Westminster Befriend a Family

#UncoverWestminster – Housing


#UncoverWestminster – Housing

Buck Palace housing

It is a well-known fact that London is an expensive city to live in, but what is lesser known is that the rents in the capital are increasing faster than anywhere else in the country. In London, the average age of a first time buyer is now 38 years old, which is higher than the national average.

In Westminster there is a chronic housing problem, caused by a lack of affordable housing. This has led to 30% of housing in Westminster being overcrowded, as defined by the government. This is the third highest rate of overcrowding in the country and is significantly higher than the London and England averages of 17% and 7% respectively.

In 2011 the average cost of renting a 3-bedroom property in Westminster was £700 per week, while the Housing Benefit for a 3 Bedroom property was capped at £340, meaning those without alternative sources of income or financial aid cannot sustain regular affordable rent payments.

The number of families accepted as “homeless” by Westminster council has increased by 86% between 2010/11 and 2012/13. Even so, only half of applications made were accepted in 2012/13. This is put down partially to applications that do not provide enough supporting evidence, demonstrating that applicants need help with applying.

Our befrienders offer services to alleviate stress that a family may be experiencing in terms of housing, alongside offering support with filling in housing benefit applications which is especially useful for those whose first language is not English.

Although the London housing crisis is not unknown, the severity of it is often underplayed so we need to #UncoverWestminster to raise awareness of the struggles that poverty presents in terms of housing and continue to build affordable homes throughout London so that every adult, child and family has somewhere that they can call ‘home’.

#UncoverWestminster – Education

Big Ben education


Only 27% of 16-year-olds on free school meals achieve A* to C grades at GCSE, compared with 54% of their peers. This suggests that the over one million children who are eligible for free school meals because their family income is £16,040 or less, are more likely to do worse at school. These children are also less likely to go into further education; in 2007, only 6% went on to do A-levels, and out of 80,000 15-year-olds who claimed free school meals in 2002, only 45 made it to Oxbridge.

Westminster is particularly affected by child poverty, so it is no surprise that 34% of 19-year-olds in the borough lack level three academic qualifications, for example a-levels. In Westminster 40% of secondary school pupils receive free school meals. That is over twice the England average of 15% of pupils in all state secondary schools in 2011.

There is a cycle in which poverty as a child leads to lower educational achievement and lower educational achievement then leads to poverty as an adult. However, children who receive positive early education are less likely to experience the negative impacts of having parents out of work. Problematically though, children in low-income families are less likely to receive an early education. It has been found that families are the most important factor in determining a child’s educational achievement, which suggests that it is crucial for families to have access to the support needed to help them improve their children’s education. This support will improve children’s’ educational attainment, and then go on to improve future employment opportunities and quality of life. This is why at Westminster Befriend a Family we offer practical help with schoolwork and problems at school, as well as supporting parents; to try and break this cycle so that no more children, or adults, have to live in poverty.

In Westminster 71% of primary school pupils first language is not English, this is over four times the average in England. There is a clear agreement among education and linguistic experts that teaching in the language that children have used from birth, their mother tongue or first language, offers the best chance of educational success. This is why at Westminster Befriend a Family we offer children, and their parents, the chance to socialise in English through a range of weekly community-based sports, arts and educational projects. Evidence has been produced to indicate that where school language is not used in children’s daily lives, it can tip the balance towards total exclusion from learning; so we are aiming to help include English in their everyday lives so that every child can effectively make use of their right to an education and to end the poverty cycle.

This begins to show the importance of breaking the poverty cycle and the shocking impact that education can have on children from disadvantaged families. We need to #UncoverWestminster to raise awareness of these issues and to make sure every person, adult and child alike, has the chance to reach their full potential during their education through receiving a positive education experience and being provided with the support they need to achieve their goals. Poverty is not just about a lack of money but also about a lack of opportunity.

#UncoverWestminster – Health

Traf Sq Health 2


England is known for its National Health Service. It is the largest and the oldest single-payer healthcare system in the world and with one fifth of its budget being spent on providing health care in London alone it would be expected that every person living in London is in equal good health since the service is available to every UK citizen and legal immigrant.

But in Westminster this is not the case. Although the average for those who feel they were in bad or very bad health in Westminster 2011 was 6%, only 1% higher than the London average, there is huge variation within the borough that affects this average, for example in the Church Street ward this number rises to 11%, which is significantly higher than the London and Westminster averages. In 2013, Church Street ranked 537 out of 625 London wards on the GLA Well-being index which looks at a number of measures including health. This gives the Westminster ward one of the worst 25% of wellbeing scores in London. This huge inequality in health is also reflected in life expectancy in Westminster. The gap in life expectancy between the most and least deprived 10% of the Westminster population is 16.6 years for men (the largest gap in England) and 9.9 years for women (the fourth largest gap in England).

There are strong links between poverty and health, as children in poor families are more likely to suffer from both physical and mental health problems which can be long-term and affect them throughout their lifetime. These children are also more likely to be injured or killed in an accident.

Further, Westminster is the worst borough in the country for childhood obesity. The percentage of pupils, 5-16 years old, participating in physical activity in Westminster is 74.76, while the average for England is 83.36. At Westminster Befriend a Family we offer weekly community-based sports programmes, such as swimming and martial arts classes, to help to improve health. 64% of parents of children in our swimming classes ‘strongly agreed’ that they had noticed an improvement in the physical health of their child since they started the lessons. These classes not only have this amazing positive impact on the health of children but they also have many other benefits that have been outlined in previous posts in this series.

Research also suggests there is a significant link between poverty and its contributing factors, and mental health. People in the lowest quintile of household income are nine times more likely to suffer from a psychotic disorder than those in the highest quintile. Suicide rates are much higher among those who are unemployed. There are key areas in which Westminster struggles with regards to health. Mental health appears to be an on-going problem. Inpatient admissions for severe and enduring illnesses are 59% higher than the national average.

At Westminster Befriend a Family we offer coffee mornings for parents using our services, which have many benefits and emotional support, and counselling was outlined by more than 50% of coffee morning users as one of these. The coffee morning is “like a therapy”, one respondent informed us, a space where clients can go and share their experiences.

I meet so many people coming from different groups. Every time that I have problem in any different subject I go there

We need to #UncoverWestminster to raise awareness of the inequality of health throughout London and particularly the borough of Westminster, as no one deserves to suffer in silence.

Small – and mighty – charities


90% of organisations in the voluntary sector are small or medium sized charities. Despite making up such a large percentage of the sector the work that they do often goes unnoticed by many. Research commissioned by TSB, and reported in the Guardian (13/06/16), shows that small charities miss out on donations due to small profiles. However, as small and medium sized charities we are more and more involved in plugging gaps in local service provision than many of our larger partners in the sector. We at Westminster Befriend a Family are a charity set-up by local people, for local people. We draw a large proportion of funding and support from the local area and local business. Maintaining our profile is a direct result of diligent work by our volunteers nurturing links with the local community. In a borough like Westminster this is particularly hard owing to the transience of residents and local workers.

At a time when trust in charities is low, small charities go against the trend by staying close to their core mission and strengthening their roots in the local community. What small charities lack in size we make up with the strength of our networks. These are our greatest assets.  They allow us great insight into the issues affecting our service users. Our locally based, high quality networks grant us the knowledge to do our jobs effectively and efficiently. As a part of a local community we can respond to needs as they emerge, helping to improve community cohesion and bring people closer together. Another advantage, that we as small charities have is our ability to reach those who are hardest to reach. This comes from a combination of our deep local knowledge and our approachability. We are not intimidating behemoths, but approachable, human organisations.

Despite the advantages of our small size, there are severe draw backs, our size makes robust data gathering and competitive tendering hard when facing huge charities with dedicated departments. Our strong ties to our local area make maintaining a large profile difficult and as noted above make fundraising a struggle. These difficulties are what makes weeks like Small Charity Week so important. It gives us the platform to make our voice heard and to raise our profile. Small charities are a crucial point of local knowledge and support, but we need support too.

Join us tomorrow at the Elizabeth Street Summer Party 2016!

When: 3-11pm on Saturday 11th JunePostcard Updated

Where: Elizabeth Street, London, SW1W. A 5 minute walk from Victoria Station.

Please come and join us tomorrow at the Elizabeth Street Summer Party from 3-11! There will be food, drink, a fancy dress parade, entertainment, a performance by Holland Park Opera, live music and lots more!

There is a suggested £5 donation to Westminster Befriend a Family for attending on the day and we would really welcome your support. So please come along and enjoy what promises to be a wonderful occasion.

If anyone is interested in volunteering on the day then please contact Chris Davis at chris@befriendafamily.co.uk or call 0207 828 2765 for more information.

And a huge thanks to Cubitt House, the Belgravia Traders Association, the Belgravia Society and Twenty Two Events for all their hard work in organising this event and the amazing support they have shown to the charity. We would also like to thank all the sponsors who made the event possible, with special thanks to the title sponsors the Harbour Club, Grosvenor and Cubitt House.