The sheer magnitude of the challenges faced by families in Wales over recent months and years is revealed in a new report published by Save the Children Cymru.

‘From Covid-19 to Cost of Living: 18 months of providing Early Years Grants to Families in Wales’ highlights some of the main problems families are experiencing and how they can combine to make day-to-day lives more complicated and challenging.

Poverty is on the rise across the UK and Wales has the highest level of child poverty compared to all other nations, with nearly 1 in 3 children growing up in its grip. The deepening tragedy of child poverty in the UK has been intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis making providing for children much more difficult.

Working with local community partners throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, Save the Children distributed emergency grants across the UK to meet the immediate needs of families. The grants provided beds, highchairs, pushchair, and other essential household items and included learning resources such as books, toys, educational activities, and vouchers to spend on food and essential items like clothes.

Unfortunately, the need for this type of support did not end when lockdown did. The cost-of-living crisis means parents still struggle to afford the items and resources they need to help their children thrive. That is why Save the Children has continued to work with partners in Wales to support families through its Early Years Grants scheme reaching over 1500 children living in 775 household over the past 18-months.

Analysis of the grants’ delivery in Wales over this period shows why these grants were needed and that the key issues families were facing were Covid-19 and the associated lockdowns and the cost-of-living crisis. Each of these huge social and economic events sit alongside a range of other challenges such as issues with benefits, job insecurity, costs associated to new baby, disabilities and health problems, coming to Wales as a refugee or asylum seeker, housing issues, including homelessness and domestic abuse.

Melanie Simmonds, head of Save the Children Cymru said: “Just as the immediate impact of the Covid-19 pandemic began to ease, the cost-of-living crisis proliferated leaving the most vulnerable children and their families facing increasing hardship.

“We all need to work together to address these challenges. Over the coming years through our work, we will try to reduce the number of children growing up in poverty in Wales by working in partnership with others, listening to the latest evidence, and most importantly listening to the voices of children and families and our partners working within communities.”

The Cardiff community-based charity Action in Caerau & Ely (ACE) which supports local residents with crisis drop-in sessions, a volunteer-led toy and shop, a food pantry, foodbank, warm bank, café and community garden and training is one of Save the Children’s main partners in delivering the Early Years Grants.

Nerys Sheehan, Community Support Co-Ordinator for Action in Caerau and Ely said: “Since the pandemic we have seen a huge increase in the number of people seeking help and we now have up to 50 people a week coming through our doors. People are in absolute crisis, in destitute, with no food, no fuel and they have nowhere else to turn. This kind of grant opportunity is a lifeline for so many people but there is only so much we can do. I worry about the months ahead and how this is going to look and affect the most vulnerable in society. It’s going to get worse.”

A single mum from Newport with a one-year-old daughter who recently received a grant said: “I’m going to use the voucher to stock up on food, lots of tins, to see us through because honestly, I am struggling to buy what we need. And I’m going to get some Christmas presents for my daughter. I don’t know what I would have done without this grant.”

Melanie Simmonds feels strongly that turning rhetoric into action to make sure no child misses out is a priority that just can’t wait: “The UK government in its Autumn Statement has made inroads to ease families’ pain but they still face tough times ahead. Increasing the benefit cap in line with inflation is significant. But we believe an extra £10 per month per child into the child element of Universal Credit is needed to provide sustainable support for children and families long-term and that childcare costs and better routes to sustainable work need to be addressed.  We also need to ensure that the real-term cuts to the Welsh Government’s funding will not affect families in Wales needing access to vital services.”

To read the full report please click here

Rebecca Thomas, Bettws Early Learning Community Lead, reflects on Covid-19, lockdowns and developing resilience

Rebecca Thomas, Bettws Early Learning Community Lead, reflects on Covid-19, lockdowns and developing resilience

It’s now two years into life with Covid and as a mother of three boys, the past years has had its highs and lows. During the lockdown the challenges of juggling home-schooling, work and managing feelings of uncertainty, at times becoming overwhelming.

But as a family we got through it. Together

The feeling of togetherness I witnessed on my own doorstep, and also within the community where I work in Bettws in Newport, south Wales, kept me going. People reached out to help each other, especially as the pandemic revealed the depth of inequality in society and brought home the everyday challenges those living on low incomes face.

Families were already struggling before the crisis. Over the past two years we’ve heard how many have had to cut back on essentials such as food, heating and clothing for children and are sinking deeper into debt. Many parents also didn’t have the tools, resources and skills to adequately support their child’s learning and development at home which led to a lot of stress and anxiety.

These challenges aren’t limited to lockdowns and as we emerge to a new normal the additional pressures of the cost-of-living crisis means we need to take new approaches to ensure what matters to families is at the heart of all we do.

About Bettws and the Early Learning Community

Bettws is a 1960s estate on the edge of the city of Newport, which at one time, was the largest housing estate in Europe. It is an area that has known real challenges with one of the highest rates of poverty in Wales, but it has a strong sense of community.

The Bettws Early Learning Community project is a partnership between Save the Children, local primary schools, parents, Newport City Council, Welsh Government, health visitors, police, young offenders groups and housing associations who have come together to improve early learning outcomes for children in the area. It seeks to create a place where every child has an equal opportunity to succeed and thrive.

The project started its journey in 2018, looking at what problems the community had and how we could get to the root of them. We aim to join up and strengthen services that already exist to make sure no child falls through the gaps.

When the first lockdown was announced two years’ ago, we quickly pivoted to online meetings and found we were able to mobilise real help quickly. Working with our partners on the ground, we were able to deliver 80 emergency grants to help buy basic household items and food vouchers. Through gifts in kind and donations we were also able to deliver hygiene packs, family resource packs, and digital devices and support to help with home learning, including over 70 chrome books.

Children’s voices captured on film

During 2020 we commissioned a film crew to capture the voices of children living in Bettws and convey their hopes and fears as they grow up in this small community. They go on to talk about the changes and decisions they want adults to make to secure a better life for them.

Eight-year-old Lily May wants “all the grown-ups to work together to build new and better houses so that people who are poor can live in them.” And Junior, also 8, would like to ‘change plastic pollution.”

Filming began in February, just before lockdown and then continued in and out of local restrictions when the cameras were allowed to revisit and chronicle how life had changed for the children and how the Bettws Early Learning Community project had been able to help.

The children talk on camera how the Covid-19 pandemic affected their lives on the estate, especially when school was shut, and consequent local lockdowns meant they had to adapt to home learning again, missing out on seeing their teachers and friends.

“I felt sad because I love school,
Laura, 8

Before we could hug our friends and see them and use each other’s colour pencils. But we can’t anymore, we have to use our own,”
Cassie-Ella, 9

The short bilingual film in English and Welsh also features the voices of teachers and partners working to help families on the estate during the crisis,

“None of us could of [sic] predicted that we were going to be hit with a pandemic that meant that schools would be closed and that we wouldn’t be able to go anywhere. The impact of us having the Bettws Early Learning Communities project already set up meant that we were ready to go.”
Lindsay Watkins, Headteacher, Millbrook Primary School

But although it’s been a tough time, there is a feeling of optimism of what can be achieved in in moving forward in building on the resilience of the children and their families to work together as a community. We have learnt valuable lessons from each other, especially the children we strive to help secure their futures.

As nine-year old Kobie nails it in the film: “This is how resilience works!”

To view the film:

And here’s a short film of Rebecca explaining how we managed to help families in Bettws during lockdow