Trade unions have backed a call from social workers and educational psychologists for urgent UK Government action to protect the future of young people.
In a motion, passed unanimously by the General Federation of Trade Unions, the Social Workers Union and the Association of Educational Psychologists highlight that 75% of social workers strongly agreed that more children will come into care due to the cost-of-living crisis.
New analysis of data for the Warm This Winter campaign has highlighted that for 21% of families with young children under 6, the cost of living crisis was so bad last winter that they lived in a cold damp home.
Educational psychologists also point out that while the government aspires to a new numeracy agenda for young people, expert reports show that living in cold conditions and poverty saps mental capacity to deal with complex tasks.
Research has also shown that children living in the poorest 20% of households are more than four times as likely to experience severe mental health problems as children from the wealthiest 20%.
Meanwhile, according to recent Carnegie UK data, a third (34%) of people in the UK aren’t eating as healthily as before the crisis and similar numbers (35%) say that the crisis has reduced their ability to spend time with friends. 16% have even cut back on regular exercise due to the cost of living crisis.
Dr Cath Lowther, General Secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, commented:
“Austerity has stripped away many of the conditions that children and young people need to thrive. Poverty has become entrenched and protective services have been decimated. Current conditions significantly jeopardise a future society of happy, well-educated, productive and successful adults.”
One Educational Psychologist (EP) working in the North East of England explained what this means in practice:
“Government austerity policy has had huge impacts on the day-to-day lives of both local authority workers and the populations they serve. There has been a clear reduction of services on offer from the public sector. Schools are short staffed, community spaces have been closed down.
“At the same time, the cost of living crisis has meant that the poorest people in our communities are now worse off than they were ten years ago. Poverty exacerbates social and mental health problems and has increased the need for educational psychology support, at the same time as the public offer is being reduced.”
Educational psychologists in the Midlands have also highlighted situations where children are living in substandard home conditions, have no toys to play with and are coming to school without having eaten. A safe home, good food and play are all essential for the healthy physical, emotional and cognitive development of children.
Angi Naylor from the Austerity Action Group commented:
“It’s a bit rich for the rich to tell us to accept being poorer. Millionaires get wealthier and firms make billions in profits while families struggle to clothe and feed themselves. The conditions social workers and educational psychologists are witnessing today are like those which Jeremy Bentham and nineteenth century poor law campaigners reported.”
Official government statistics show that 4.2 million children were living in poverty, or almost a third (29%) of all children.
Calum Gallacher, Assistant General Secretary of the Social Workers Union, commented:
“Poverty levels are now unacceptable and enforces significant disadvantages on our future generations. We are hearing from frontline social workers that there are increased self-referrals from families, including where there is one working parent, for support to access foodbanks and local authority financial contributions towards electricity.
“Austerity is a humanitarian crisis robbing communities of humane and equitable treatment, and it is counterproductive to greater efficacy of public spending. Basic human needs should not be capitalised on as commodities, we need government insight and action to tackle profiteering on poverty.
“Social Workers will continue to challenge unjust policies which inhibit peoples’ rights and their access to equality and social justice. We now need adequate government intervention so as to provide children with equal opportunities to grow, learn and thrive.”