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Guest Blog: Luke Bramall, Children North East

Luke Bramhall

It’s no secret… poverty and inequality has extended at the same time that access to cultural and arts venues have depleted as a consequence of the significant impact of Covid-19. I spend many of my days reading and then reciting statistics on the stark impacts that both poverty and, more recently, Covid-19 is having in our communities, and continue to be shocked at how families are drowning under the weight of financial pressures, income insecurity and limited opportunities.

With predictions of hundreds of thousands more people living in poverty as a result of Covid-19-instigated redundancies and furlough, and the North East suffering from increases in poverty of around 11% in the last 5 years, it is time for us to think differently about how our society is set up. Currently our society is not working for everyone – this has been made explicitly clear in recent months and years. We currently live in a world where household income limits your educational attainment, health, wellbeing, access to opportunities in music, dance, art, sports and leisure.

I have spent years having conversations with people who face poverty every day. Sadly many individuals have resigned themselves to the fact that this is the ‘norm’, and it ‘just is the way of life’. And of course it makes sense, because if you live in poverty you continually have limited opportunities. You won’t go on that school trip, take part in those sports activities, get music tuition, or go on holiday. This is no secret. I always remember speaking to one young mum who talked about the fact that ‘this is the way life is – so we just have to deal with it’.

So if we are talking openly and honestly then let’s be straight. As long as our society maintains the current status quo we will continue to limit the opportunities and life chances of those who have the lowest household income. If you, like me, think this is not good enough then let’s start a new conversation, a conversation about redesigning our society. You may consider this to be a big ask, however as individuals and as organisations that make up our society, there are real, practical and powerful things we can do as we recover from the pandemic that will make a significant impact for those in poverty.

Speak to people who are experiencing poverty. There is no greater way of enabling access for those that have limited financial resource, than speaking with those with limited financial resource. Be honest with yourself: if I asked the question ‘Why do those living in poverty not engage with my organisation?’, lots of people will have an answer, but far fewer will have made a concerted effort to address that issue. Consider how all your operational and strategic decision making will impact the poorest family in your local community. That would be my yardstick.

The facts are clear. Poverty is a horrendous chain tied around many families, limiting opportunities, and making progress ten times harder. At Children North East we engage in these hard conversations and the key points highlighted above through our Poverty Proofing work, and work with organisations such as Sage Gateshead to explore the truth about limited opportunities for those in poverty.

I have seen the positive impact of access to great opportunities. Connecting children with music in a poverty proofed way in the West End through In Harmony Newcastle Gateshead has been found to provide a brilliant platform for children to build confidence, self-esteem and as we see the lasting benefits we hope for the opportunity for social mobility.

As we recover from the pandemic then let’s make that recovery one that is fair for everybody and is informed by the experiences of those in poverty. Let’s consider how our work, our ethos and our values reflects that of inclusivity of individuals from all socio-economic backgrounds. Ultimately let’s listen to and respond to the truth of poverty so we can create a just society for all.

Luke Bramall is Poverty Proofing and Participation Service Manager at Children North East.