Reducing costs and supporting your families

Reducing costs and supporting your families

05 August 2022

It’s impossible to ignore how difficult things are right now for family finances. Families all over Scotland have been dealt a double blow over the last couple of years, first by Covid and now by a cost of living crisis that feels like it’s getting worse day by day. Sky high bills and soaring costs at the supermarket and petrol pump mean a lot of stress, fear and anxiety for parents and carers trying to make ends meet.

While some families will be experiencing this for the first time, others have been in crisis long before this - it’s hard to believe, but more than a quarter of all children in Scotland are living below the poverty line. For too many families, the money coming in just isn’t enough to get by.

Locked out of experiences and opportunities

Many families simply don’t have the resources to provide new experiences and opportunities for their children. Days out, clubs or blocks of lessons might be impossible. Even a trip to a free museum or park can end up costing if you need to travel and your child happens to spot the ice cream van.
Poverty isn’t only about the pounds and pence in your pocket, it’s also about being unable to take part in society in the same way as everybody else around you. That’s especially difficult for children and young people as they grow and develop.

As Scout leaders you know exactly how important all of this is. You’re giving up your time and energy to run sessions that widen children’s horizons and expose them to new experiences. Things like camping, cooking, creative activities, days out and time in nature are all fantastic for children’s wellbeing, skills and friendships – and for fun! I know this myself as a mum whose 6 year old is delighted to skip off every Tuesday evening to Beavers.
So, in the current climate, it’s important to be aware of the financial challenges families might be facing and think about how to help all children and young people, regardless of income, to take advantage of the great experiences offered at Scouts.

Hidden poverty – preventative approaches

Some families might have preconceptions about the costs involved in Scouting and think it isn’t for them. Some might simply be unable to afford it. And for families involved already, it might be difficult to speak up when things like fees, uniform, trip and event costs, equipment or travel are unaffordable. It’s much more likely that parents will quietly go without so that their children can fit in.

“They think I can pay but I struggle putting food on the table for both of us and pay my bills. I’ve already had to stop their swimming lessons at the weekend. I have nothing more I can cut back on.” (Parent)

None of us like shouting about our financial problems and you may never know which of your families are struggling. It’s easier to assume that this will be an issue for at least some and have a look at reducing costs before they become a problem.

Small changes to what you do can make all the difference. The project I work on, Cost of the School Day, focuses on cost barriers at school and every day we see teachers doing amazing work to reduce costs and remove challenges in areas like uniform, trips, resources, food, clubs and fun events. This has a real impact on children’s participation and learning. The same kinds of things can be done in Scouts.

What we can do

A good first step is to sit down and think through a typical year for your children and young people. This can help you map out what costs families are facing and when. It’s easy to underestimate the impact that occasional small costs like £2, £5 or £10 have on family budgets but sometimes there are no corners left to cut when you’re struggling. So how much notice do parents generally get for payments? Is there a way to let them know what’s coming up over the year so there are no short notice surprises?

After you’ve identified your costs, the next step is to think about ways to keep them down and make them more manageable. Here are a few examples:

If you ask for fees upfront at the start of the year, is there an option for instalments?
Could you avoid requests at expensive times like the start of the school year or Christmas?
There are great examples of uniform reuse and recycling in schools which keep costs down and help the planet – could this be something for young people to take a lead on?
Does fundraising sometimes end up with parents providing the funds themselves? Could you make it more inclusive and community focused?
Are trips as affordable as they can be and are you taking full advantage of free bus travel available to all children and young people? It’s also helpful to think about hidden costs – how much does a camping trip actually cost when you take into account extras like rucksacks, sleeping bags and wet weather gear?
Do you have arrangements in place to support people with these extras and other costs through a discretionary fund?
How sensitive is your communication about costs? It’s worth checking the wording of your emails or letters to see that they’re not putting too much pressure on parents and that there’s an offer to get in touch if there are any issues

When you start thinking about it, there are lots of costs to consider – but there are also lots of ways to help. Families really notice when you do.

What now?

If there was ever a time to look at reducing costs and supporting your families, it’s now. Being mindful of the challenges families are facing and doing what you can to reduce costs and make them more manageable really does help take the pressure off. It also means that more children and young people will be able to take advantage of all of the brilliant opportunities and experiences you provide without unaffordable costs standing in their way.

So what could you do to tackle cost barriers at Scouts and make life a little easier for children and their families?

Sara Spencer
Cost of the School Day Project Manager, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland
August 2022