Cost-of-living crisis: using evidence and lived experiences

How listening to lived experience can help change our practice, by Hannah Connell, External Affairs Manager, Blackpool Better Start.

Hannah Connell

In October, we co-produced a short film with our community for our annual conference, Tackling Poverty, Changing Childhoods. When talking about the national impact of poverty on early child development, it was crucial that the voices of our community were listened to and understood, and that we highlighted what living in poverty in Blackpool is really like for families. Setting the science about the impact of poverty on early child development in the context of lived experience ensured that delegates could reflect on how to apply the evidence into practice.

The first step in creating the film was by having frank and open discussions with local parents about what poverty means to them, what their lives are like, and what barriers are in the way of them accessing support. This session allowed us to develop key messages that would be used in the film, to help tell the stories of our families.

The key messages that were highlighted were:

  • The cost-of-living crisis/impact of covid is putting extra pressure on Blackpool families, but the issue of poverty has existed in the town for generations.
  • Blackpool is more than just the prom – there is another world that exists behind the bright lights of the tourist attractions.
  • The impact of poverty affects children of all ages, and families face different challenges for babies, young children, and teenagers.
  • As well as families living in poverty, there are also many that “just about manage” by juggling different jobs and managing debt.
  • The relationship between families and professionals is key – working together, and not against each other, will help bring about change.
Just about Managing screenshot

It was through this feedback that the title of the film emerged and ‘Just about Managing’ was used as it clearly conveys the situation of many families in the town.

As well as interviewing parents, we also felt it was important to hear the voices of frontline staff who are witnessing first-hand the effects of poverty on family life. We were very lucky to secure input from key individuals within Children’s Services and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, as well as from a community outreach worker; their valuable insight added another dimension to the film.

Throughout the film’s development, we were clear that we did not want the overall message of the film to be fatalistic. The enormity of the poverty crisis in the UK can feel hugely overwhelming for the workforce, and we really wanted to offer some hope and solutions for how we can collectively work to help mitigate the impacts of poverty.

See the 'Recommendations and suggestions for professionals'

Throughout the conversations and discussions that were had with the lived-experience team, it became clear that families experience many barriers to getting the help and support they need. The parents repeatedly cited confusing and difficult form-filling as a regular occurrence, as well as finding it difficult to travel to services that were not based in their local ward. It was agreed that the parents would offer recommendations to the workforce about how they could adapt their practice to better suit the needs of local families. These recommendations were captured on the film and were also produced as a document that professionals can refer to in the future.

This piece of work has been an effective way of raising awareness of the impact of poverty, and also in helping to shape the workforce’s response to it through tangible and realistic recommendations. By working alongside the community we have been collectively empowered to make a difference to the lives of many living in poverty today. The film is available at Just about Managing.

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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