No shoes to buckle

June O'Sullivan
Monday, October 5, 2020

I recently chaired a discussion with Neil Leitch from Early Years Alliance and Liz Bayram from Pacey for the Childcare Expo.

We talked about the frustration at the lack of a National Early Years Strategy and have to navigate continual policies that fail to respond to the continual raft of national and international social, economic and educational research which reaffirms the power of Early Years. I am currently reading a book by Hashi Mohamed about his story of arriving in London as a nine-year-old Somalian child refugee and his journey through the system to author and barrister. 

It is a heart-warming book despite its message. 

Last night I turned the page and there indeed were the words we all know to be true: “No period of your life is as important as your first four years… your early years sets the course for the rest of your life, a course that is very hard to correct later on.”

Neil Leitch was upbeat when he reminded us that we have come a long way.  Early Years is recognised as important, some policies have demonstrated that what we do can change lives such as Children Centres and what we understand as the best early childhood education and care is more and more recognised by the sector and the public.  That said he reminded us not to give up and plough on. I need no reminders, I am surrounded by colleagues who deeply believe in the power to change and continue to raise the status of this sector and who go above and beyond on a daily basis.

Only last week I wrote about our summer clubs designed to encourage our more disadvantaged families back to nursery. Very spooked by Covid, those families could see that their current lives where they live on a financial edge could easily be pushed into destitution. No wonder they are anxious and fearful of catching Covid.

According to a financial colleague, the average saving among ordinary families is £500. That won’t last long so no wonder people are scared especially if they are among the 14.5 million people who are living in poverty and their children are among the 2.9 million children living in poverty from working families after housing costs have been paid. 

Families with two parents working full time, at the national minimum wage, are still 11 per cent short of the income needed to raise a child.  In total, 70 per cent of all poor children were living in working families with at least one parent in work. I did a TED talk on this over a year ago and the situation is getting worse.

At our summer clubs we listened to many stories of strength and resilience. 

We also observed some realities. One was that some of the children were still in winter boots in the middle of summer. We were unaware at how much shoe poverty there is which means children wearing the wrong-size shoes and/or shoes that are inadequate for their needs. And yet, despite the overwhelming need for footwear, 2 million shoes are sent to landfill every single week in the UK, with each pair taking 100 years to biodegrade. 

Shoe poverty is the kind of poverty that impacts on children’s confidence and self-esteem as they notice they are different to their peers. 

We certainly spotted the joy when we were able to provide them and their siblings with school shoes just like everyone else. 

Thanks to Sal’s Shoe Charity. We are truly grateful for the kindness of strangers. They arrived with 24 shoe boxes and made a lot of people happy. We want to say thank you.  Perhaps we can do a walkathon and raise money for more shoes. 

Let’s step up so another child can step out.

June O'Sullivan is chief executive of London Early Years Foundation. This blog first appeared on the LEYF website.

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