Guest blog: How are we challenging poverty at Fife Gingerbread?


Fife Gingerbread

Fife Gingerbread are a wee children and families charity supporting families in the Fife area. Our staff and volunteers support about 650 families in need every year, and around 90% are households headed by inspirational lone parents.

We deliver a range of frontline services through our projects  spanning family support, volunteering, employability, family learning and early years. Partnerships are embedded in all of our work as with finite resources and ever-increasing demand it’s vital that we coordinate and join up services.

Our work is grounded in tackling child poverty and centred around creating better todays and brighter tomorrows for children and young people. Ours is a person-centred whole family approach that we hope acts as a catalyst that enables families to change trajectory and raise aspirations for the future.

We recently asked families that we work with to complete an annual survey, which provides a useful snapshot and insight into their lives. Some key data to share from this includes:

  • 92% of survey respondents were in at least one of the Child Poverty priority groups.
  • 75% of survey respondents are surviving below low-income thresholds.
  • 64% of survey respondents had a health condition, of which 70% were mental health.
  • 80% of survey respondents had at least one Adverse Childhood Experience.

These challenges are intrinsically connected. The families that our staff and volunteers are engaging with are experiencing multiple and complex barriers. There is no quick fix; there is no easy solution. However, we are not going to let that slow us down.

We know that poverty has an enormous affect on the lives, health and wellbeing of every family member.

Fife Gingerbread has a long history of championing for change, and this year we have made a purposeful shift in the organisation to embed systems change in a much more meaningful way.

All too often the systems designed to support families are failing to do so, and if we continue to invest 100% of our time, energy and effort in delivering frontline services then perhaps we are complicit in the problem? Our theory of change is that if we applied the Pareto Principle (otherwise known as the 80/20 rule) to our work we would see greater results. If we put 20% of our efforts into systems change instead of frontline delivery then perhaps we will begin to see the sustainable change needed to really make a difference. This feels a little counter intuitive when we know that demand for support services like ours continues to grow.

So, what are we doing at Fife Gingerbread to challenge poverty? We know that poverty has an enormous affect on the lives, health and wellbeing of every family member. At Fife Gingerbread there are many responses (both short-term and long-term) to mitigating the impacts of poverty for families. In the short-term we will support income maximisation activity, refer to Citizens Advice, apply for grants and refer to foodbanks. These are all important examples of short-term solutions to ensure that families have the essentials. Additionally, we fundraise annually through our Heat & Eat appeal to ensure we can support families with festive packages, crisis payments and activities such as Teatime Clubs. These provide lifelines to the families most vulnerable who, all too often, don’t have the resources to absorb financial shocks.

However, we are all too aware these are short-term solutions and systemic change is needed to really make a long-term impact. I’m going to share with you four examples of systems change in progress:

Child Maintenance

Last year we worked alongside Poverty Alliance to revisit Child Maintenance, and were somewhat disheartened to learn that these issues haven’t improved. However, we are thrilled to now be working in partnership with One Parent Families Scotland, IPPR Scotland and Poverty Alliance on an ambitious two-year project are to challenge the Child Maintenance system, offer alternatives and influence policy & practice.

We have a Project Coordinator who will take forward many of the research recommendations. They will walk alongside lone parents on their child maintenance journey, to identify best practice and opportunities to better navigate a broken system. Additionally, they will develop a resource for practitioners to ensure that Child Maintenance is included in all income maximisation conversations with lone parent families across Scotland.

Lone Parents, Poverty & Work

We really believe that work has the potential to make a much greater contribution to reducing child poverty. Our Board invested in creating a new initiative and full-time Project Coordinator to lead a slightly different approach to employer engagement.

Traditionally within employability and recruitment the responsibility is on the candidate (who are lone parents in this case) to be more flexible, more skilled, more ready… What if we flipped that? What if we asked employers to be more ready to employ lone parents, more flexible in their approach to recruitment and employment and more skilled in the support they offer lone parents?

Our hopes are to support employers to better understand child poverty, and how they can contribute to improving the lives of their employees and wider communities. This won’t be achieved through policy alone; it requires organisations like us to win hearts and minds.

So far, we have seen some great successes with a new Traineeship model, guaranteed interviews for lone parents, enabling employers to create term time school hours roles and ring fencing some of our own vacancies for lone parents.

It may often feel relentless but it’s too important not to.

Specialist targeted initiatives

At Fife Gingerbread we firmly believe specialist support is more meaningful, person-centred and better equipped. Specialist projects (delivered in partnership) mean that we better understand the complex barriers, needs, intersectional challenges and structural inequalities of each individual family.

This is particularly true within employability where I observe lots of universal employability provision. However, I’m a firm and unapologetic advocate that if want to shift the dial on child poverty then we need to be unapologetically targeted and invest the money where it’s most needed, rather than hoping a universal service will have a ‘trickle down’ effect on key groups.

We know that being out of work significantly increases risks and likelihood of surviving poverty so when it comes to employability my asks are that we invest in targeted specialist person led services.

Parents Forum

Since 2021 we have been developing our approach to ensuring that the voice of lone parents is at the heart of Fife Gingerbread, and this has primarily evolved through our Parents Forum. The Forum is a small (bit mighty!) group of parents who meet fortnightly to share challenges, discuss issues, support each other and champion for change. Their development and commitment have been incredible. They have not only influenced and improved our work at Fife Gingerbread, but they have connected with Fife Council, Trussell Trust, JRF, Poverty Alliance and shared their experiences within Scottish Government lived experience panels. The voice and experience of families is the most important one in the room when it comes to challenging poverty, and we must ensure they are included in a meaningful way. Inspired by Poverty Alliance we have developed a Participation Policy to formalise how we better acknowledge and thank families who share their experiences with us and others.

All over Scotland, there are examples of phenomenal projects, people and initiatives that are making a difference to the lives of families in our communities most in need. There are so many of us challenging poverty on a daily basis. As a collective voice it is essential that we find ways to collaborate and move away from pockets of good practice towards a societal shift. It may often feel relentless but it’s too important not to.

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