Blog: Growing up poor

16 September 2019

Blog: Growing up poor

By Charlotte Dack, CBNE Area Manager

It’s a truth now universally acknowledged that those who could benefit the most from a creative education are the least likely to have access to it.  

30% of children in the North East are living in poverty and in some areas it rises to 52%.

67% of those children are from working families.

Before I joined Culture Bridge North East I worked within children’s charities for over a decade, supporting families who were living in poverty. I saw first-hand, where they lived, what they had in their fridge, in their bank accounts and where they slept and washed.  I saw how the children felt, how they coped and what they feared. These bright, kind, empathetic children were just trying to make the best of it. They were frequently ill from living in damp, cold houses, rarely had a hot meal and struggled at school. Some had lost their homes and were living in temporary one room accommodation for homeless families.  

Every day I anxiously hoped that no more families would knock on our charity’s door, as we had completely ran out of food bank vouchers. And every day I saw that growing up poor is exactly as demeaning as you’d expect. 

The stress of living without enough money has a negative effect on both parents and children’s wellbeing, especially if families fear losing their home. Poverty is associated with an array of adverse physical and mental health conditions, and negatively affects children’s school attainment and attendance.

However, one thing the children I worked with had in common was that they were wonderfully creative, they loved to tell stories, sing songs, put together dance routines and they loved to make things. Anything new and exciting going on in their local area was their ‘best day ever’ and there was a real lust to explore and get involved with creative activities.  (If they were free and transport wasn’t required.)

However, even though they loved the arts and the escape it provided, these children fully accepted they would not get the same quality of creative education as their well off peers. They knew that even if they had a passion for music, learning an instrument was not going to be an option for them. Paying for a dance or drama club or going on a school trip to London to experience culture was not going to happen, when their little brother desperately needed a new school blazer, or mum simply needed to turn the electricity on.

To lift children out of poverty, a country needs to ensure there are decent paid jobs; good, accessible childcare; and a strong social security system to keep people's heads above water and provide support when it's needed. It’s predicted that austerity will have cast an extra 1.5m children into poverty by 2021, according to a study of the impact of tax and benefit policy by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

This is precisely why local schools and organisations are now working more closely together to best support children and their families, making sure that they can get the same experiences as their more affluent peers and also that they get their right to a creative education.

It’s an enormous task involving every stretched sector I can think of but, a small way to start is to look at how to poverty proof schools and cultural venues.

Poverty Proofing is a project developed by the charity, Children North East. It was developed with children’s help and it looks at poverty from a child’s point of view. 

The project provides a toolkit to reduce stigma and remove barriers to learning, to assist schools and other organisations in exploring the most effective way to spend their funding or pupil premium allocation.

In recent years, schools, cultural venues and other agencies across the North East have been coming together to form Local Cultural Education Partnerships and I’m hopeful that this is the ideal platform to work together as sectors in addressing some of the issues our poorer children are facing.