Poverty’s devastating effect on the health of our youngest should come as no surprise. Across Scotland, families are often plunged into financial hardship as a direct consequence of a child’s ill health.
The facts are stark and sobering. According to NHS Scotland, children living in the most deprived areas face significantly worse health outcomes than those in the most affluent. This can take many forms, from lower birth weight and poor dental health to higher levels of obesity. The number of people affected by this is staggering, with more than one in five of Scotland’s children living in poverty.
As chief executive of Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity, I am all too familiar with the life-changing effects of having a child with long-term health problems. Children from across Scotland come to the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow and the journey they embark on can have huge implications on regular family life.
Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity supports these families, ensuring that they have the best possible care and experience.
I frequently learn of families in emotional and financial stress due to the impact of their hospital stay. The burden is severe regardless of income, but for those living in poverty it is likely to be overwhelming. Not only do these parents have to find a way to cope with their child’s illness, they also have to contend with drastic changes to their financial situation. That balancing act can be crushing – and often families don’t know where to turn. In 2015, Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity committed to funding a Financial Inclusion Service, to provide practical and financial support to families struggling with the added pressures of having a child in hospital. The results went beyond my expectation. With our help, families attending the Royal Hospital for Children (previously Yorkhill) have been able to access more than £2m of benefits.
Year on year, the number of families using the Financial Inclusion Service grows.Accessing benefits is just one positive outcome. It also helps to unearth other hidden challenges and problems associated with having a child in hospital, helping to alleviate the stress of a worried family.
However, the sad truth is that, despite our best efforts, there is so much more that has to be done. We are committed to putting a spotlight on the direct link between a child’s ill health and financial hardship. While this will require further support from the Scottish Government through targeted financial inclusion and family support programmes, ultimately there is a responsibility on all of us to get involved.
Poverty affects the health of children the length and breadth of the country. Having a sick child is a parent’s worst nightmare, but there is no reason why together we cannot help relieve some of the additional strain.
Shona Cardle is chief executive of Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity