Poor housing and badly targeted services hit infants from low-income families.
Poor families with very young children risk falling into crises as they struggle to get the help they need from vital services in housing, health and early education, finds a new report.
A review of the role that key services play in helping poor families improve their lives, shows how life on a low-income can be affected by a lack of affordable housing and poorly targeted services that should be there to help.
Focus groups, conducted by the National Children's Bureau as part of an investigation by the Children's Commissioner into how families with children under five access local services, indicate that housing is the stand-out area in need of improvement for families to enjoy a better standard of living.
Many of the families taking part in the research were living in poor quality accommodation that was too small, difficult to heat or in bad state of repair. They complained that housing services were difficult to access, with inadequate communication from staff and with a poor standard of maintenance and repairs.
Other services fared better, with many parents valuing access to free early years services and health care, which they may have been unable to afford otherwise.
But there was a feeling that many services, including housing, mental health services and family support, did not respond until a family had fallen into crisis and that services could do more to proactively target families, particularly new arrivals to the country and those from so-called 'hard to reach' groups.
Some parents reported that crucial services were being reduced or had shut entirely, particularly those offered by children's centres providing childcare, early education and play facilities.
The report's authors recommend that:
- The availability, access and quality of free health care and early years services be protected, to ensure children in low income families have the best start in life.
- Reviewing housing strategy, policy and service provision to ensure that the needs of families of young children are properly addressed.
- Increasing the availability of preventative services that intervene early in children's lives to ensure they are on the right track.
Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children's Bureau said:
'A great number of families with young children are struggling to get by on the money they have coming in. For these families, having local services they can rely on makes all the difference, whether it is a friendly GP who takes time to understand their problems, or a free childcare service that enables them to go to work. Local services for children under five need to be protected, and we should think long and hard before cutting back either on these vital services or on state support for those on low income.'