How to save society £21 for every £1 spent

Campaign film from charity School Home Support from Divert on Vimeo.

The school term has barely begun, but some things are for certain; new shoes are already scuffed, fresh friendships are being formed and, on average, up to eight children in every classroom are living in poverty.

George, for example, was persistently late for his primary school in the north east of England and was also collected late – usually by different people. After a fire at his council flat, he and his lone parent mother had been allocated a new home but could not afford to furnish it so had moved in with relatives. George had trouble concentrating in class and suffered from nightmares.

Things changed after support from an independent, school-based welfare worker who wrote to George’s mother about the school’s concerns. The worker, from charity School Home Support (SHS), applied for money from the organisation’s support welfare fund for a double bed, so that they could at least sleep in the new flat. George and his mother moved in, a bit of stability entered their lives and the worker is still supporting them to furnish their new home.

As George’s case proves, there are complex reasons why children end up truants, troublemakers or bullies, why they are always late or why they fail to do their homework. Although it is dangerous to suggest poverty alone is to blame, most experts agree that it is the root of many behavioural problems.

School-Home Support is one source of support. It offers school-based emotional and practical support through practitioners who help children and families in more than 240 primaries in 22 local authority areas across England. SHS staff are a non-timetabled resource, talking to parents at the school gates and visiting families at home with the aim of creating a link with school.

Scratch beneath the surface of an average classroom, according to SHS figures, and around seven children will have witnessed domestic violence, six will have been exposed to substance misuse and one child will be a carer for a family member. The idea is to nip problems in the bud before they appear and offer support beyond the classroom. SHS practitioners deal with issues such as parents who feel isolated because English is not their first language or families coping with substance misuse or mental health problems.

Last year the 26-year-old charity reached over 19,000 children and young people like George. It costs £5m to run a year, with funding from local authorities that have contracts with SHS, voluntary donations, support from venture philanthropy fund the Private Equity Foundation.

A recent evaluation of the social and economic impact of its work found that for every pound spent on SHS, £21.14 is saved across society in terms of reducing the cost of dealing with unemployment, crime, exclusion and the increased income as a result of higher educational attainment. A June 2007 report by consultancy New Philanthropy Capital compared the cost of SHS interventions with the cost of school exclusions and found that if all those in danger of exclusion had access to its services, then society would save £90m a year.

In the current climate, this sort of work is more relevant than ever; the knock-on impact of job losses can have profound effects on educational attainment. SHS staff point out that an event like the 1,700 jobs lost thanks to the closure of the Corus steel works on Teeside, for example, could effect families, relationships, dynamics and ultimately children’s behaviour and ability to perform, concentrate or attend school.

SHS has links to the whole family, it is well-placed to work with local authorities and other public sector agencies, supporting the coordination of services. Interestingly, it also puts paid to the myth that some people are ‘hard to reach’. In fact, it’s often the support services that are hard to find, because parents think they’re unapproachable or simply don’t know about them, and if they do, the onus is on the individual to make contact.

Let’s leave the last word to Angela, a mother-of-five from Hackney: “SHS were the only ones who never judged me as a parent. Carla, our SHS practitioner in school, never said ‘you’re no good.’ I’m not perfect but I do my best for my kids and I love them.”

5 thoughts on “How to save society £21 for every £1 spent”

  1. Very welcome new blog on the issues that matter in our society today. Unbelieveable that 79 million people across the European Union still live today below the poverty line, including 19 million children. 2010 is European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion, and Europe has set the target of reducing the number of people in poverty by 20 million by 2020…. but there’s a long way to go, and there’s no magic wand. One key way forward is for us to exchange ideas on “what works”, both in the UK and beyond, which is why initiatives like this blog are so valuable. Look forward to reading more!

  2. An insightful article that’s given me a whole fresh perspective on my daughter’s start at school. Shocking to think that in her small class there could be kids who are suffereing as your article describes.
    This highlights one of many flaws in the governments attitude to the young, and very young. While it seems obsessed with inflicting ASBOs, and blaming the ‘yoof’ of today there are deeper issues underlying this.
    I agree you can’t use poverty as an excuse but you can’t sweep it under the carpet either.

  3. Interesting. Certainly shows the importance of such support services. But with local Government funding being slashed surely their grants are under threat? What is the best way to ensure they are able to continue their work? Formalising them into quangos would mean that they would lose their independence and liberty to work indiscriminatly. It’s clear that this kind of work is a ‘good investment’ but I worry that it’s viewed as an easy cut.

  4. On the subject of saving money with SHS can we clear up the misconception that people live in poverty in 21st Century Britain. The poverty you talk about is relative poverty and is the worst kind of measurement I have ever encountered. REAL poverty should be based on the ability to live a life to a certain standard/quality of living. This does not mean have luxury goods as many of these people classed as being in poverty have. Although, I am not a Labour supporter, the claim is that poverty increased under Labour but these families have more money now than they did pre-Labour intervention. As the country gets wealthier, all this does is exaggerate the gap between the richer and the poore, which is irrelevant to the every day lives of these people.

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