Children Stand Up Against Poverty

Despite many efforts over the years, child poverty remains a widespread problem in the United Kingdom. In an attempt to accelerate efforts, we at the Webb Memorial Trust decided to support plans to give children true leadership roles in the issue, as opposed to just consulting them. At the Webb Memorial Trust, our goal is to rethink the way we tackle poverty. We felt that empowering those most impacted by a social issue to be the drivers of change was an important way to reframe current approaches.

Our story of involving children in decisionmaking started in a cafe, when we met with representatives from Children North East. They requested a small grant to celebrate their 120th anniversary with an evening lecture. Doubting whether a lecture would be enough to make a significant impact, we instead offered a larger grant to fund a full day conference. Children North East suggested that children should play a large role in the conference, both in preparing for it and participating in it. We were unsure about this idea at first because we didn’t have experience working with children, but chose to trust our grantee and support their decision.

The conference was a success! There was widespread agreement that the most valuable contributions came from the young people, who designed artistic exhibitions, including a photography exhibit documenting their daily lives through the lenses of disposable cameras, and a play detailing the challenges of a child living in poverty. There was an immediate demand for a reprise of both the exhibition and play from a wide variety of organizations. Clearly, having children’s voices represented at the conference was hugely important to its success.

Following the conference, we decided to support the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty. Working across sectors with two politicians and trustees of the Webb Memorial Trust, we created a program that aimed to expand areas of agreement between parties and drastically increase the role of children in discussions about children’s poverty. The final results of the project included a manifesto written by 38 young people called Poverty ends now (PEN). The children launched their manifesto in Parliament, undertook a national media campaign, and wrote an evidence submission based on parliamentary questions. We found that children added significant value to discussion about poverty by ‘telling it straight’ based on their own authentic experiences and emotional connections with the issue. The children focused on immediate, concrete problems like lack of food in the fridge, the inability to go on school trips, or the embarrassment of bringing friends home to a run-down apartment.

One of the most valuable outcomes of the project was that it raised awareness among decision makers about the value of young people’s views. While we cannot claim to have made a concrete policy change on the national level (yet!), we have successfully challenged the idea that children have nothing to contribute to political processes. It is the job of all of us to dismantle structural barriers and amplify the voice of those most impacted by a problem when formulating a solution.

The Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace and GrantCraft, a service of Foundation Center, are releasing a series of 11 blog posts authored by grantmakers around the world. The posts are derived from the recently published Effective Philanthropy: Another Take, a collection of stories describing a philanthropic intervention against some form of injustice (socioeconomic and/or political) at a local, national or global scale. Each story addresses key questions grantmakers wrestle with in order to effect systemic social change, and the blog posts in this series highlight certain details that feed into the bigger story. Through this series, the partners hope to raise awareness of some of the most effective examples from philanthropy in tackling injustice and achieving lasting structural change. By sharing knowledge in philanthropy and being willing to learn from one another’s experiences and perspectives, we can improve our practice together.

This is the second post in this series, which will roll out over the next three months; it focuses on empowering children to assume leadership roles in developing solutions to tackle child poverty.

About the author(s)

Former Knowledge Services Fellow
Foundation Center

Executive Director