Cost of living

Cost of living: Supporting families to access help pays off

Accessing the financial support they are entitled to is a struggle for many families, writes Davinder Jandu, and helping them with that benefits everyone

Accessing the financial support they are entitled to is a struggle for many families, writes Davinder Jandu, and helping them with that benefits everyone

13 May 2022, 5:00

Headlines about the cost-of-living crisis are inescapable right now, and for good reason. Whether it’s inflation, spiralling energy costs or squeezed budgets, many of us are feeling the financial pinch. What gets less coverage is the support that exists for struggling families, and the lack of information is just the start of the problems some face with accessing it.

As our primary school is in Tyseley, Birmingham, we serve a wonderful, diverse community in which many languages are spoken and many faiths are embraced. It is also a community within which the cost-of-living crisis is potentially devastating. At the best of times, I am particularly proud that our staff reflect the diversity within the community and that parents and carers can relate positively to them. But the worst of times is when that representation becomes a real asset.

We treasure our relationship with the local community and try and serve everyone in it as best we can. That’s why our pastoral team has been making extra efforts to reach out and help families with their finances in recent months. We know that the more difficult things are at home, the more likely it is that a child’s learning will be affected, so we want to do everything we can to support children both in and out of school.

Sadly, without us many would never have even known about the household support fund and would have missed out on this much-needed boost to their finances. Having heard of it, many would still have gone on to miss out on it because of difficulties with applying. Lack of confidence, poor literacy skills, language barriers and assumptions that such support is ‘not for me’ are just some of the reasons communities like ours don’t benefit from the help that is available to them.

We have helped to complete 250 applications so far

So first, our pastoral team contacted all parents and carers whose children are registered for free school meals and arranged for them to come into school so that we could support their application and ensure it would be submitted correctly. We did this over a five-day period, every morning after they had dropped their children off. And for those who were unable to attend a meeting at the school for various reasons – from work commitments to long-term sickness or disability – we arranged a convenient time to call them. We completed their application over the phone, so they didn’t miss out.

Second, once we had completed our free school meals list, we contacted all our other parents and carers to see if their circumstances had changed recently. We checked if they had lost jobs, had their hours reduced or if they were now in receipt of any benefits that fitted the criteria needed to claim the fund.

As a result of these efforts, we have helped to complete 250 applications so far, and I am delighted that the hard work of our pastoral team has benefitted so many families. The fund was suspended for a while, but it has now thankfully reopened, so we are continuing to support our families with their applications.

Needless to say, they have been so grateful for the help and support as they have watched their bills continue to rise in spite of their best efforts to manage their finances.

Providing children with the extra support they need to minimise the impact of the pandemic means capacity to offer this kind of support is limited. But in reality, reaching out and offering this help is hugely valuable to the school in many ways. At the most basic level, it builds rapport with families – especially those who might otherwise be isolated from the school community. And it means our children are better fed, better supported and better able to focus on their school work.

So call it parental engagement. Call it early intervention. But whatever you call it, there is no question that investing in this kind of activity offers major returns for the whole community.

And when you’re making a real difference to children’s lives, who cares if it doesn’t get headlines?

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