Olivia lives with the rare Kleefstra Syndrome.

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UK Children’s Commission on Poverty providing a voice for children

Too often children and young people’s voices are absent from debates about the impact of poverty.  In the UK, the Children’s Society has established the Children’s Commission on Poverty.  The aim of the Commission is to highlight children’s experiences of poverty to better understand the impact of poverty on their lives and to consider what more can be done to improve living standards.

Fifteen young Commissioners will direct the work of the Commission over an 18-month period and will start reporting findings in 2015. Some of the work to date is available on the Commission’s website.

The Commission reports that there are more than 3 million children living in poverty in the UK.  Their work will consider what it’s like for these children to go without food, bedding, clothing, toys and recreation and how poor living conditions impacts on all areas for their lives.  For example, children have reported that their inability to host sleepovers, because of cramped, col d and damp housing, impacts on their ability to make and maintain friendships.  Their poverty leads to feelings of isolation and a sense of social stigma because they are seen as different.  Research undertaken by the Social Policy Research Centre, Making a difference: Building on Young People’s Experiences of Economic Adversity, details similar issues raised by young people in Australia.

An area of interest for the UK Commission is gathering information on the costs of schooling and how these costs affect vulnerable families. The Commission is currently holding a series of hearings on this issue.

Another report has recently been published in the UK on the costs of schooling from young people’s perspectives. The report, published by the Child Poverty Action Group in partnership with the British Youth Council, Kids Company and the National Union of Teachers, reports on the findings of consultations with young people on the impact of schooling costs on their education. Findings mirror what we’ve been hearing in Victoria as part of the Cover the Costs campaign:

  • Some subjects, especially ‘creative subjects’ (art, design and technology, photography) require extra materials and therefore cost more to study. As a result many low-income students choose not to pursue these studies.
  • The price of food left many young people going hungry during the school day and unable to concentrate at school.
  • Many young people noted the impact of missing school trips included the ability to socialise and make friends, and learn new skills.
  • Students could often not afford the cost of a full school uniform and reported that this got them into trouble and made them feel different to their peers.
  • Most young people reported not having all the books and equipment needed for their studies reducing their ability to study.
  • Many reported not participating in after school clubs and extra-curricular activities due to the cost of the club or the cost of transport to the club.

A series on blogs on the impact of schooling costs on students, families and community agencies in Victoria is available on the Cover the Costs website.

The Cover the Costs campaign

In February, VCOSS established the Education Equity Coalition to bring together stakeholders from across schools, community agencies, students and families. Together we published an open letter calling on the Victorian Government to invest in a dedicated and targeted program to continue to provide assistance to families. Yesterday we launched the Cover the Costs campaign to raise public awareness about the changes and to encourage individuals, agencies and schools to call for a better deal for families. In the lead-up to the State Election we are calling on all parties to commit to a genuine replacement to the EMA – funding that is quarantined to support the participation of students to ensure no child is left out or left behind because of financial constraints.

The EMA is not the panacea for the issue of education costs. But as the stories of parents, schools and emergency relief agencies show, it provides a much needed buffer for those families that struggle to meet the costs of sending their children to school.

We will continue to support the call for more equitable funding packages for schools to ensure they can support disadvantaged students and improve programs that benefit all students. We will also promote a broader discussion about the cost of education and how schools and communities can work together to ensure equitable funding policies and practices to ensure every student has the opportunity to participate in all the opportunities schools have to offer. But in the meantime, we need to take action to cover the costs of education and ensure all students can fully participate in the full range of opportunities that school can offer.