Hackney Impact Report

Introduction

 COVID 19 has undeniably perpetuated the inequalities between various income groups; 65% of those who were employed and living in ‘deep poverty’ can attest to this, whilst the majority of the individuals, who were also in work, living at least 20% above the poverty line were not adversely affected by the pandemic.[1] The fact that two households can be so disproportionately impacted, despite both being in employment and living through the same pandemic, demonstrates a conspicuous inequity. This paper will explicitly focus on the social mobility of low-income families, including certain areas in London, namely in Hackney, and the consequential exacerbation of the pandemic.

 

Hackney

 Demographically, Hackney is decidedly ethnically diverse with approximately 48% of residents describing themselves as being from a minority ethnic group.[2] Recent research has corroborated that social inequalities are more imminent for ethnic minorities; with prevailing trends in higher infant mortality, higher work stress and nearly double the poverty rate.[3] This data is akin to the levels of child poverty in Hackney; the borough has the fourth highest rate in the city as a staggering 28% of children live in ‘poverty’.[4] The child poverty status correlates to the percentage of students achieving a ‘Good Level of Development’ in Hackney. Despite an improvement from past years, the level is below the national and London average. Jennette Arnold, a London Assembly Member, described the level of child poverty as ‘absolutely shameful’ with predictions that the situation will only worsen.[5] Arnold firmly places the blame on the current government’s ‘damaging welfare and reform cuts’ which have exacerbated child academic progression.[6] Contentiously, the director of Operation Black Vote, Lord Simon Woolley remarked that the government prioritised the needs of ‘white working class children’, in turn, sacrificing the needs of impoverished BAME children.[7] There have been a multitude of initiatives that Hackney Council have strategised to mitigate the effects of poverty and facilitate inclusion, including a ‘Food Poverty Plan’ and Inclusive economic strategy 2019- 25. Despite these efforts, the Chancellor’s 2021 Budget outline suggests that this is not enough.

 

Government Intervention

 The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, in his delivery of the 2021 Budget announced a Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit extension of 6 months due to the pandemic. However, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that by the end of the year 200,000 children will be pulled into poverty, as approximately 6 million families with the lowest income lose just over £1000 a year from October.[8] Additionally, the Local Housing Allowance is set to freeze in April; with nearly ⅓ of all households in Hackney renting their accommodation privately, this will undeniably cause financial strains.[9] It has already been established that, despite a greater average income, Londoners tend to spend more than the national mean on ‘essentials’, including rent, which heightens the propensity for debt.[10] From past data, it is known that there is a lack of security for private renters; the greatest reason for homelessness was affiliated with ‘the end of a short hold tenancy’.[11] What’s more, the Chancellor’s uplift on financial benefit disproportionately affects BAME, which makes up nearly half of Hackney’s population. Additionally, a higher percentage of renters, 42%, are classed as BAME; the chancellor’s focus on his mortgage guarantee scheme neglects those who are currently struggling to maintain rent costs. There have been little employment measures to guarantee the security of employment; ahead of the first lockdown, it has been estimated that one in nine people are facing job insecurity through an increase of zero hour or unreliable working contracts.[12] There is a prevalent fallacy that children who live in poverty have parents who are unemployed, however for 2/3rds of families, this is not the case.[13]

 

The Impact On Children

 A staggering 34% of families, with at least one child under five years of age, fall under the poverty line.[14] This matter is perpetuated as the most vulnerable children are more likely to face poverty, for example, the 41% of children who share a household with a disabled family member. With the end of the benefit extension on the horizon, children of those parents who claim Universal Credit or Child Tax Credit will suffer the effects. Already, 70% of these families have had to reduce their spending on the essentials, so any further reductions will act as a burden.[15] The pandemic has disproportionately affected children who belong to low-income families, as it necessitated an increase of their spending whilst the highest income families limited their expenditure.[16] Again, the issue of children from ethnic minority backgrounds being negatively affected stands; in particular, it has been identified that children from Pakistani and Bangladeshi households were between 2.8 and 2.4 times likely to live in low income households compared to their White British counterparts.[17] Children living in poverty has been on the rise since the late 20th century, and this escalation will unlikely stagnate; it has been predicted that by 2022, 5.2 million children will fall victim to it.[18]

 

Academic Attainment

 It is not surprising, due to aforementioned data that those children living in poverty tend to have lower educational attainment. Irrespective of ethnic group, children who are eligible for free school meals had lower levels of progress between the ages of 11 to 16.[19] This can be affiliated to a disparity in home learning environments; a study found that access to a computer and reliable internet connection is vital, and any differences manifest in educational attainment.[20] The shadow education secretary, Kate Green, comments on how the pandemic entrenches the ‘deep inequalities’ and it’s those from ‘disadvantaged backgrounds [who] lose out the most’.[21] Such students are more unlikely to have an appropriate study area to maximise concentration and it has been found that 34% of GCSE aged pupils do not have access to a device/ internet connection to use for school.[22] Other factors to be considered are limited access to private tuition, unlikeliness of parents going into higher education and these students having other priority concerns. What’s more, there is a subliminal, perhaps unconscious, bias from teachers on the ability of low-income students.[23] With exams being cancelled due to the pandemic, this suggests that disadvantaged students may be negatively impacted, costing them their places in higher education.

 

[1]  Nussbaum, J., 2020. Measuring Poverty 2020. [online] Social Metrics Commission, p.3. Available at: <https://socialmetricscommission.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Measuring-Poverty-2020-Web.pdf>.

[2] Office for National Statistics, 2018. Ethnic Groups by Borough. Annual Population Survey.

[3] Byrne, B., Alexander, C., Khan, O., Nazroo, J. and Shankley, W., 2020. Ethnicity, Race and Inequality in the UK. Bristol: Policy Press.

[4] Policy & Insight team, 2016. Hackney's Child Poverty and Family Wellbeing Plan 2016-18. Available at: <https://hackney.gov.uk/cyps-needs-assessment>.

[5] Rushton, E., 2019. Hackney has third highest child poverty rate in the UK, latest figures show. Hackney Citizen, [online] Available at: <https://www.hackneycitizen.co.uk/2019/10/30/hackney-third-highest-child-poverty-rate-uk/>.

[6] Loc. Cit.

[7]  Khan, R., 2021. Homeschooling has a disastrous impact on those living in poverty, some in cramped conditions, suffering abuse. Independent, [online] Available at: <https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/homeschooling-closures-coronavirus-pandemic-b1783122.html>.

[8] Office for Budget Responsibility [OBR] (2021) Economic and Fiscal Outlook March 2021. [Online] Available at: https://obr.uk/efo/economic-and-fiscal-outlook-march-2021/

[9] Office for National Statistics [ONS] (2011) Index of Private Housing Rental Prices, UK Statistical bulletins. London: ONS.

[10] Step Change Debt Charity, 2018. London in the red report: A capital in debt. [online] Available at: <https://www.stepchange.org/policy-and-research/2017-london-in-the-red.aspx#boroughs>.

[11] Clarke, A., Hamilton, C., Jones, M. and Muir, K., 2017. Poverty, evictions and forced moves. [online] Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Available at: <https://www.housingnet.co.uk/pdf/Poverty_evictions_final_July17.pdf>.

[12]  Klair, A., 2018. The millions trapped in insecure work deserve a new deal. Trades Union Congress.

[13] Nabarro, B., 2020. UK economic outlook: the long road to recovery. Institute for Fiscal Studies.

[14] Parker, S., 2021. It takes a village- how to make all childhoods matter. [online] Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Available at: <https://wp.littlevillagehq.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Anniversary_1080px_V8.pdf>.

[15] Maddison, F., 2020. A lifeline for our children: Strengthening the social security system for families with children during this pandemic. Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Save the Children.

[16] Brewer M, Patrick R., 2021. Pandemic pressures: why families on low income are spending more during covid-19.Resolution Foundation. [Online] Available at: <https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/pandemic-pressures/>.

[17] Khaliq, M., 2020. Child poverty and education outcomes by ethnicity. [online] Office for National Statistics. Available at: <https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/nationalaccounts/uksectoraccounts/compendium/economicreview/february2020/childpovertyandeducationoutcomesbyethnicity#main-points>.

[18] Social Mobility Commission, 2020. Monitoring social mobility 2013 to 2020: Is the Government Delivering on our Recommendations?. [online] Available at: <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/891155/Monitoring_report_2013-2020_-Web_version.pdf>.

[19] Loc. Cit.

[20] Goodman, A. and Gregg, P., 2010. Poorer children’s educational attainment: how important are attitudes and behaviour?. [online] Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Available at: <https://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/default/files/jrf/migrated/files/poorer-children-education-full.pdf>.

[21] Adams, R., 2020. Gap between rich and poor pupils in England 'grows by 46% in a year. The Guardian, [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/sep/01/disadvantaged-and-bame-pupils-lost-more-learning-study-finds>.

[22] Cullinane C, Montacute R., 2018. Pay as you go? Sutton Trust. [Online] Available at: <https://www.suttontrust.com/ourresearch/internships-pay-as-you-go/>

[23]  Platt, L, Dearden, L, Greaves, E & Rainsberry, M., 2016. Stereotyped at seven? Biases in teachers ’ judgements of pupils ’ ability and attainment. Journal of Social Policy, 44. Available at: <https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Stereotyped-at-seven-Biases-in-teachers- %E2%80%99-of-pupils-Platt-Dearden/5252b04c3b8df3c8a35b9c70357bd06473d03027>


Our Impact: Visible through the Statistics we have been collecting

104 Children benefitted from receiving devices - From January to May 2021

54 Families benefitted from our services - From January to May 2021

259 Children benefitted from receiving devices - March to November 2020

107 Families benefitted from our services - March to November 2020


Community lifelines: Hackney mother helps bridge the digital gap

Published on: 18 February 2021 | Source: Hackney Gazette

Melissa Francis hugs her daughter, T’shaya, as her son T’quarn, dj’s on his smartphone in their living room, September 18, 2020. After years of volunteering for several organisations in Hackney, Melissa started Bridge The Gap - Families In Need. The aim is to help low income families that require support, get access to the help available to them, and access to the internet. Melissa’s two children have Autism, and the difficulty she experienced accessing these services was her inspiration. - Credit: Grey Hutton/National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund


T’shaya Francis-Gordon, Melissa’s daughter, practices her football skills in the garden after school, September 18, 2020. Earlier in the year she helped raise money for her mothers organisation, Bridge The Gap - Families In Need, by selling homemade cupcakes on the street outside their home in Hackney. When she's older she wants to be a photographer or DJ. - Credit: Grey Hutton/National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund


Andrew Gordon, a volunteer with Bridge The Gap - Families In Need, stands in the rain calling a family he’s delivering a laptop to, August 19, 2020. Andrew has extra time at the moment through lack of work and is helping Melissa’s organisation by delivering laptops to low income families across the borough. - Credit: Grey Hutton/National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund

A Hackney mother has been tackling the digital divide in her community by distributing digital devices to families in need. Taryn Wint and Melissa Francis, who says she would "help every single soul" if she could, together set up Bridge The Gap - Families In Need during the first lockdown last year despite having never set up a grassroots organisation before.

 

“It threw me out of my comfort zone,” Melissa said.

 

But with help from resident-led project Our Place, Hackney Council and Hip, a forum for parents and carers of children with disabilities, her idea to give more families access to the internet got off the ground and found funding.

 

The mother-of-two says her experience living without internet just before the lockdown, struggling with slow mobile data, costly wifi-hotspots and dongles while her children grew anxious about school work, led her to speak to other families in similar situations.

 

Melissa Francis by Clapton Ponds in Hackney, August 11, 2020. As well as helping families with digital devices, Melissa started a WhatsApp group that now has almost 100 participants. The group helps families access resources and information, such as discounted school uniforms and free online after-school tutoring for children. - Credit: Grey Hutton/National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund

“It was just getting so frustrating and I was thinking, I wonder how other people are managing,” she told the Gazette.

 

Although Melissa’s internet access problems were temporary and caused by moving house, she had learned about many residents affected by Hackney’s digital divide. At first, Melissa tried to help people with her own money but was advised that with funding and a crowdfunder, the organisation could reach more people.

 

All the while the former community support worker was volunteering at other Hackney organisations, such as Children With Voices, The Feel Good Community and Connecting All Communities, and people were donating laptops, printers and phones as well as tins and other food items. But, she said: “I had to slow it down because it was a lot. I was going through a process of not getting any sleep just working around the clock non-stop."

 

Now the service “sticks” to offering digital devices and more recently a tutoring service to help children catch up on online learning. But an “overwhelmed” Melissa says “the list is just increasing” with people from outside the borough contacting her for help.

 

For now, the service can only provide devices to families with children on free meals in Hackney, but she hopes to branch out to other areas in the future. 

 

To support Bridge The Gap, visit www.bridgethegaplondon.co.uk/donations

To get involved, visit www.bridgethegaplondon.co.uk/vacancies

 

At the entrance to her apartment building, Shakayla Smith-Gayle proudly holds her new laptop delivered to her by Andrew Gordon, a volunteer with Bridge The Gap - Families In Need, August 19, 2020. Before today there was only one laptop in the house and her older sister was using it mostly for school work, now Shakayla has her own. An Ofcom survey from January and March 2020 found that 9% of households with children in the UK did not have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home. Lockdown and school closures have put tremendous pressure on many families who have more children than digital devices, meaning Melissa’s work distributing laptops to families that need them is more important now than ever before. - Credit: Grey Hutton/National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund


Bridge the Gap - helping to tackle the digital divide where we live

Published on: 18 January 2021 | Source: De Beauvior Association

Full of joy ... Melissa with her two children 
Photo: © Grey Hutton/National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund

Well, there’s no such thing as coincidence. Last week we were about to write an article about the digital divide: how that impacts on children in our neighbourhood and put a shout-out to you, to ask for donations of old laptops and other digital devices you no longer use, so they could be refurbished and given to those families in need.

Then we heard of Bridge the Gap, a Community Interest Company set up in March last year. Their aim is to support local families by supplying refurbished computers and other equipment and thus help them to develop their children’s futures through education. A need that has been heightened through the pandemic.

The founder, Melissa Francis, became acutely aware of this when Covid hit and she saw how disadvantaged some of her friends and neighbours were without access to technology. In the first instance she put her hand in her own pocket and spent £100 to buy a secondhand laptop for one of the families to help with their children’s school work.

One thing led to another and through talking to people and gathering evidence of the divide she decided more needed to be done. With the support and encouragement of HiP (Hackney independent forum for children with disabilities) and officers at Hackney Council Strategic Development, Melissa launched Bridge the Gap which goes from strength to strength, but currently has a waiting list of over 80 families hoping to receive a computer.

“One of the problems is that if a family is not classified as ‘disadvantaged’ by the ‘system’, they cannot get help to buy what they need”, she told me. “I know how complicated and difficult it is to get the help you need as it took me ten years to convince doctors and teachers that both of my two children were autistic”. 

Melissa went on to explain; “I was working all the hours God sends whilst fighting for my children and ended up suffering from depression. The doctor wanted to prescribe me tablets, but through support groups and individuals like Michelle Dornelly of Children with Voices, I found my strength and became inspired to focus and help these families in need”.

Melissa has worked as a carer, teaching assistant, programme officer and community support worker. Now she is working full time on a voluntary basis running Bridge the Gap; along with the needs of her children it has taken over her life.

“All I want to do is to make a difference to a child’s life”, she told me, “being able to do that is payment enough”.

So, don’t wait till tomorrow (because if you do you might forget), go to your cupboard now, dig out that old laptop or iPad. Let us know by emailing us at info@debeauvoir.org.uk and we’ll arrange to collect if from you.

Alternatively please donate if you can to their Gofundme page, here.