I spoke at two events for drug and alcohol professionals. What they wanted to talk about was how to build on business as usual. I suspect my slot was expected to be on how current drug users may be affected by changes to benefits. What they didn't expect was for me to challenge them that just maybe their good run of progress on reducing substance misuse is about to come to an end.
I laid it on thick about how the well-trodden path to homelessness, (something I'm more of an expert on), is not just about rent and mortgage arrears but also relationship breakdown, mental ill-health and turning to drink, drugs or crime - or any combination of the above. With cuts to welfare, all these issues seem more inevitable. And homelessness is already on the up.
I spoke at a family services conference. It was the same message. As within the drugs and alcohol sector, but more keenly felt, they face reductions in funding. The removal of ring-fencing for Sure Start centres has led to almost all authorities considering closures.
The Government continues with their Big Society confidence trick and the removal of ring fencing for services is a key part of this. Local authorities facing shortfalls have been freed up to plunder, for starters, the Youth Opportunity Fund, the Think Family Fund, Supporting People budgets… well, actually everything except schools funding. It is billed as localism and a good thing. It actually means local authorities carry the can when they have to choose which services to axe.
According to the Dept for Education, Sure Start centres’ purpose is “to improve outcomes for young children and their families, with a particular focus on the most disadvantaged, so children are equipped for life and ready for school, no matter what their background or family circumstances”. I was invited to one following my talk at the families conference and they wanted all the centres in the local authority area to receive Quids in! magazine. They told me Ofsted expects them to support parents to manage their money better.
Quids in! has just won funding from Wessex Water to support around 75 Children’s Centres in the northern part of their region. We’ll now be able to provide them with free copies of our magazine and we’re going to work on a Budget Planner designed to help parents manage the family funds as best they can. We see this as the start of a deeper relationship and will support the development of family support.
I was also struck by how the Centre managers were ready to work in partnership. They recognise their expertise is in childcare and family wellbeing and that Quids in! can supply a different piece of the jigsaw. (By contrast, we’re finding many social landlords, with the luxury of their own private income, are setting out to combat all their tenants’ ills. Some are not giving too much thought to whether they’re best-placed to provide non-housing support or whether bringing in more specialist, independent suppliers could make a bigger impact with the same budget.)
There is an opportunity here for all financial capability providers to work in partnership with Children’s Centres where they don’t do so already. My vision is to work with as many as possible to look at not only financial resilience, and certainly not just the supply of a quarterly magazine, but to explore the opportunity to train and even employ local service users to deliver basic advice and signposting linked into the money management, employability and digital inclusion agendas.
Interested? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org