What's life like living on £57.90?

Read the final blog from Andy as part of our special series of blogs for National Care Leavers' week. 

Well, it is all over and today is my last blog as part of the series I’ve done for this year’s National Care Leavers’ Week.

I wanted to talk to you about what I’ve learned and what we will be trying to do going forward to further improve the offer to care leavers in Doncaster. But first a little update about how I got on over the weekend.

The weekend was unusual, I’d forgotten it was my best friend’s birthday and so I was again in the position of having to go out with somebody else paying. This felt worse than the last time as I was would normally pay for him when we are celebrating his birthday, but obviously, that was not an option.

I did manage to eat something other than veggie chilli, a jacket potato, and by Sunday I had totally run out of money and I had to rely on my partner to supply me with bread and soup to see me through.

Other than that I did very little. Without access to the internet or money to go anywhere, I really was limited to staying in the house and counting down the hours till Monday.  When I weighed myself this morning I was 6lb’s lighter than I was seven days ago.

I suppose in a lot of ways my experience probably wasn’t representative of what is really like to live on an income that low, as twice I was taken out by friends and my colleagues made sure I had access to coffee and fruit. It did however, give me a glimpse into the world of our amazing care leavers.

I’ve previously mentioned it in my other blogs about the importance of a network. My network is mainly professional people who can afford to provide support. Most care leavers’ networks are made up of other care leavers, so whilst they try and support each other where they can, it’s unlikely they would have access to the same levels of support I’ve had.

So what did I learn? Well firstly that £57.90 is a very small amount of money and once bills have been deducted the ability to eat healthily and have enough to eat can be a real challenge. Many of our care leavers eat a lot of cheap frozen processed food and now I understand why because it keeps you full even if it’s not very good for you.

I have some ideas about how I’m going to bridge this gap between the affordability of healthy food and how our care leaver’s access it. However, as this involves negotiation with the business community, I’m going hold off going into detail until we have finalised the arrangements.

Another key learning was about the monotony of a life where there’s no money to support fun activities that many of us take for granted. It’s important as a service therefore that we ensure young people are exposed to cultural opportunities which have low, or no, cost implications.

Some immediate activities we’ll be starting are a book and arts group, but we can’t provide everything these young people need. So I’ll be working with the partnership in the coming weeks and months to ensure that affordable opportunities for arts and culture activities exist for our care leavers.

Whilst I expected to lose a bit of weight and to be restricted in my activities, I didn’t expect to be so limited in terms of my digital life. The world we live in is so focussed on maintaining an online presence that the inability to do so, coupled with the feeling that I was always missing something was an uncomfortable one.

More than that employment opportunities, particularly in the web- based sectors, are almost entirely undertaken through the use of digital platforms. Consequently, because some of our young people have limited or no access to the internet, they are potentially missing opportunities which could benefit them.  Therefore I’ll be looking at how we create more opportunities for care leavers to have access to the internet and everything else that involves.

I guess the main thing I took away from the week was that you can exist on a weekly living allowance. We all want more for these amazing young men and women. Some of that has to come from them in terms of self-efficacy and resilience, but it’s our job to give them the building blocks to develop those essential qualities, in exactly the same way as any reasonable parent would. And of course to create the access to those opportunities, in terms of apprenticeships, training, and employment once our care leavers are ready to take their first steps into independence.

More than anything I came away from the week with a huge amount respect for these brave young men and women. The way they support each other, remain optimistic in the face of adversity and maintain a fantastic sense of humour was really inspiring. I’m disappointed to say that I didn’t mirror all those qualities at all times throughout the week and I probably complained a bit too much, even though it was just a brief window into their world

So that’s the end of these series of blogs, I hope you have found them interesting. I certainly learned a lot about the lived experience of care leavers and I now have a better idea on how to improve that experience. Over the weekend my Chief Executive Paul Moffat tweeted: “The more we come to accept the challenges facing our young people the more effective we become as corporate parents”.  I think that sums it up really, I hope I’ve highlighted some of those challenges.

Although it’s the end of the blog, it’s only the start of the work and I’ll be posting another blog in six months’ time to let you know what we’ve done to make the lives of care leavers better. Remember if you want to make a difference and get involved in improving the offer to our care leavers then you can contact me either via twitter or email me andy.hood@dcstrust.co.uk 

Finally, thank you all for your support and encouragement, it really made a huge difference.

Andy Hood

Head of Service for Targeted Youth Support at Doncaster Children’s Services Trust

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