Shelagh Young, Home-Start Director for ScotlandOver 80 Home-Start network trustees and staff from right across Scotland met recently to explore what we need to do to ensure we can keep on meeting the needs of children and families. The number one issue on the table was why we have to agree bold actions to help combat the impacts of austerity – both the ongoing decline in our income from the statutory sector and the growth in child poverty.

Today we face a wealth gap that is widening, one in four children in Scotland is living in poverty and, as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report, UK Poverty 2017, points out “state support for many of those on low incomes is falling in real terms, rents are increasing, and rising employment is no longer reducing poverty”.

Can we, along with all the other fine charities who work with children and families, really meet this growing need?

By coincidence our gathering took place almost exactly 75 years since the Beveridge Report was published, and poverty was one of the five “giant evils” the report set out to end – Beveridge called it “want”. Yet, today there is not a Home-Start team anywhere who cannot introduce you to parents and carers whose lives are dominated by the anxiety, fear and hopelessness that comes with severe material disadvantage.

The report formed prime minister Clement Attlee’s road map for major investment in public health and well-being and set the tone for post-war reconstruction.

Attlee was clear that more charitable effort wasn’t enough. That’s why he developed the modern Welfare State, a system of shared investment in health and well-being which was designed to ensure that the needs of the least powerful in society were met through collective action. His inspiration came from his own experience of volunteering to help young people living in poverty.

Home-Start people are also inspired by their direct experience.

The people we train and trust to connect with families are mainly volunteers. They help families to build and maintain their own loving connections because children do better when they feel loved, safe and supported. The stories our volunteers tell of just how much this work means to them, how it has grown their confidence, enhanced their well-being and ended their own loneliness show how much voluntary action matters.

Our gathering buzzed with ideas generated by our powerful, evidence-driven belief that connecting with parents, especially those sideswiped by challenges such as poverty, post-natal depression, and loneliness and isolation, helps strengthen their ability to nurture their children.

Among a wide range of views a strong theme emerged: The conclusion that Getting it Right for Every Child is not just a matter of the Third Sector delivering well-designed, cost-effective services. It must also be about making a collective investment in the future of all our children and ensuring that asking for help is not affected by stigma. We concluded that we all need help sometimes and, we all need love.

Maintaining a robust service in the face of growing need and declining funding feels like a big enough job for anyone. But many Home-Start people feel we should work more with others to influence the changes which are driving even greater numbers of children into poverty.

Attlee might have been surprised by the ability of today’s vibrant Third Sector to support and mobilise statutory funded community action for social good. But with public funding in decline every charity which currently works well in partnership with statutory sector services is faced with the inevitable question: Where is the money going to come from?

Scotland has the option to protect its public services by taking a brave approach to taxation in the forthcoming budget. We may never learn to love paying taxes but in reflecting on the shameful growth in relative poverty right across the UK we can surely conclude, as Attlee did, that change is needed.

Shelagh Young is Home-Start UK’s Director of Scotland 

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report UK Poverty 2017 can be found here