Growing up with an alcoholic father and experiencing the devastation of childhood poverty led Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Jon Ashworth, to develop a passion for social justice and ensuring that every child matters.

A patron of Home-Start Horizons, the charity is close to Jon’s heart, and talking to him, it’s clear he is full of admiration and praise for the staff and volunteers who improve the lives of families.

"I grew up with a father with a drinking problem, growing up in poverty,” he said. “The reason I’m as passionate in my job as a politician and from personal experience, is the pressure of poverty.

“Nobody wants to go to school with holes in their shoes and feet soaking wet or turn up to school hungry - it haunts you for life.

“I have absolute admiration for everyone at Home-Start. They have touched the lives of thousands of children who will have a better future ahead of them. Their work gives children a better start in life.”

During his first visit to Home-Start Horizons some years ago he was moved by the stories of the parents he met. The experience showed him the importance of parents taking the courageous step to come out from behind the mask and ask for help if they are finding things tough.

“The mums I met told me how Home-Start supported them, not just emotionally, but also navigating difficult things, like a mum living in a flat alone, who needed help getting decent working white goods as she had no fridge and freezer or washing machine.”

Impact of poverty

“Poverty has an impact on education and an impact on health. It has been proven to limit life expectancy. People in the poorest areas live 10 years less than their rich neighbours.

“We need politicians to speak out about poverty. We can and we must do better on this. We must demand that we create a society that is fair and allows people to live in dignity.

“We are seeing families in work who are relying on food banks. We have destitution, real poverty. Children growing up without a bed. That affects the future life of our poorest children. It’s going to be a really difficult year with the cost of living rising.

“Every child matters. It is vital that civic society, politicians and local authorities complement each other alongside brilliant charities such as Home-Start.”

The Pandemic

“There have been dark moments. Nobody knew when this would end and if we would get through safely. Volunteers and Home-Starts adapted and kept going.

“I want to commend and pay tribute to the thousands of Home-Start volunteers for the support and how they found ways to keep going through the crisis, within restrictions, to continue supporting families safely.

“It’s been difficult for mums giving birth alone, when the services usually open to them have been restricted, especially during lockdowns. Access to services have been restricted, face to face contact and that moment of kindness from the person who comes to have a cup of tea every week as a Home-Start volunteer, all these things were put on hold – that has been hard. Those small moments are in fact the big moments.”

Biggest challenges of 2022

Meantime, he recognises that as we slowly emerge from the pandemic, families are living in really difficult times.

“Anyone who works in the family sector knows that it’s tough right now. People are really hard up. We have heating bills going through the roof. Prices rising in shops. Inflation, in particular of heating and food, means people have less disposable income.

“Child poverty shames us as a society. It is our duty and obligation to improve the circumstances of children and families in need.”

And he added that anti-poverty campaigner, Jack Monroe, talks very well on this matter. “She says people managing tight budgets become the best mathematicians, as they are always calculating what they have  to spend. How much for shopping and how much is left to spare. It dominates every single aspect of your life – and that isn’t fair. We need a system that gives people security and dignity.”

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