How the Pandemic Is Impacting People in Poverty
Photo above by Chantal Levesque
A longer version of this letter from the National Coordination Team was published by ATD-UK on 2 April 2020.
ATD members have called our attention to some of the ways in which the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting people in poverty.
Impact on families with children in care
Contact visits between children in long-term foster care and their birth families are being negatively impacted by Covid-19.
To learn more, the Parents, Families and Allies Network, of which ATD Fourth World UK is a member, plans to launch a survey of families whose children are in the care system. Those who have impending dates in family court have not yet been informed whether they are expected to appear in person or whether something else is being arranged. ATD Fourth World also supports a a statement by Support Not Separation, which reads in part:
“Children in the ‘care’ of the state will be even more cut off from their birth families. The closure of contact centres and lack of supervising staff has led to the suspension of all face-to-face supervised contact. Without supervision, remote contact is also denied in many cases. Families desperately worried about their children, and children terrified about what might happen to them, will be denied the contact they rely on. In the most devastating cases, mums whose children have been forcibly adopted have been denied their last ‘good-bye contact’.”
Refugees and migrants
On 29 March, we joined RAPAR to co-sponsor open letter to Boris Johnson and to the prime minister of Ireland calling on both governments to create access to health and safety for all by giving Leave to Remain to all refugees and migrants both inside and outside of the asylum and immigration system:
“People living in extreme poverty, destitution and without immigration status are unable to socially isolate; many cannot access health care and other support, and they are prevented from helping to make the population as safe as possible during this time of global crisis. Migrant people who are in the legal system cannot keep physically safe on their allowances because those allowances are not enough for them to eat healthily or buy appropriate cleaning materials. Many are living in accommodation where it is impossible for them to socially isolate.”
Our core team continues to stay in touch with individuals and families in poverty through telephone calls and social media. Digital exclusion has now stranded some people without access to online information about public health, food banks, and mutual aid groups.
Without Internet, it is hard to access financial information, such as arrangements for replacing free school meals. There is a government emergency package with energy suppliers, but it is hard to understand how this works for people who use pay-as-you-go meters and previously paid in person.
With rapidly changing information, many people struggle to understand what is meant by self-isolation and what safe practices are currently recommended.
Our top priority is sharing verified information, stamping out rumours, and trying to keep people socially connected while physically isolated.
In collaboration with the APLE Collective, we continue to gather information about how digital exclusion affects people in poverty.
Physical isolation is an incubator for anxiety and depression. While mental health issues can affect people in all walks of life, people in poverty are particularly hard-pressed because their conditions of isolation are often cramped, in bad housing or temporary hostels. They have less money to cope with shortages and price gouging. They lack access to nature, the Internet, and other forms of entertainment. These conditions can trigger anger, tension and conflict.
Children and school
Unfortunately, some older students who were struggling with school decided to end their formal education when they learned that exams were cancelled due to the pandemic.
While primary schools maintain some communication with families, we have spoken to families whose children are now completely cut off from school friends. Parents can find it challenging to sift through warnings in order to understand whether they should stay indoors or if they can safely let their children play outdoors.
We have supported some parents to be able to print out their children’s homework assignments. In some families several children have access to only one tablet and their school does not offer any support.
In addition, we have begun sending out some arts-and-crafts activity packs for children to occupy them during the Easter holidays, as well as for adults who lack access to virtual entertainment. Donations are welcome to support all these efforts, via Just Giving.
Additional updates from ATD members
People whose previous earnings were cash-in-hand can’t prove their income loss to apply for help.
A person who is in the hospital for a chronic illness says that visiting hours for all wards and opportunities to go outside have been greatly reduced.
The security guard in a hostel for homeless men says that he has been issued one pair of gloves and one small bottle of sanitizer. He worries that this is insufficient protection.
People who were appealing reductions to their Personal Independence Payment are in limbo waiting for a response.
In Berkshire County, because pubs are closed, there was a break-in to steal liquor from a newsagent.
Shortages and store closures mean that some people need to spend more money on buses to find groceries. This is particularly difficult when family some members must follow special dietary rules. In several difficult situations, people have been able to receive support from mutual aid groups, neighbours, or church groups.
Staying in touch
Our Facebook page will continue to share information about health, access to public services, and cultural information. Here, you can read an update from ATD Fourth World’s International Leadership Team. Please continue to let us know how you are doing.
With friendship and sending everyone our warmest wishes,
Thomas Croft and Diana Skelton, National Coordination Team