London Calling: "Stretched too far"

What you need to know:

  • CPAG convened the London Calling Panel to represent communities in London whose voices have been overlooked, or whose views have not been actively sought by policy-makers.
  • They identified major challenges in three key areas, which were present pre-COVID and have been impacted or worsened by the pandemic: childcare and after-school provision; living costs; and social security.
  • The Panel provided recommendations for what the future could look like including more flexible working hours to reflect insecure working patterns and strengthening the social security system.

Child Poverty Action Group’s (CPAG) London Calling project, funded by Trust for London, aims to understand the challenges faced by Black and minority ethnic parents on low-incomes bringing up children in the capital.

In November 2020, CPAG convened a panel of Londoners aged 21-54 to hear about the challenges faced by low-income families and Black and minority ethnic groups in the city. They wanted the panel to represent communities in London whose voices have been overlooked, or whose views have not been actively sought by policy-makers.

This report pulls together the views and experiences shared by parents and young people in the capital during the first year of the London Calling project. It looks at the key barriers to a good quality of life for children and families living on a low income in London in 2021, examines the effect of the pandemic on these barriers, and sets out what our panel of low-income parents in London want the future to look like for themselves and their families.

This briefing also profiles the panel’s experience of participating in consultations with policy makers in London, and explores the extent to which these parents feel their identities are understood and represented by people in positions of power.

Key findings

What were the key challenges identified by the panellists?

The London Calling panellists identified major challenges in three key areas, which were present pre-COVID and have been impacted or worsened by the pandemic.

  • Childcare and after-school provision
    A decline in the provision of safe, stimulating after-school spaces for children and young people o The absence of adequate, affordable and flexible childcare
  • Living costs
    Unmanageable expenses required to raise children, including housing, childcare, groceries, utilities, travel and cultural participation
  • Social security
    A system which does not adequately support people who are trying to improve their financial situation
    A system which is overly complex and difficult to navigate, making it hard to understand and access entitlements
    Overly strict eligibility criteria which mean families are denied much-needed support o Insufficient help for single parents

Key recommendations

What should the future look like?
  • Childcare and after-school provision

School-based childcare: The panel feel strongly that wrap-around childcare should be provided at school, ideally as part of a subsidised extended schools programme. This would be more convenient, with no need to transport children between school and care locations; and would also provide reassurance that the children were in one familiar place.

Longer hours: Panellists want hours to reflect the reality of the working day. They think that the ability to access childcare from 7am to 6.30 or 7pm would help with working standard office hours, including a twice-a-day commute. Picking up children earlier if possible would be better, but longer hours of childcare provision would deliver enough support to prevent parents feeling they are perpetually caught between choosing whether to compromise their role as a parent or an employee.

More flexible hours to reflect insecure work patterns: Panellists think that, ideally, services would be flexible to reflect contemporary working patterns. Having to book childcare up to a month, or even a term, in advance is difficult when some parents only know what their work schedule would be a few days or a week in advance. This is frustrating and means they worry constantly about sacrificing money to pay in advance for childcare they might not need, or leaving themselves without adequate childcare.

Cost: Reduced costs would help significantly. Panellists consider the potential impact of suitable and affordable childcare to be transformational for stress reduction, career progression, confidence in financial stability and planning, and enhanced wellbeing for the whole family.

  • Living costs

Local and national policy makers should help raise families’ income by supporting parents to work and increase earnings (in part by helping to deliver suitable childcare provision – see above), and by supplementing household income with increased social security support (see below)

In addition, panellists thought rising housing and travel costs could be curbed by freezing council tax rates and Transport for London fares.

  • Social security

Panellists believe that if the government strengthened the social security system to allow families to pay their bills and not feel the constant stress of financial instability they currently experience, that would be a huge help. Better social security would enhance families’ wellbeing, and contribute to empowering them to increase their own incomes.

Panellists also believe that eligibility for benefits should be reviewed.

In terms of COVID-related support, panellists are keen for the government not to “take the stabilisers off too early” in the recovery by withdrawing support before personal finances have recovered. This would risk tipping households who are already struggling into a financial crisis, increasing the support they need from the state.

October 2021