All teachers are acutely aware of the impact of the current cost-of-living crisis.
School budgets are squeezed, parents are overwhelmed and too many pupils are coming to school unable to focus on learning due to hunger, lack of uniform or their awareness of their parent’s money worries which are impacting the whole household.
For school staff, that makes teaching more difficult. We need to be aware of places to signpost parents. However, we are educators, not social workers – schools, not citizens advice bureaus. We have neither the knowledge and expertise, nor the time.
In our area, a new Money Matters programme is alleviating some of that pressure. Funded by Kellogg’s and in partnership with Greater Manchester Poverty Action, it has given us a place to signpost families in need of support.
The premise is straightforward: they put benefits advisors in schools. And the effects are transformative for pupils, parents and the school community. It’s added an extra string to our pastoral bow, and in these times that matters. We are able to provide a comprehensive offer to our families.
Often, parents are wary of phoning up a Department of Work and Pensions helpline for fear that they might end up losing benefits. But one case at a time, the Money Matters advisors have delivered crucial help for parents I have sent their way. They have built positive relationships with our families and the wider school community, so that parents are now more comfortable to come forward for support.
When they do, they find help to navigate what is a complex system in a safe and neutral way, and all too often what actually transpires is that they are not receiving all that they are entitled to. This is money that the government has budgeted for them to receive but is not getting paid out. Our Money Matters advisor is able to facilitate this.
One family at our school is better off by £1000 per month. Two of their children have additional needs, and the parents were unaware they could receive more support.
At least two parents were missing out on Disability Living Allowance until the Money Matters advisor helped them navigate the application process successfully.
But it’s not just headline cases like these that matter. Our Money Matters advisor has also helped countless parents who were doing all they could to make ends meet and pay their bills but needed (and were entitled to) just a little more to make ends meet.
Of course, fear is not the only barrier that keeps families from coming forward. Some are embarrassed about asking for help, don’t want to be a bother or simply don’t feel they can communicate their needs, Our Money Matters advisor is flexible with their appointments and able to speak three languages. She is available at parents evenings, on culture days and she was there at our Christmas fair when many parents are particularly stretched financially.
That extra help for parents that are entitled to it makes a big difference to the wider school community. Teachers are talking to parents who are less overwhelmed, which is good for everyone and best of all we’ve seen pupils’ focus and concentration improve. It ought to be self-evident, but children are better able to learn when they are fed, wearing the correct uniform and unencumbered by the sorts of money worries that ought to be the preserve of parents.
From travel and uniform vouchers to extra elements of existing benefits to meet the rising cost of the supermarket shop or the emergency cost of a washing machine repair, there is help available but people need a bit of help to access it.
Money Matters was started in Greater Manchester as a pilot. So far it has unlocked over £160,000 in unclaimed benefits for over 100 families. Today, those behind it are launching a report in parliament calling for it to be rolled out more widely.
My experience and that of my school has been extremely positive. In these challenging times, I can think of few better ways to help us help our children get back on track.