The bedroom tax: schools struggling to help

[Summary of Manchester University research, continued from 11 January]

There’s a real challenge for schools to understand what’s happening to young people in their care.

Teachers often have a sense that children are under pressure, but are unclear what this involves. It is really valuable for schools to bring in active members of the community, as well as other professionals with close knowledge of the local area.

This account comes from a youth worker employed by a voluntary sector organisation, who is also a local resident:

A lot of mums are holding down two and three cleaning jobs and that’s just to pay bills. It’s not to put food on the table. If you’re hungry, and sharing a bedroom. I know people that have to take it in turns to sleep on the floor or in the bed in overcrowded houses. So all that stuff’s going on, they can’t engage in school fully.

I think schools, that’s what schools need to understand. Young people are coming in to school with a lot of baggage. And if the schools aren’t asking them, ‘So what’s going on?’ Nothing’s gonna change for that young person. School will be a nightmare.

Some people go to school for an escape because home’s so difficult. They’re not there to be educated, they’re there for a rest. And to be warm and to get their dinner. 

bedroom tax

Schools are becoming aware of families which have been making do on low wages so far but are now thrust into crisis. Chapter 3 of the report includes many telling accounts from teachers and heads, and stretching resourceful to an extreme in trying to help.

We would say to the parent ‘Well, what about our breakfast club? You can come in with them, you don’t have to, but you’ll have had a breakfast as well.

At Christmas time we do food hampers. The first year we did it, we did eight hampers. This year we did 40.

And Christmas hampers from the Salvation Army in fixed raffles, if you know what I mean.

Parents can afford one jumper, one pair of trousers and one shirt. And the children are coming in in damp clothing, so that has a knock-on effect on health.

Situations like this need handling with tact and ingenuity.

We have to have difficult conversations, you know, people have their own private lives, you don’t want to ask ‘have you got enough money/’ you know, but we do say ‘are you getting all the help that you need from benefits? Is there anything that you’re short of?’

When we see children with grubby clothing, one of the things we do ask them is ‘is your washing machine ok?’ and we can usuallly find out that way and give extra uniform at that point.

The bedroom tax is piling extra psychological pressure on families which are already vulnerable.

A lot of our families have had bad childhood experiences themselves and they’ve been in foster care and things like that and then they don’t want anybody to get involved in their life because they think ‘are you going to take my children away from me?’ It takes an awful lot to get your toe in the door … we’re not going to take your children away from you, we’re here to try and support you. But it does work, but it takes an awful long time to do it. (Family support worker)

One headteacher asked children to think about three wishes, and was shocked by one child’s response. It shows that children are carrying enormous burdens:

I just want my mum to stop crying?

I wish my mum would spend some time with me and be happy when she’s with me.

I hope my mum can pay the TV license because if she doesn’t we’re going to lose… we’re not going to be able to afford to pay the rent.

One high school lhad established a support area in school, staffed by a ‘mothering’ figure “she’s like the school mum” who is available to help children in whatever way necessary, from sewing a button onto a blazer to bathing a grazed knee to ohanding out sanitary towels. She also cooks stews and soups for morning break time which regularly feed around 70 hungry pupils for free.

“There’s a lot of parenting and a lot of nurturing going on in that room” (Inclusion Strategy Leader)

What hypocrisy when the government that is causing all this suffering claims to be ‘closing the gap’.

Please read the full report for all the details we have had to leave out of our summary. 

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