TV programme highlighting homelessness in Luton was 'a hard watch' council admits

Council's new Fairness Taskforce aims to learn the issues and how to fix them

Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 11:02 am
Kai, Qasim and Yaqub from Channel 4 Dispatches. Photo: Channel 4

A programme on the hidden homeless which focused on three Luton boys was "a hard watch", the town's acting chief executive has admitted.

The Channel 4 programme Dispatches “Growing up Poor: Hidden Homeless”, which was shown on Monday, highlighted the plight of three eight-year-old boys, stuck in overcrowded accommodation.

Nicola Monk, acting Chief Executive of Luton Council, said people had come forward offering support for the families following the programme.

“Channel 4 Dispatches was a hard watch for anyone concerned or associated with our town. It showed the best of our community and some of the huge challenges being faced by people across Luton in the face of recent and current crises," she said.

“No-one can escape the fact that Kai, Qasim and Yaqub and their families are in need of assistance, and the reality is there are hundreds of children and families like this in Luton and other towns and cities across the UK.

“Our joined-up town-wide 2040 vision for Luton centres around a mission of tackling poverty and making the town a place built on fairness and where everyone can thrive. It isn’t a short or quick fix but one that will take time.

“That said we are working tirelessly with partners right now to try and support families and our fantastic teams at Farley Junior School and other schools in the area are on the frontline working to try and help these families.

“Likewise, our charitable partners in the town in the likes of The Level Trust and Luton Foodbank and countless others are doing incredible work. We are all proud to come from a town that is so caring and compassionate to those in need.

“Over recent months, working with the community, voluntary sector and public and private partners, Luton 2040 has supported those in need through a number of schemes, such as:

>Using the Covid Grant scheme funding to stop vulnerable children, young people and families from going hungry during holidays

>A new Family Partnership Service was launched to provide support to vulnerable children, young people and their families facing the most complex and significant challenges

>Supporting the homeless through the Big Change Luton campaign which has enabled a number of individuals to build a life away from the streets and into accommodation

>A range of free holiday camp activities for families in need

>A consultation on new measures to improve private sector housing conditions in Luton by introducing licensing for all houses in multiple occupation

“Moving forward, on the 17th November the Fairness Taskforce will be launched. It will focus on how we can better understand residents’ lived experience of inequality and how, along with citizens, public, voluntary sector and business partners can work together to address this experience and deliver lasting change together.

“For this to work we need the whole community in Luton to get involved and your challenges and solutions are vital to helping us succeed in helping the families like Kai, Qasim and Yaqub’s. More information on the launch can be found here:

“Many people have been asking how they can support these families. One way is through supporting our voluntary and charitable partners, either through donations or through other acts of kindness. Luton’s strength is its community and how far we go to look out for each other, so do check on those neighbours who may be struggling and also speak to us about how you can play a part in supporting and creating lasting change for Luton – now and for the future.”

David Mingay, Secretary of the National Education Union in Luton, called on the Government to do more to help families facing financial difficulty.

He said: “The issues highlighted in this programme will come as no surprise to those working in education. Schools have long been on the front line dealing with the effects of poverty on children and their families. The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns only exacerbated these problems.

"Luton has a shortage of social housing and the housing that exists is of a poor quality. Despite the best efforts of schools, children in Luton are, on average, 7 months behind their peers in other Local Authority areas. The Government has cut the £20 per week uplift in Universal Credit and stopped Free School Meals during school holidays, both of which made a huge difference to families.

"The ‘catch-up’ funding provided by the Government is only £50 per pupil per year, which is one tenth of what is required, according to the Government’s own ‘catch-up tsar’ Sir Kevan Collins, shortly before his resignation over that very issue.

"On top of this, school funding fell by 9% between 2010 and 2020, making it harder for schools to support families facing financial difficulty whilst also providing high quality teaching and learning.

"Given that the cost of living is now rising significantly, the issues highlighted in this programme are only going to get worse. I call on the Government to take these issues seriously and reinstate the £20 uplift in Universal Credit, restore Free School Meals during school holidays and fund a catch-up scheme in line with what was recommended by Sir Kevan Collins.

"I would like to pay tribute to the incredible work done by voluntary organisations such as the Level Trust, Luton Food Bank and by all educators to help families who face difficulties".