Tackling Poverty Framework

Why should we be talking about poverty? Why is it important?

Tackling poverty and reducing inequalities is the key cornerstone of the Best Council Plan 2020-25, but why is this important? According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, children have experienced the highest poverty rates of all social groups over the last 20 years.

Child poverty has been rising in Leeds and also nationally, and latest estimates show that there were just under 35,000 children living in poverty in Leeds - which makes up 23% of all young people. In Leeds alone more than 40,000 people were supported through food parcels in 2020. Research shows that families get locked into poverty by a combination of  factors – the availability and costs of child care, transport, housing and job instability to name a few. It is important to note that poverty is a multidimensional issue that isn’t just about what you have, or what you don’t have, it’s about what you possess in comparison to what the society around you has.

The comparative lack of resources that people in poverty have can limit their opportunities to engage and access the same opportunities as their wealthier counterparts, this division of opportunities often excludes individuals which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and shame. Poverty is not the result of personal mistakes, rather the consequences of political and societal failing. As social care practitioners it is imperative we eliminate stigma associated with poverty by demonstrating good practice and challenging dehumanising attitudes presented towards people who live with poverty.

What do we hope that this poverty strategy achieves?

Ambitions for our families

Thriving; the Child Poverty Strategy for Leeds 2019 highlights Leeds’ strategic commitment to mitigating the impact of poverty. The strategy outlines the approach that we are taking to tackle child poverty. We want to ensure that poverty presents no barriers for our children and young people, and we want all people to have access to the same opportunities, regardless of their background. We believe that all children and young people should have the freedom to choose their pathway, and that we can work together as a city to tackle any limitations that poverty may place on these pathways.

The strategy has been co-produced with children, young people, parents, and organisations, and it is centred around five fundamental principles:

  1. All work needs to be informed by the voices of children, young people and parents
  2. All work needs to be with a wide variety of partners
  3. The focus is on changing structures, not individuals
  4. We need to reframe the language that is used
  5. Research is incorporated into our work

As a Child Friendly City, all our work is underpinned by the understanding that children live in families, families make communities and communities build cities.  Supporting families therefore strengthens communities and the city. Challenging child poverty is central to the Leeds 2018-23 Children and Young People’s Plan;

“In acknowledging the scale and impact of poverty on families, we will work with communities and families to mitigate the impact of poverty on children’s outcomes and support children’s journeys into secure adulthood in a prosperous city”

The information laid out in the Poverty Aware Practice section will help practitioners to understand and support people living with poverty, and by doing move the service closer to achieving the eleven priorities set out in the Children and Young Peoples Plan, these priorities being;

  1. Help children and parents to live in safe, supportive and loving families
  2. Ensure that the most vulnerable are protected
  3. Support families to give children the best start in life
  4. Increase the number of children and young people participating and engaging in learning
  5. Improve achievement and attainment for all
  6. Improve at a faster rate educational progress for children and young people vulnerable to poor learning outcomes
  7. Improve social, emotional, and mental health and wellbeing
  8. Encourage physical activity and healthy eating
  9. Support young people to make good choices and minimise risk-taking behaviours
  10. Help young people into adulthood, to develop life skills, and be ready for work
  11. Improve access to affordable, safe, and reliable connected transport for young people

Facts about poverty and its impacts in Leeds

Another challenge facing families living on low incomes is the rise of in-work poverty, a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that as of 2020, around 1 in 7 workers are now reported to be living in poverty. In-work poverty is also disproportionately affecting families with children as 73% of young people living in poverty are reported to have at least one adult in work across the UK. In-work poverty seriously affects low income families and the opportunities they have to break from the cycle of poverty.

Child poverty has devastating impacts on children, the adults children become, and on the societies in which poor children live. Poverty is a day to day reality that results in people living precarious lives, with every decision evaluated- from choosing between heating or food, having a cup of coffee or using the washing machine, buying clothes or shampoo. It is not, however, an individual fault. Poverty is a societal and moral failing, and the emotions and shame that surround people who experience poverty is something that will never leave them.

We know that living in areas of deprivation or in poverty results in differing access to resources, which is an inequality that impacts all areas of a child’s life. We also know that statistics show a significant link between experiencing poverty and poorer life outcomes across health, wellbeing, life expectancy, education and employment. Poverty is an injustice that strips away opportunities, builds barriers, and reduces freedom. It represents a loss of the rights of a child.   

Poverty Aware Practice; How do we support families experiencing poverty?

a.) Language; guidance on having sensitive discussions with families about poverty

Use of language

We must be aware that the term ‘Poverty’ can cause huge shame, fear and stigma so it is essential that we consider and think carefully about the type of language we use when having these conversations. You need to prepare for the conversation and ensure that you consider the following:

  • What you say. – Restorative language
    It is vital that you use restorative language as this helps to shift the focus away from blame and shame to root cause and repair. This tool will assist you to have a discussion with a family about how they feel about their household income, how their finances might be affecting them and then moving on to any action that can be taken to improve the situation.
  • How you say it. – Framing and softening techniques
    This approach states the intention of the discussion and sets up the conversation. You then need to identify the positive intention for the person so they can understand why it is useful to engage in the conversation. For example ‘If its ok with you I thought it would be useful for me to understand a bit about your financial situation so that I can see if there is any additional support that we can offer in this area.’
  • What you don’t say and how you behave. – Mirroring and body language
    It is important to remember your body language has a big impact using mirroring techniques, good use eye contact, leaning in, being aware of location, being aware of personal space, being aware of your notepad and writing are all techniques which can aid engagement and help people feel more comfortable when having sensitive conversations.
  • Consider using metaphors, facts and research when discussing poverty
    Research shows that using metaphors, relevant statistics and research in discussions can aid understanding and help reduce shame because it makes the discussion very factual. Some examples are ‘In the grip of poverty’, ‘Keeping your head above water’. Consider discussing how the economy locks people into poverty being on benefits, in low paid jobs, rising rental prices, the increasing cost of living, the way our economy works can trap people in a daily struggle to make ends meet. You can see up to date research and facts which you could incorporate into conversations on page …..
  • Words and phrases we can use
    • “How does living with a low income impact you/your family?”
    • “How do you manage your money?”
    • “Can I talk to you about your finances?”
    • “How do you manage/cope on the income you’ve got?”
    • “Where do you normally go for financial support? Can I support you with accessing different services?”
    • “Do you think you’re getting all the money you should/are entitled to?”
    • “How are you coping with the change to universal credit? A lot of people are finding this difficult”
    • “Have you ever had a welfare rights assessment?”
    • “Do you do a weekly/monthly budget planner?”

b.) Community Practice: drawing on community support to reduce poverty

Knowledge and understanding of the local community they serve is vital for practitioners as drawing on community support enables families to form local connections. They are also far better placed to understand their communities and where they can get support. Just as important are those informal networks and trusted friends who they can turn to, many people who use support services will themselves go on to shape services and help others. The lived-in experience and ‘walking in someone else’s shoes’ perspective can often help practitioners to better support families. We know from research and listening to families that what they value is someone who has time for them and a listening ear. It’s the simple things that matter 

Strengths and asset-based approaches ensure the focus is on what individuals and communities can bring to the table and how we can work together to find solutions. We don’t always have to have the answer and be the “expert”.  These approaches are fundamental when supporting families in poverty as they draw on community values and strengths. As a Child Friendly City the core values of Leeds is to strengthen families and strengthen communities. In Leeds local communities have shown great resilience and strength in challenging times and pulled together. Some examples of this are uniform exchange programmes set up to ensure children in need have uniforms to go to school, or businesses offering free school meals to children in school holidays. 

“No society has the money to buy, at market prices, what it takes to raise children, make a neighbourhood safe, care for the elderly, make democracy work or address systemic injustices…..  The only way the world is going to address social problems is by enlisting the very people who are now classified as ‘clients’ and ‘consumers’ and converting them into co-workers, partners and rebuilders of the core economy”

Professor Edgar Cahn, US-based civil rights lawyer and inventor of Timebanks

c.) Advocacy; ensuring voices are heard

Children who live in poverty often are not included in conversations around their experiences. Adults are often apprehensive about talking to children about poverty, because they don’t want to say the wrong thing, or they think that children may be less aware of their parent’s financial circumstances. Children who live in poverty are very often aware that they live in poverty. They know about the stresses that their family is under, and they often try to protect their parents from financial worries, by not bringing information home about school trips, or by leaving food on their plate as they know it may be their parent’s only meal.

As practitioners working with families, it is important that we use the power and knowledge gained as part of our role to advocate for our families. We must listen to and work with both children and their guardians to better understand their experiences of poverty, only by doing this can we appropriately advocate on their behalf and work with them to challenge their current situation.

Here are some ways we can work with our families to ensure that their voices are heard:

  • Support families to complete applications for practical help and benefits.
  • Advise about support such as food banks, deposit schemes.
  • If you are not sure about support signpost families to relevant support services. Consider making the first phone call/complete the referral form with that family.
  • Use your advocacy, resource brokering and systems negotiation skills. Challenge a landlord about making repairs, accompany families to benefits hearings, negotiate better repayment terms with a loans company, and write supporting letters for grants.
  • Support people experiencing poverty to improve their self-esteem. Form respectful relationships with children and families which promote dignity, self-belief and high self-esteem. Raise the confidence of those you work with and encourage people to find their voice and challenge their situation.
  • Challenge practice and policies which may unfairly oppress or discriminate against families living with low wages. Talk to your managers/supervisors about the experiences of families living with low income, and contribute to policy/decisions about families. 

If you believe that a family may be being denied any rights, discuss this with the family, and agree what you can do together to challenge this, for instance call the landlord about repairs.  

d.) Improving Material Circumstances

The impact of poverty reaches far beyond the presenting circumstances, if left unaddressed, poverty can impact upon long lasting outcomes for children and families. This includes impacting on self-esteem, self-worth and mental wellbeing. There is growing concern over children and families not having the very basics needed, as defined in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

e.) Case Studies; best practice for working with poverty

Anonymous submission given to the Stronger Families team

“ I was a bit weary of being referred onto the stronger families program I thought someone was just going to come and take me kids away and tell me I was a bad mother. Because I dint have it together. I felt lost not sure what I was supposed t be doing. I cried every day I was so low I walked the streets every day I didn’t know where to go. I was so lonely I never had anyone that was there for me. Then I got on the phone one day to tell me that I had been given a key worker called Lesley and that I would get a home visit. I dint know then that I was going to meet the most caring, supportive, loveliest woman that was going to change my life for the better.

At the beginning I never thought this programme would help at all and that no one really cared up till now so nothing would change but it did.

My health was really bad I was in and out of hospital. My mental health was really bad I had a lot of crippling debt and I wasn’t getting the right benefits. I was stressed and worried and Lesley just took all that stress and worry away. My benefits was sorted my debt is under control. I got to meet Katie from TouchStone who helped with my mental health we had lots of chats and went on lots of walks. Then I met Laura and learnt about participation. I dint even know that was a thing till I met Lesley. I got to go to forum and met lots of lovely people. I made some good friendships. I was taking part in meetings planning forums, I took part in helping to develop the peer mentor service I was doing and learning things I had never done before. I got to go on trips with the kids, welling being walks. Lunches in the park, roasting marshmallows in the woods making friends. Lesley was amazing and brilliant my daughter need to change nursery and Lesley took the time to go with me and I'm so glad she did as she knew all the right things to ask that I never would of thought of. My daughter I settled there now and she loves it.

I got all the help I need with my health. I feel so much better I'm no longer sad or lonely I can get through the day with out crying. I have a much better relationships with my children now I'm able to spend more time with them and enjoy the time with them. I started distance learning I never thought I could do a course but Lesley believed in me and that ment a lot I have never had that before. I have now passed three courses and have now started volunteering at a job I could only ever dream of. I have a lot of dreams that are noe becoming reality. I feel so much stronger so much more confident and happy. My life has changed so much what ever I needed, Lesley was there whatever problems I had are gone.

I lost my mum quite young and never got to experience that motherly figure that just had your back. Lesley was like the mum I never got to have and I will always be eternally grateful and thankful for everything Lesley did for me and my kids she went above and beyond for us and I am absolutely gutted my time and the programme has come to an end. I couldn’t recommend the stronger families program enough.

Resources for families experiencing poverty; knowing where families experiencing poverty and its impacts can access support

Practitioners need to have knowledge of support services within the Council and the area the family reside in, or where to find this information. There are a wealth of community services such as foodbanks, uniform and clothing banks, baby bank, voluntary organisations and faith groups in Leeds. 

Practitioners need to discuss support available with families and help refer to services. It is also important that consideration is given to enabling access to services. For example, do families have credit on their phone to call a service? If referring to a food bank, can the family get to the food bank?  If referring for debt advice, can the family get to the service? Do they need bus fare? How many buses do they need to change? How do they feel about going? Will they need support on the visit from someone? Is language a barrier?

For families where there is an Early Help, Child in Need or Child Protection Plan in place and there are regular meetings, do they have the resources to attend meetings or join virtual meetings?

When arranging venues for meetings, consider local venues- social work offices often depict power imbalance and therefore community venues such as schools or children’s centres are often more appropriate.

For children who are in Local Authority or Kinship Care, consider whether the family have resources to attend reviews, family time/contact and how this can be supported.

Tips and pitfalls to avoid when working with families experiencing poverty.

  • Lead from a base of shared values for compassion and justice
  • Poverty is no-ones fault or choice
  • Poverty does not diminish or change a person’s skills, talents or value to society
  • People who live in poverty are often resourceful and resilient
  • Children who live in poverty are as capable as anyone else
  • Recognise the strengths and coping strategies of people living in poverty
  • Challenge stereotypes of people in poverty such as ‘poor families don’t value education’, ‘families in poverty are benefit cheats’, ‘people in poverty are substance abusers’
  • People in poverty are often better at budgeting their resources than any budgeting coach.
  • Recognise that living on a shoestring can cause shame and makes life difficult to manage.
  • Benefits are part of the solution, not the problem, there is a huge stigma attached to claiming benefits but we need to challenge this and remind people that benefits are part of a wider system of public services that we all rely on
  • Consider using metaphors to explain concepts, make them easier to understand and reduce shame
  • Consider using meaningful facts and research as they are factual and not personal
  • Families in poverty often have to prioritise food, school uniform, heating, electricity. So when families feel judged or looked down upon for having old furniture, sparse decoration, chipped paint, empty cupboards with no chance to provide context, they are being shamed for making the correct decisions for their family. Thus as practitioners we need to be non-judgemental.
  • Practitioners should ensure they take time to consider the language used, how they are going to have the sensitive conversation and their body language.
  • Practitioners should consider whether or not access to play, education, work, sport, travel, holidays or social and leisure activities is affected and if so, whether or not they can support access to these opportunities in any way.
  • We need to ensure that we have knowledge about services and organisations we can refer people to help support them with their finances.


British Association of Social Workers, (2019), ‘The Anti-Poverty Practice Guide for Social Work’. 
Corrigan-Kavanagh, Emily & Escobar-Tello, Carolina & Lo, Kathy. (2016). Alternative pathways to understanding and designing for happiness in the home. Iterations Journal. (University of Limerick)
Department of Health, (2018) ‘Anti-Poverty Framework for Social Work in Northern Ireland; A Summary’, (Belfast), pp.1-2. 
Innes, D., (Feb 2020) ‘What has Driven the Rise in In-Work Poverty?,’ Joseph Rowntree Foundation. 
Joseph Rowntree Foundation, (2020), ‘Overview of Poverty Trends’ in UK Poverty 2019-20: The Leading Independent Report. 
Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ‘Poverty rate by person type over time, after housing costs (AHC)’ in Households Below Average Income: 1994/95-2018/19 by UK Data Service. 
Leeds City Council, (2018), Thriving: The Child Poverty Strategy for Leeds 2019-2022. 
Leeds City Council (24th June 2020), ‘Executive Board Report: Update on Thriving: The Child Poverty Strategy for Leeds, Summary’. 
Ryder, A., (2020) ‘The Thousands of Families in Leeds Who Can’t Afford to Buy Their Own Food’, Leeds Live (30th July 2020).


Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2020), ‘Overview of Poverty Trends’ in UK Poverty 2019-20: The Leading Independent Report, p.19

Leeds City Council, (24th June 2020), Executive Board Report: ‘Update on Thriving: The Child Poverty Strategy for Leeds, Summary’.

Ryder, A., (2020) ‘The Thousands of Families in Leeds Who Can’t Afford to Buy Their Own Food’, Leeds Live (30th July 2020)

British Association of Social Workers, (2019), The Anti-Poverty Practice Guide for Social Work, p.8

Leeds City Council, (2018), Thriving: The Child Poverty Strategy for Leeds 2019-2022, p.3

Leeds City Council, (2018), Thriving: The Child Poverty Strategy for Leeds 2019-2022, p.3

Innes, D., (Feb 2020) ‘What has Driven the Rise in In-Work Poverty?,’ Joseph Rowntree Foundation, p.3

Leeds City Council, (24th June 2020), Executive Board Report: ‘Update on Thriving: The Child       Poverty Strategy for Leeds, Summary’.

Department of Health, (2018) ‘Anti-Poverty Framework for Social Work in Northern Ireland; A Summary’, (Belfast), pp.1-2

Department of Health, (2018) ‘Anti-Poverty Framework for Social Work in Northern Ireland; A Summary’, (Belfast), pp.1-2

British Association of Social Workers, (2019), ‘The Anti-Poverty Practice Guide for Social Work’, p.19

Source: Corrigan-Kavanagh, Emily & Escobar-Tello, Carolina & Lo, Kathy. (2016). Alternative pathways to understanding and designing for happiness in the home. Iterations Journal 

Corrigan-Kavanagh, Emily & Escobar-Tello, Carolina & Lo, Kathy. (2016). Alternative pathways to understanding and designing for happiness in the home. Iterations Journal. 

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