Families face summer on a shoestring

Published on Wednesday, 25 July 2012 10:35
Written by Helen Dent

Family Action's recent report Breaking the Bank: Summer on a Shoestring provides a snapshot of what the summer holidays hold in store for middle and low income families in a time of austerity

The report illustrates how rising prices and cuts to welfare support are depriving children from lower income families of the opportunity for day trips let alone longer holidays away as parents begin to feel the squeeze. There are those who would suggest that the disparity between the holiday expenditure of wealthy families and their poorer counterparts is merely an indicator of income inequality, not poverty. This relates to a commonly held view that levels of relative poverty in England do not reflect 'real' poverty. At Family Action we believe that a child's inability to participate in communal activities or experience a world beyond their doorstep is very much a real signifier of poverty.

Not having 'a family holiday away from home for at least one week a year' is one of the twenty one indicators used by the Department for Work and Pensions to estimate material deprivation in childhood in the latest Households Below Average Income report – 62% of children in the lowest income groups want but can't afford a week's holiday away from home compared to 6% in the highest income groups[1]. Other associated indicators included 'being able to pay bills'. Many of us are so accustomed to thinking about holidays as a luxury that we forget how important they are to young children. The intrinsic 'value' of day trips or holidays to a developing child is not easily detectable and cannot simply be quantified in monetary terms.

We believe the opportunities to broaden a child's horizons afforded by days out and holidays are not superfluous to their development but an essential component. Analysis of data from the Millennium Cohort Survey by Waldfogel and Washbrook (2010) suggests that children from lower income families are reaching school with delayed vocabularies and verbal reasoning skills compared to their peers from higher income families[2]. Inequalities in access to social and leisure opportunities in the early years, including holidays and trips, may contribute to this inequality in cognitive outcomes. It will certainly help with raising aspirations, improving quality of a child's experience and help strengthen  family relationships through having fun together.

At Family Action we believe children denied the chance to interact with a world beyond their immediate surroundings are not being stimulated in the same way as those that have this opportunity. Family outings are more than simply leisure activities, they are a chance for children to interact with their parents, other children and new environments in new and expansive ways at a critical stage in their social and cognitive development.

The stark reality is that 54% of the families polled for us by parenting club Bounty said they would be cutting back on summer activities this year due to either a drop in household income or because family days out had become too expensive. With families pricing an average day trip at £80, the equivalent to a weekly food bill and trips to theme parks in the region of £180 for a family of four this isn't a surprise. Whilst we can argue about measuring relative poverty, what we know for the children we work with is that they will have no memory of a special day out and the experiences that brings – seeing the zoo for the first time or families spending time together building relationships, and relaxing and having fun. Summer on a shoestring means a poverty of experience and aspiration for some children this year
[1] DWP. Household Below Average Income. June 2012

[2] Waldfogel J. & Washbrook E. Low income and early cognitive development in the U.K. A report of the Sutton Trust, 2010


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