Giving Poverty a Voice links up with the Voices from the Margins Campaign. Focusing on the General Election and what issues need to be addressed.
People have asked me on numerous occasions why I started the skill sharing project a little over four years ago now, the answer is both deeply meaningful and easy.
ATD Fourth World had given me a lot of help and advice while at Frimhurst Family House, and gave me a chance to have somewhere to take stock of where my life was heading. I wanted to give something back somehow.
Now being the sort of chap that’s handy with tools, the obvious way to help was with decorating the place and general upkeep. So I sat down with Stewart a member of the team and laid out my vision, which I am very pleased to say he jumped in with and the Skill Sharing residential project was set in motion.
Now four years down the line the project is still going and its grown in strength, we have been able to have two residential week long stays at Frimhurst Family House, one in the summer and one in the winter over these four years. During these stays we help people learn about painting and other decorating skills. We have added a small kitchen, repaired and repainted windows, decorated bedrooms, replaced flooring, cleared leaves, even dug the first section of the community garden at Frimhurst; to us it hasn’t mattered the job we have dived in and completed the task, as we love the place and it has enabled us to build friendships, learn skills and provide support to everyone who has taken part.
That’s the reason I have done it, and continue to do it, sure it has been stressful and there have been ups and downs, but to see the pride on the guys and girls faces at what they have achieved over the week for me there was no better reward.
So in closing I want to say thank you to ATD Fourth World team that have helped us and all the participants that have taken part over the four and a bit years.
Before the residential stays took place at Frimhurst Family House the main thing that helped inspire me to begin this project was the weekly skill sharing workshops at the ATD Fourth World National Centre at Addington Square London. I was part of the team there that renovated the community kitchen and took part in the attic conversion to provide volunteers accommodation.
By James ATD Fourth World
As an important pillar of our Family Support Programme, our Skill-Sharing Workshops and Access to Volunteering initiative hold fast to the conviction that everyone has something to offer. Our aim is to furnish people with the support and encouragement they need, through concrete volunteering opportunities at our National Centre in London and Frimhurst Family House in Surrey, to be able to contribute to the running of ATD Fourth World.
In the summer, Jackie Cox and Church Action on Poverty organised a residential meeting in Windermere. This important event brought different groups together who are fighting against poverty so that they could share their experiences, expertise and views. Representing ATD Fourth World were Ian a new activist who recently started volunteering for ATD Fourth World UK and Seamus a long-term activist and family member.
Naomi accompanied them from the full-time team.
Ian remembers, “It was my first time representing ATD Fourth World UK. At first I was a bit apprehensive, but the company of Seamus and Naomi gave me the confidence to give my presentation to the rest of the group.”
Seamus said, “Ian asked me, 'would you like to speak first?', and I said, 'Go ahead.' He went first. We both spoke up. He didn't need any help from me. He did well. I told him how well he did. It is really important to support each other is, when I first spoke out the first time I remember how hard it was, and now I have the confidence to help others.
In preparation to the meeting, Ian and Seamus were asked to pick up themes they wanted to present at the conference in order to write their speeches. Ian decided to share his experience of volunteering with ATD Fourth World at the Open Community Lunch organised every Thursday. “It is a chance for different people to meet up, and to make friends. We all get involved in the cooking and preparing the meal and it makes me feel good at the end of day seeing people enjoy the food and the company
Both Seamus and Ian remember how welcoming the place was saying:
“We felt very welcomed by all of the people from different organisations. Even though we didn’t know each other we managed to build up a friendship between us. At first, we didn't talk too much, but we got to know each other, and then we realised we had a lot in common. Our struggles are similar.”
Seamus spoke about helping Ian to prepare, saying:
“It is important to help someone who is new to ATD Fourth World. When I first started 30 years ago, I was asked to speak in Parliament. I got help from a member of the team back then, and he gave me tips on speaking out. I was given a ‘pat on the back’ and a confidence boost. Over the years it gets easier, and with practice it gets better and better.
“I have spoken out at many different events since and feel proud of this. I like to always ask others in the group first, who wants to speak and on what theme, we often work together. People like to feel involved, it’s a partnership, encouraging each other is the way we work at ATD Fourth World. The older activists have more experience and we can help the new people. Like me and Ian, it is good to put us together so we can support one another. The old one can always help if the other gets stuck.”
Ian said, “I agree with Seamus. It gives us new people a chance to learn. It gives us insight into ATD Fourth World and also the other work that is going on out there.”
Another theme Ian wanted to speak about was the respite stay he took part in. “I enjoyed my stay at Frimhurst Family House because it was so tranquil and quiet. I felt relaxed there. Going to Frimhurst gives us a chance to unwind, it’s a peaceful place and for anyone who is struggling in life it’s really needed”
Seamus: “Frimhurst is so important, it's a break from daily life and we build friendship there. When we stayed at Windermere it was the same. It was a different house, but it was similar, the atmosphere was exactly the same. When you go to Frimhurst, you feel welcomed.
Ian: “Jackie made us feel welcomed. She was very kind, introduced us to others and made us feel at ease.”
Seamus: “After the conference at Windermere I felt refreshed. It was a very good achievement we really supported each other. I’ve gotten so used to it that I’ve become confident. It’s also the others around you that give you confidence. We really learnt a lot from the others there and hope to carry this work forward.”
Ian: “I would like to do more public speaking and maybe one day I can help others to stand up and speak out.”
By Seamus & Ian ATD Fourth World
For more information about Church Action On Poverty
Like others, I admire conventionally healthy, beautiful bodies. I am not a fan of stick-thin figures but there are those who are. There are those who find short, fat bodies like mine repulsive but, thankfully, there are others who do not. I am also physically disabled and have several chronic illnesses. For some this makes my presence distasteful or difficult to cope with; yet there are those who see me as a person first and recognise my disability afterwards, and they are comfortable with my company. Reactions to the bodies of others are as diverse and perverse as our reactions to our own bodies. Our human bodies are amazing and miraculous, so why are we so easily made to feel ashamed of them?
I would like to change my body, to weigh less, to be healthier, to be able-bodied, but have neither strong willpower nor a magic wand to achieve these things. This being so, I concentrate on the positives in my life, on what I can do rather than what I cannot do, on what I like about myself, not on things I don’t like. I look around me and see my friends and my family and count my blessings; without them I would be housebound and very lonely. To them I am a person, not an ailing body, I love and am loved for myself and so I have joy in my life.
I am pained by the current obsession in the West with youth, beauty and thinness, demoralising – even destroying, those who cannot achieve the look that they see on every magazine cover and billboard. Children as young as five are bullied for being overweight or ugly when they are neither, and they internalise a negative self-image that can have life-long implications for them. Our collective self-confidence is becoming image-driven and people are suffering because of it, even to the point of self-mutilation and suicide. We feel appreciated for how we look, not how we act.
Our bodies were designed to enable us to be mobile, able to hunt and forage, able to build a shelter, have children and protect ourselves. As the majority of us no longer need to do most of those things, we have come to judge our bodies, not on what our bodies do but on how they look and on the opinion of others. Strangely this has led to the opposite disorders of obesity and anorexia – both of which can kill.
It is ironic that whilst Western populations, attempting to be thin, spend millions of pounds on exercise machines, diet foods, slimming pills, and even cosmetic surgery, the populace of many other countries cannot even find the means to eat enough to stave off starvation and death. In the faces and bodies of size zero fashion models, there are frightening similarities to the gaunt images that stare at us, hauntingly, on news programmes about areas of drought and misery.
It is time we began to appreciate the wonderful bodies we have been gifted, to enjoy them and look after them. We must value what a person contributes, not just how they look. At the same time, we must try to improve the health and welfare of those around our world whose bodies are starved, diseased and destroyed. We are dying of privilege while they are dying of poverty. This must change so that all of our bodies can be healthy and productive instruments of freedom.
By Moraene ATD Fourth World
We are proud to welcome a guest post from Annie, Surviving Safeguarding
A Parent's Guide to the Child Protection Process
I'm going to keep this post short.
I launched my website in May 2015, having spent the previous month putting my heart and soul into writing my socks off every evening whilst my son slept. At first, I wrote because I was angry. Angry at myself and my own failures and mistakes. Angry at the way my son had been unnecessarily removed at birth and then clumsily handed back 258 days later in a car park. Angry at the way I was made to lie to my older children, still in the care system, about their younger sibling spending time at home when they were not permitted. Angry that the local authority would not engage with me, would not trust me and would not give me a chance to demonstrate I could, and had changed. Angry at the predominant voice in social media being one to encourage fear of social workers and fleeing of families.
I hoped that by writing, I might show some parents that there was another way, that they could be empowered with knowledge and support, that they could engage with social workers, that they could survive the child protection process, too.
I hoped that by writing, I might remind some social workers that service users are real people too, that there are real and enduring effects of our interactions for our families – long after our cases are closed and social workers have moved on, and how important it was to listen and be aware of the experiences of the families they work with. I wanted to remind social workers of the power of their role and the need for humanity and kindness, always.
In a Utopian way, I wanted to help both social worker and service user work together, respectfully and mutually contributing to the relationship for the benefit of the whole family – and the social worker themselves.
I never thought anyone would actually read my website, I just hoped some may stumble across it. I still, to this day, never think about anyone actually sitting and reading my website, and when I’m told people do, I get quite emotional and feel very humbled.
Almost two years on, and my motivations have not changed. In fact, if anything, I am even more motivated to fortify the relationship between social worker and service user and that is at the heart of every single one of my training sessions. Because of my profile, I feel a great responsibility to ensure the voice of parents involved in the child protection process is heard. Without wishing to sound arrogant in any way, I try to speak for those who cannot, for whatever reason. I take this responsibility extremely seriously and carry it with me always. I would never do anything to disrespect the trust of those within the profession, and the families I work with. I’ve never been any good at anything before, but I’m good at what I do, and I feel I make a difference.
I have been aware of various “social work blogs” since I launched my own and have read many with great interest. When I started on this journey, I found them an education, a different perspective – I guess the way some people feel reading mine!! Some of them made for difficult reading; it was painful to read of another human being emotionally worn-out in a job they entered to try to help people like me. Some of the light-hearted posts made me smile and laugh; it was a joy to know that these same authors could find levity as a tool to keep them going, even in distressing times. However, the general theme of these blogs were a positive reinforcement that most social workers truly wanted the best for their service users (for want of a better term) and wanted to work with us. One of them I really rate is Ermintrude’s blog and I would encourage everyone involved in social work to read this website.
However, more recently, I have become increasingly concerned about a blog by a practising social worker who calls himself “Social Work Tutor”. Initially, I was interested in what he had to say and quite buoyed by the addition of another dynamic, powerful voice. In fact, we even exchanged email addresses when he asked me to write a chapter in his book. This was not progressed, because the rehabilitation of my 12 year old son broke down and, after explaining this to the Social Work Tutor, I was ignored.
Around the Autumn of last year, I began to notice more and more posts from the Social Work Tutor about the emotional impact of being a social worker. I read many of them, and in the first instance, found myself agreeing vehemently and calling for more support for those particularly at the “frontline” of practice. But they continued, more and more were produced, now becoming “memes”, many of which were followed by lengthy justifications using very emotive language. There is a time and a place for this and my opinion is that publicly, where service users have free access to read it, is not always the right one.
There was a limit to my sympathy; this person chose to be a social worker, I didn’t choose to be sexually abused by my father and my children didn’t choose to be failed by me, their mother. This person could choose to leave their job and do something different with their lives.
I contacted the Social Work Tutor and asked him to tone these posts down as I felt they were creating an even bigger divide between “us” and “them”. It was everything I was working against. It was divisive. It was disrespectful. It did not encourage engagement. How on earth can you engage with a social worker after reading this sort of thing?
There followed an exchange I can only describe as “shocking” whereby this person used the fact that he worked in a neighbouring authority and knew social workers in my authority, the fact that a very distant relative of his wife was married to a friend’s daughter and that any criticism of him might upset their children (aged 3 and 1), and the fact that he would find any criticism extremely upsetting. This person also then twisted my words to suit him in a move which I have to say left me chilled, considering his position as a child protection social worker.
I understand others have criticised this person’s work too, and have been met with emotionally provocative language, threats of legal action and “blocking”. If you have a public profile as I myself do, you have to learn to take criticism. I get called a child abuser on a weekly basis. It doesn’t upset me any more.
The Social Work Tutor did not tone the posts down. In fact, they have escalated into something I find deeply distasteful, an example of which I have attached below:
As a service user involved in child protection, I cannot begin to describe how horrifying this is. This will sound ridiculous, but my instant response upon reading this is to feel protective towards the families I work with and represent. I know they would feel disempowered and feel frightened and intimidated by the power of a social worker. I know this, because I feel it, too.
Another upsetting “meme” created by this person seems to poke fun at large families, talking about the “awkward moment” the social worker is trying to remember everyone’s name. I have a large family. On court documents, my name is not spelled correctly, and social workers regularly mixed up the names of my children. A local authority trying to remove my children who can’t even call each of us by the correct name?
I could go on, but around 1300 words ago I promised to keep this short.
If you are a social worker considering writing a blog, by all means, please do. Other social workers, senior management, service users, and the general public need to hear your voices. Please do talk about the difficulties of the role, please do articulate the lack of support, please do write down how these things affect you as a human being. We need to understand how best we can all work together to build relationships, and a big part of that begins with being honest and being vulnerable with each other.
However. Please don’t poke fun at, nor shame service users for their choices. Please don’t construct veiled memes to highlight the mismatch of the power dynamic. Please don’t be downright discourteous to your fellow human being.
It is divisive. It is disrespectful. It does not encourage engagement.
Thank you for reading,
The following is a presentation given by Andrew, a father whose family have been the subject of social service interventions and child protection plans, at the Reinforcing or Reducing Inequality among Children? The Role of Child Protection Services conference at King's College London on 28 February 2017. #cwipconf17
Andrew : The Roles of Child Protection Services
When I was asked to speak to you all today, I was told that other people would talk about facts and figures and statistics. I can tell you what these statistics mean in real life. I can tell you about my own experience. When social services are involved in your life, you are in the spotlight. It is like living under a microscope. You feel like you have to agree with everything the social workers say. If you don't agree with them you know that you will lose your kid. It feels like having a gun to your head.
I've had bad experiences with social workers and good experiences. A good social worker will talk to you; it is about you and your family, not about your case file or statistics. I am fortunate to have had good social workers this time around; one, they have tried to see things from my point of view and see what life is like in my shoes and, two, they have gone back to their managers and fought my case for me.
My wife fell pregnant two years ago. We were told by our social worker and her manager that they wanted to make sure we were meeting our baby's needs and that she was developing like a new born baby should.
When social services are involved in your life, you need them to be understanding. I know they are focusing on my daughter's weight. But I didn't go and get her weighed last week because I was sick and my wife was out at college. There was nobody take her. You need social workers who understand that and don't jump down your throat when you have a good reason for not doing what you said you would.
In the past, with our older children, I feel like there was never a fixation on a baby's weight like there is now. My daughter is now messing with her food and messing about at mealtimes. It puts pressure on me and my wife to feed her and to persevere. Despite all this, she is still within the centile but this pressure is new.
When she was born, we were sent to an assessment centre for three months. It was worse than being in prison. We were the eldest people there, surrounded by immature children having children.
But we agreed to go because we know that if social services have concerns, you have to work with them to get rid of them! If they want you to do something then you have to do it.
Going there also proved to the social worker that we were determined to keep our baby, even if it meant taking advice from staff who didn't even have kids of their own. You have to show willing.
When we came out of the assessment centre, social services made me the main carer for our child. They asked me not to work or look for work. It doesn't work that way when it comes to the JobcentrePlus; if you're not allowed to look for work then you get no benefits.
Social services cannot have it both ways. I cannot be asked to be the main carer and only stay at home with the baby. I need to go out and work to earn money. Nothing in this world is free. You can't feed a child on fresh air. And if you can't provide for your child then social services will take your child away.
In the end, social services realised I needed to be able to work part-time to get benefits. My work advisor was a really good support for me. But the real difficulty is that not working means you have no money. And if you have no money then you can't provide for your child.
I have more outgoings than income because being on benefits is no good. Everybody wants the best for their kids and themselves but that doesn't mean just feeding them; it means keeping a roof over their head, clothing them. A life on benefits means I can't go on holiday. It means having that not nice feeling in your stomach when your teenage son asks for a laptop or trainers at Christmas and you're not sure you have enough money for the rent, the gas, the electricity and the food.
A child does not come with a bottomless pit of money so I need the freedom to go out and work. I still want a normal life for me and the kids.
Dignity means respect. Living on handouts, which is what being on benefits means to me, means no dignity.
In the end, I want to repeat what I said at the start. I've had bad experiences with social workers and good experiences. A good social worker will talk to you; it is about you and your family, not about your case file or statistics.
It is also important to have a good support network. I am lucky to have family, friends and ATD Fourth World. This made a difference because having them there meant I could fight to go back to work and know they would visit my wife to support her with our children.
You need to know what support my family has needed outside of social services: holidays with ATD, someone to come to court with us, someone to come to case conferences and meetings with social services, someone to visit us when we were in the family assessment unit, someone to support my wife her confidence and get her out of the house when she was having her panic attacks, someone to support our son through the loss of his brothers and take him out places so that when he feels he can't talk to us he has someone to talk to.
Everyone needs support with kids. With kids, you go through good and bad but it feels like social services are only there for the bad. If social services really want to work with families then they cannot just walk away from a family the moment the child is adopted. If you want to work with families then it is the relationship that has to be the most important thing.
By Andrew ATD Fourth World
For more info about our Social Work Training Programme :
Cartoon imagines from the conference by @harrymvenning
On the 1st February 2017, ATD Fourth World members Angela Babb and Diana Skelton were invited to speak at the Women Economic Forum in London. This conference brought together 250 women from Britain, and twenty other countries in Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. The forum's goal is to enable women to expand their opportunities and increase their global influence through networking, collaborating, and inspiring one another. Angela and Diana's talk was part of a panel entitled, "Women, Poverty, and Human Rights". It included presentations by Carrie Supple, director of Journey to Justice, Dr. Meera Tiwari of the University of East London, and Santosh Dass, Vice Chair of the Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance. Angela's talk, below, focused on why she got involved in the Roles We Play: Recognising the Contributions of People in Poverty (www.therolesweplay.co.uk) , and on what it means to live in poverty in Britain today
Angela Babb: “The Roles Women Play”
I got involved in the “Roles We Play” project because so many people in poverty don't realise how much they do that's positive.
The word “poverty” didn't mean much to me before. It's a big word that makes people think of Africa. But in fact we are in poverty here in Britain too. Poverty is when others think you must be a scrounger because you need to rely on benefits sometimes. Poverty is when you get stigmatised. Using food banks can leave you feeling humiliated—but you have no choice if a food bank is the only way to provide for your family. You see your kids get bullied at school for not having the right trainers. You can have your door kicked in by bullies. And if that happens on a Friday, the council won't send anyone to fix it until Monday. So what do you do with your children for the weekend? It's not safe to sleep at home, but if you take them somewhere else, you're leaving your flat unlocked, and you might not find anything left. Being bullied can make a child completely distraught and afraid to go outside or even afraid to sleep—but even teachers refuse to recognise it and they don't give the child any support.
Health professionals are no better. You can see your child struggling year after year, but not actually receive a diagnosis of autism until the age of 17.
And if you are struggling to help your children, sometimes the only response from social services is to remove the children from your custody. When that happens, it might be many years before you can see your own children again, and before they're allowed to see their brothers and sisters. By then, there's been so much strain and stress that you have to get to know them all over again.
When your children get older, you see them trying to get a job—but they get their confidence knocked right off. Racism hurts too. Once on a crowded bus, a gentleman shouted at me, my baby, and my 27-year-old daughter: “There shouldn't be no chocolate people on the bus!” The gentleman didn't stop there: he gave my daughter a full-blown punch in the mouth. I was gobsmacked. I asked the bus driver to call the police. But not a single other passenger would speak up to the police about what they saw.
We mums have to be strong for our kids. My mum worked in a school as a dinner lady and also worked in the city cleaning office buildings. We always focus on our kids; we put ourselves last. If we're not strong for them, how can they count on us?
It is important to have a voice. Everybody has a right to be heard. But sometimes, you try to express yourself clearly, but the right words just won't come out. To have a voice, you need to have the opportunity to meet other people who respect you. The “Roles We Play” project gives people a voice and the chance to share the different stories that they have. The project tells people that each life tells a different story; we’re people, we’re not just a number.
For more info about the Journey to Justice http://journeytojustice.org.uk
Families in poverty have taken the brunt of austerity measures since the global economic crisis began, resulting in growing social and economic inequality. In Britain stringent cuts in welfare and public services have led to significant hardship for vulnerable children and families. The Child Poverty Action Group estimates that there were 3.9 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2014-15, 28 per cent of children, or 9 in a classroom of 30. The number of children in absolute poverty has increased by 0.5 million since 2010 (www.cpag.org.uk). Some families are at far greater risk, for example large families have been particularly adversely affected by the lowering of the cap on benefits (www.ifs.org.uk). Over recent years there has been a rapid growth in foodbanks with an estimated rise of 54% between 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 (Perry et al., 2014). The number of homeless families living in temporary accommodation also has risen, with a rise of more than 300% since 2014 in the number of families housed illegally (for more than the statutory maximum of six weeks)(Helm, 2017).
Pelton (2015) argues that poverty is the predominant context in which harm and endangerment to children thrive, and is multifaceted, involving direct and indirect relationships. Poverty undoubtedly makes parenting harder, and impacts differentially on individual families, with particularly serious consequences for more vulnerable individuals and those without formal or informal sources of support (Hooper et al., 2007). Yet at the same time that many families are suffering increased hardship, severe reductions in local authority budgets are leading to significant cuts in family support services, such as children’s centres and youth services (Sammons et al., 2015).
Alongside the decrease in family support provision to address need, there has been an intensification of identifying risk. The national statistics show that child protection investigations increased by 79.4 % between 2009–10 and 2014–15 (DfE, 2015). Whilst there was an increase in children placed on a child protection plan (40.4 %) over this period, the much larger increase in investigations meant that the number of children who came under suspicion and were investigated but were not found to be significantly harmed more than doubled from 45,000 to 98,000 (DfE, 2015). Devine and Parker‘s (2015) analysis of referral and assessment trends similarly found practices that were preoccupied with detecting abuse, ignored need and frequently left families alienated and frightened. In addition new applications to the family courts to remove children from the parents’ care have also court continued to rise over the past few years, with 12,758 applications between April 2015 and March 2016, which represented a 14% increase from the previous year (CAFCASS, 2016).
Although no official statistics are collected on the socio-economic background of children and families involved in the child protection system, it is highly likely that increase in care proceedings are primarily affecting children from poor backgrounds. A study by Bywaters (2015) provides recent evidence of a clear link between deprivation and a child’s life chances in relation to their ability to live with their family of origin. Similarly Hood et al. (2016) found that the overall system has become increasingly geared towards protective rather than supportive interventions, with deprivation levels continuing to be the key driver of referrals.
Whilst most families in poverty do not maltreat their children, a review of the literature has reinforced the significance of poverty as a contributory causal factor in child abuse and neglect (Bywaters et al 2016). Poverty is most closely associated with neglect, the highest category for child protection plans, and acts both directly through the capacity of parents to maintain the basic conditions for healthy child development, such as food, shelter and warmth, or to buy a variety of forms of support, and indirectly through the stresses created by low income. Poverty is not just incidental but woven into the fabric of people’s every day lives; an influential factor in family relationships on a day-by-day, hour by hour basis, in its own right and interacting with other forces such as parental mental health, substance use and domestic violence (Bywaters et al 2016), and compounded by increasing levels of inequality in society (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2009).
Despite evidence linking material deprivation and parenting difficulties, Conservative Government ministers and policy advisors have strongly repudiated the view that social injustice and inequality are factors that need to be considered when trying to understand and deal with the harms that children and their families experience (Featherstone, 2016). The neoliberal individualizing of blame and the ‘othering’ of people in poverty is the dominant policy discourse (Warner, 2015), as clearly exemplified by the statement by the then Secretary for Education, Michael Gove (2012) when he spoke about needing to rescue children from ‘a life of soiled nappies and scummy baths, chaos and hunger, hopelessness and despair’. Social work educators have been criticized for focusing too much on poverty and inequality and teaching students to excuse parents in poverty for their ‘bad choices’ (Narey, 2014).
High caseloads and frequent staff turnover, scarce support services, and an increasingly narrow, time-limited and risk averse focus characterise much of children’s social work in local authorities. Recently, Dave Hill, President of the ADCS, warned that because of the funding crisis the system was approaching a “tipping point” and the effects of six years of austerity on services could not be understated (Stevenson, 2016).
This context makes it much harder for social workers, despite their best intentions, to reconcile practices with the primary values of the profession: the promotion of human rights and social justice. Developing effective relationships with families is made more difficult for both practitioners and service users. There is much research on how alienated families become by systems that convert their need for help into evidence of risk (Featherstone et al., 2016).
Poverty is undoubtedly about material disadvantage, but it must also be understood in terms of relational and symbolic injustices in a deeply unequal society. Lister (2013, p.112) refers to poverty as:
a shameful social relation, corrosive of human dignity and flourishing, which is experienced in interactions with the wider society and in the way people in poverty are talked about and treated by politicians, officials, professional, the media, and sometimes academics.
Families living in poverty have spoken about how poverty-related shame and stigma is compounded by a child protection system that is inherently shaming (Gibson, 2015) and unjustly blaming by failing to address poverty and other social adversities that frame their lives (Gupta & ATD Fourth World, 2015).
Feelings of powerlessness and voicelessness characterises many families’ experiences of child protection processes and were linked to subsequent feelings of shameful inadequacy, as a parent explains about her experiences of a child protection conference:
So you are sat there observing what everyone else is doing with your life, and your children’s life (who potentially have no rights) on the basis of strangers around the table. It is degrading, humiliating. Everything is taken away from you”. (Gupta and ATD Fourth World, 2015: 137)
The shift in local authority social work services from support to policing in a highly risk averse context fosters fear and distrust in many families. As a result, families in need feel they have “nowhere to turn to” and are too scared to approach children’s social care services for fear of punitive responses (Morris et al., 2015; Gupta et al., 2016).
Service users have also described being judged without reference to the socio-economic contexts of their lives and viewed as if they were entirely responsible for their problems. Without an adequate understanding of the reality of poverty, the assessments made about the family or quality of parenting may be subjective and inflected by middle class presumptions or prejudice. A key message that comes from service user perspectives as well as academic research is that poverty matters, and attention to the effects in relation to families’ lives, as well as social workers’ judgements and interventions is necessary, as one ATD Fourth World activist explains:
“I am supporting a couple of families where, being aware of social work practice, it’s clear that there is material deprivation, but there’s also severe depression from the mother and that is raising questions over whether she can look after the children. So it’s not clear cut what the issues are at play there. If the child is taken away, no one will say because of material deprivation, but that the mother can’t cope because of mental health. But it’s not that simple, there are many factors building up and material deprivation can play a huge role. Parents are judged because of the way they are suffering for things sparked by material deprivation”.
Mason and Bywaters (2016) have concluded, poverty and allegations of neglect are so interlinked that prioritising context-blind, policing-type investigations over supportive measures to address poverty, will likely prove both ineffective and financially inefficient. What is required is a reversal of austerity policies that are so damaging to the lives of families stuggling in contexts of poverty and rising inequalities, and a fundamental shift in children’s social care provision away from investigation and risk assessment towards early help and family support, whilst still recognizing that some children will require protective action from local authority. However, it is also essential that individual practitioners critically reflect on their use of power, on the influence of dominant discourses on how families’ problems are framed, and on the subsequent judgements made. Finally, coming together and building alliances is recommended in order to truly promote the best interests of our society’s most vulnerable children, as one ATD Fourth World family member explains:
“When families and social workers can work collaboratively in the best interests of the children, it builds a better knowledge base for both parties and the outcomes are likely to be better for the children. As you work together, you learn from each other.”
Anna Gupta & ATD Fourth World
Written for the Social workers and service users against austerity campaign
Bywaters, P. (2015) ‘Inequalities in Child Welfare: Towards a New Policy, Research and Action Agenda’, British Journal of Social Work, 45 (1), pp. 6-23.
Bywaters, P., Bunting, L., Davidson, G., Hanratty, J., Mason, W. J., McCartan, C., & Steils, N. (2016). The relationship between poverty, child abuse and neglect: a rapid evidence review. York, Joseph Rowntree Foundation Downloaded from https://www.jrf.org.uk/file/48920/download?token=Pmnooju4&filetype=full-report
CAFCASS (2016) CAFCASS Care Demand Statistics : July 2015, Available at
Department for Education (DfE) (2015) Characteristics of children in need: 2014 to 2015, London, DfE. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/469737/SFR41-2015_Text.pdf.
Devine, L & Parker, S. (2015) Rethinking child protection strategy: Learning from trends, Working Paper, Bristol: Centre for Legal Research, University of the West of England
Featherstone, B. (2016) ‘Telling different stories about poverty, inequality,
child abuse and neglect’, Families Relationships and Societies, 5 (1), 147-153
Featherstone, B., Gupta, A., Morris, K. & Warner, J. (2016) ‘Let’s stop feeding the risk monster: towards a social model of child protection,’ Families, Relationships and Societies, early on-line publication – first published 15th February 2016
Gibson, M. (2015) ‘Shame and guilt in child protection social work: new interpretations and opportunities for practice’, Child & Family Social Work, Child and Family Social Work, 20(3), pp. 333–343
Gove, M. (2012) ‘The failure of child protection and the need for a fresh start’, Education Secretary speech on child protection on 19 November at the Institute of Public Policy Research. Available online at www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-failure-of-childprotection-
Gupta, A. & ATD Fourth World (2015) ‘Poverty and Shame – Messages for Social Work’, Critical and Radical Social Work, , 3 (1), pp. 131-139
Gupta, A., Blumhardt, H. and ATD Fourth World (2016) ‘Giving Poverty a Voice: Families' experiences of social work practice in a risk-averse system’, Families, Relationships and Societies, 5 (1), pp. 163-172
Helm, T, (2016) ‘Shocking’ rise in number of homeless children in B&Bs at Christmas’, The Guardian 17th December 2016. Available at:
Hood, R. Goldacre, A. Grant, R. and Jones, R. (2016) ‘Exploring demand and provision in English Child Protection Services’, British Journal of Social Work, Early online publication: May, 13th, 2016
Hooper, C., Gorin, S., Cabral, C. and Dyson, C. (2007) Living with hardship 24/7: The diverse experiences of families in poverty in England, London: Frank Buttle Trust
Lister, R. (2013) ‘Power, not Pity: Poverty and Human Rights’, Ethics and Social Welfare, 7, 2, pp. 109-123
Mason, W. and Bywaters, P. (2016) ‘Poverty, child abuse and neglect: patterns of cost and spending’, Families, Relationships and Societies, 5(1), pp. 155-161.
Morris, K., White, S., Doherty, P. and Warwick, L. (2015) ‘Out of time: theorizing family in social work practice’, Child and Family Social Work, early online publication: 7 October 2015
Narey, M. (2014) Making the education of social workers consistently effective: Report of Sir Martin Narey’s independent review of the education of children’s social workers. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/287756/Making_the_education_of_social_workers_consistently_effective.pdf
Pelton, L. (2015) ‘The continuing role of material factors in child maltreatment and placement’, Child Abuse & Neglect, 41: 30 – 39.
Perry, J, Williams, M, Sefton, T and Haddad, M. (2014) Emergency use only: Understanding and reducing the use of food banks in the UK, London: Child Poverty Action Group,Church of England, Oxfam GB and The Trussell Trust
Sammons, P., Hall, J., Smees, R. and Goff, J. with Sylva, K., Smith, T., Evangelou, M., Eisenstadt, N. and Smith, G. (2016) The impact of children’s centres: studying the effects of children's centres in promoting better outcomes for young children and their families, Oxford: University of Oxford
Stevenson, L. (2016) ‘Unstable’ funding for children’s social care hitting services’, Community Care, 7th December 2016. Available at:
Warner, J. (2015) The Emotional Politics of Social Work and Child Protection, University of Bristol: Policy Press.
Wilkinson, R, Pickett, K. (2009) The Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better, London: Allen Lane.
In this blog post I would like to share with you two examples of what poverty is and what living in poverty can feel like and I also wanted to share an example of why it is so important to stand up and speak out about poverty.
Poverty is …
Standing at the school gates waiting for my child to finish for the day
Trying to fade into the background noticing the glances nearing the nasty comments, praying the bell will go so we can get away.
Knowing in my mind I'm not what people say, I'm just unlucky the jobs don't have the pay that is needed to take my debts away.
The pay you see will only go so far when all you earn is minimum wage.
Once you've paid your rent, council tax and utility, if you're lucky there is a week of meals. If not you have to go see an official and tell them why you need their help and then its 50 questions just like the other month; and if you're lucky you will be allowed to use the food bank to give your kids a meal.
So you hold your head in shame hoping no one will see you walk in the food bank once again and all because of that unexpected bill because the washing machine went wrong or shoes wore out again.
On a cold and wintry morning I pull back my frozen blanket, a sleeping feeling comes into my legs. I have to get up quickly before the pavement becomes to busy or I will get kicked away for being in the way.
Even though they only walk on it people think it is their pavement but for me it is where I have to sleep.
ATD Fourth World has giving me the opportunity to represent the organisation at a number of different events. Recently we presented The Roles We Play: Recognising the Contribution of People in Poverty (www.therolesweplay.co.uk) at The University of Sheffield. I was part of a Poverty Experts panel together with 6 other family members from ATD Fourth World.
We presented our work based on real life experience of poverty to around 60 students in a lecture room setting. It was important that we spoke directly to the students; it felt to me like a real achievement as we were given the chance to interact with students who in later life might end up being the policy makers.
If we can teach the students now that people in poverty are not just facts and figures on a report, but everyday people, then as they go through life they see people not just as numbers interacting with them.
I also learned from the students as some of them had been brought up in poverty and they told me about how they had felt about seeing their parents struggle to make ends meet.
During the session we asked the audience what poverty meant to them? I remember now their answers were very different to the answers we got when we asked academics, as some gave explanations of how poverty had affected them or a friend. Not the sort of response we are used to from older people who quite often give responses not unlike what you read in the press.
It is nice to know that the younger generation has not yet been corrupted by the press and politicians.
Thomas ATD Fourth World
In early September, on an organic farm in rural France, an international group of poverty experts met to talk about researching a new way to understand poverty around the world. There were the usual plenary sessions, small group breakouts, and murmuring from simultaneous interpretation booths at the back of the room.
The meeting was a planning session for an ambitious three-year project that will attempt something that has not been done before on such a scale. From start to finish, the project includes as equal partners people living in poverty.
“Determining the Dimensions of Poverty and How to Measure Them” is a project that will take place in seven countries. Each country will identify “dimensions”, or characteristic elements, of poverty. These new dimensions will help policy-makers aim at the right problems, design more effective programs, and figure out if they are making a difference. The study will help the United Nations reach its goal of “eliminating all forms of poverty by 2030”.
The project (funded by ATD Fourth World, the French Development Agency, Oxford University, the Charles Leopold Mayer Foundation for Human Progress, and several other organizations) is led by ATD Fourth World in collaboration with Robert Walker, an Oxford professor of social policy. The project will take place over three years in four pilot countries: Bangladesh, France, Tanzania and the United Kingdom. Similar research will take place on a smaller scale in Bolivia, the Ukraine, and the United States. Attending the meeting were teams from each participating country and the Academic Advisory Board that directs the research.
The project grew out of the increasing awareness that, in order to be successful, poverty policies need to do more than ensure that all people across the world have access to electricity, health care, food, and enough money to meet their basic needs. More and more, policy makers have realized that addressing poverty – especially extreme poverty – requires taking into account complicated cultural and personal elements, both when designing programs and measuring success. At times, well-intended services and programs to address poverty cause unintended harm.
Experts are coming to see that the best way to design solutions is to talk with and listen to the people these programs want to help.
The planning meeting in France focused on how to make conversations happen among very different groups of people who don’t usually talk to one another. A team from each country brought ideas about how to create meaningful long-term exchanges among academic researchers, government officials, practitioners who work at the grassroots level and people with a personal experience of poverty.
The “Merging Knowledge” Process
It’s easy to talk about “consulting with program recipients” or “seeking input from local populations”. But how can this actually happen in a serious in-depth way? How can people with advanced degrees who are trained to think about economics and statistics ever understand people who struggle daily in harrowing circumstances just to feed their children and protect them from violence? How can people with little schooling, who are coping with chaos, ever sit down and share their insights at a conference table with people who are comfortable using academic jargon to talk about “multi-dimensional indicators”?
The people leading the meeting all have had experience facilitating crosscutting conversations with diverse participants. Attendees from an academic background might have been very comfortable conversing around a table in the formal language of charts and graphs. If the five-day meeting had been limited to this sort of forum, however, there would have been no exchange. Other attendees who have no experience with this way of interacting would have been completely shut out of the discussion. Not only that, certain dimensions of poverty would never have been discussed.
The “Dimensions of Poverty” project starts from the understanding that poverty is more than what one lacks: not having money or a house, food or a job. It is also a personal experience involving private pain, loss, and deeply emotional experiences. No one wants to talk about their intimate lives with total strangers, however. In order to speak openly at the meeting about such private experiences, everyone needed to connect on a more personal level. So the conference started with some unusual ways to get people exchanging about more than abstract ideas. This meant everyone had to make a stretch outside his or her comfort zone to share parts of themselves that went beyond their jobs, their background or the country they came from.
The meeting started with activities to help participants get to know one another as more than just a list of professional qualifications (or lack thereof). Each morning started with a 15-minute activity customary in one of the countries at the meeting. The team from Bolivia led an activity called “Cat and Mouse” that made everyone laugh and feel more comfortable together. The entire group stood in a circle and passed two scarves—a long one for the “cat” and a short one for the “mouse”—from person to person. Everyone had to tie and untie two knots in the “cat” but only one in the “mouse” as the “cat” chased the “mouse” around the circle. In addition, everyone ate meals together as a group on the country farm where the meeting was held. People from different backgrounds could stroll down to the local castle in the evening or go berry picking together.
All this went a long way to developing an atmosphere in which people could have a discussion about more than statistics and theory. Poverty, this project recognises, is much more than coping with a low income, unemployment, a lack of health care, or limited access to good food in a resource-deprived neighbourhood.
People in poverty know the obstacles they face, and how to overcome them, in a way that outsiders never can. If the development community wants to learn from disadvantaged communities about what poverty is, they can’t just walk in with a clipboard and ask. They need to create the right circumstances for a genuine conversation. A good way to start might be berry picking.
Note on the Merging Knowledge Process
Each country will use a participatory research method called “Merging Knowledge”, a technique to help people facing extreme poverty and social exclusion exchange ideas with other groups like policy makers or social workers. The goal is to overcome differences in life experiences, speaking and thinking to allow for constructive dialogue.
“Determining the Dimensions of Poverty” will start work in each of the target countries in the coming months.
For more information about our work in the Uk please contact:
Measuring Levels of Poverty
In most cases, poverty levels are determined by measuring monetary wealth. The poverty line for the 34 nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development is 60% of the median income. The World Bank uses a poverty line based on household earnings: $1.90 per person per day (raised from $1.25 in 2015). However, there have been an increasing number of alternatives proposed to this approach.
In France, the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies has begun measuring poverty based on “living conditions”, which take into account the negative consequences of poverty such as lack of access to certain goods and rights. The Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI, created by Sabina Alkire and James Foster and adopted by the United Nations Development Program in 2010) considers the various hardships which poverty has imposed on each person. Under this system, a person is living in poverty once they are deprived in a third or more of ten weighted indicators in three categories: health, education, and quality of life. Other researchers (Amartya San, Robert Walker) have underlined the importance of determining how severe each of these indicators of poverty may be on a case-by-case basis.
However, all of this research and evaluation of “poverty levels” is made without any input from people who have actual experience of poverty, even though they are the ones who have the most direct experience in this field. Because of this, ATD Fourth World has decided to pursue such research, collaborating with both an Academic Advisory Board and people living in poverty.
by ATD Fourth World