate here

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