The Coram Group of charities is today making a statement on the cost of living crisis, which is creating significant additional challenges for many of the children, young people and families we support.
Children and young people today
In addition to longstanding issues of poverty, inequality and variable access to services, we have seen pressure grow on children’s services, with supply often not matching demand. A reduction in resources for services that matter to children and young people has resulted in detrimental impacts on their lives. Beyond historic issues impacting on children and young people, the situation has become even more acute in recent years. While the factors are complex, we believe there are two more recent drivers for where we are today:
- Austerity: An extended period of austerity going back over a decade has resulted in cuts to youth services and a real-terms decrease in funding for schools and children’s social care. Fewer resources for early intervention and support has resulted in more families coming into contact with children’s services when issues have escalated, and growing numbers of children being taken into care;
- Pandemic: The lives of many children and young people have been further blighted by the impact of Covid-19 and the series of lockdowns. As well as the negative impact on education, we are worried about the social consequences, at a time when CAMHS is struggling to cope with growing demand for mental health services
These impacts were already having a detrimental effect on children and young people before the cost of living crisis started to bite.
Cost of living crisis
The cost of living crisis has accelerated during 2022, at the exact time when as a nation we need to be focusing on rebuilding lives of children and young people impacted upon by these factors.
Coram stands with organisations across the sector who are today urging the new Government to take urgent measures to support the most vulnerable children and young people at this critical time. While many of the Coram Group’s services focus on long term positive work and outcomes, we feel it is right to draw upon our experience with many of those most affected to call for a number of urgent measures that we believe would offer vital support to those who need it most. Children, young people and their families caught up in the cost of living crisis cannot wait. They need extra support today.
Measures to support children and families
Coram believes that the following measures would make an immediate positive impact for the families of those children and young people most vulnerable at this time.
Coram is aligned with sector-wide calls for the Government to help the poorest children in the UK through increases to benefits. The temporary increase to Universal Credit put in place during the pandemic helped lift around 400,000 people out of poverty. Coram shares sector-wide concerns at reports that the Government is considering not raising current benefit levels in line with inflation, which would amount in effect to a real terms cut.
We maintain the view that that the most important step government could take to support children would be a boost to Universal Credit, making the temporary rise put in place during the covid-19 pandemic permanent. But as a minimum we would urge the government to commit to raising existing benefit levels in line with inflation if children and young people whose families are already facing a cost of living emergency are not to suffer even more.
Free School Meals
Coram was one of many organisations and individuals to come out last month in support of free school meals as part of the National Education Union’s No Child Left Behind campaign. Every year our educational, cultural and reading programmes support thousands of children in schools nationwide. But a child who is hungry cannot learn and thrive. Providing a guaranteed hot meal every day for every primary school child is both the right thing to do and, we believe, will also lead to better educational outcomes, to the long term benefit of society.
Scotland and Wales have both already pledged to extend free school meals to every child in primary education. We are aware that many primary school children living in poverty do not currently qualify for free meals, which is why while we call upon the Government to make the same commitment to primary school children in England and guarantee a free school meal to every primary school child.
Support for childcare
Coram’s childcare survey published earlier this year set out the numbers behind the growing crisis in childcare provision in this country, with rising prices and less availability putting increasing pressure on both parents and the childcare sector. There is currently huge pressure on both childcare providers and families, with disadvantaged children set to miss out most on this vital boost to their outcomes. At the same time childcare costs prevent families from being able to work and earn more, so there is little they can do to help them meet rising bills.
Coram has long called for complete reform to childcare to create a simple, affordable, high-quality system that works for all. In the short term, we are calling for funding for early education entitlements to be increased to meet the cost of providing high quality childcare, given the current rate of funding for the entitlement is not increasing in line with inflation. An early announcement would provide welcome support to both families and the childcare sector.
There is currently uncertainty around how mooted efficiency savings to reduce government borrowing will impact on front line services. We share also the concern, set out by the Food Foundation and National Energy Action in their briefing paper published on 30 September, that the cost of living and energy crises are harming children’s development, and that without urgent support, millions of children will be put in danger this winter and beyond.
Dr Carol Homden, CEO of the Coram Group, said: “As a charity, Coram is politically neutral, and we work across the political spectrum with all those who share our commitment to improving the lives of children and young people. We will continue to deliver services as we have always done, while making the argument that savings today that result in adverse long term consequences and expenditure do not serve children, young people and the country well. We are clear also that more needs to be done at national level to minimise the impact of the cost of living crisis on millions of children, young people and their families across the country as we head into winter.”