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Social participation paves the way out of poverty

Activities for all children and young people are important in the fight against poverty. These are the findings of a new report on measures in nine Agder municipalities.

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The school provides education, but it is also a place where you make friends and become part of the local community.
The school provides education, but it is also a place where you make friends and become part of the local community.

“The municipalities must organise the school day and activities in the local community to ensure that everyone is included. That is the key to lifting people out of poverty”, says Niels Garmann-Johnsen.

He is associate professor at the Department of Information Systems at the University of Agder (UiA).

“Poverty can easily be inherited, so it is important to establish measures to break the cycle and help children from poor families to participate in society, for example through engaging in leisure activities together with the other children in the municipality”, says Garmann-Johnsen. 

Mapping of measures

Together with researchers Øyvind Hellang and Nina Jentoft at the Norwegian Research Centre (NORCE), he has mapped the measures against poverty in nine Agder municipalities. They recently published the report Samhandling mot følgene av barnefattigdom (SAMBA) (Interaction against the consequences of child poverty).

The report builds on a feasibility study carried out by UiA in cooperation with NORCE and a review of research literature on poverty. A research and development project was also undertaken in collaboration between UiA, NORCE and the nine Agder municipalities Birkenes, Froland, Gjerstad, Grimstad, Iveland, Risør, Tvedestrand, Vegårshei and Åmli.

The project provides a basis for further efforts directed towards children in these municipalities who live in households in persistent low income. The researchers have interviewed people in the health and social care sector, school administrators, teachers as well as children and parents.

“Our overall goal has been to propose measures to help even out inequalities and ensure that children from low-income families also achieve their potential”, says Garmann-Johnsen.

Poverty is more than a lack of money

Families are considered poor when the total annual household income is 50% lower than the median income. The median income now stands at just above NOK 500,000.

Foto av Niels Garmann-Johnsen

“Social participation is the key to eradicating poverty for future generations”, says researcher Niels Garmann-Johnsen.

10.5% of the population in the Agder municipalities fall below the poverty line. They live in households where the annual income is around NOK 250,000 or lower. At the national level, 9.4 % of the population are included in this group. But according to the researcher, this is a technical definition.

“There are probably far more who struggle financially, and according to Statistics Norway, 24% of them live in households that are unable to manage unforeseen expenses”, says Garmann-Johnsen.

One of the main points the report emphasises is that poverty manifests itself in more than a lack of money.

“If you have a low income, you can compensate by having good health and a strong social network. But if low-income families also have a small social network and poor health, their children will struggle”, says Garmann-Johnsen.

Social participation is key

School is the route to employment. And work is the way out of poverty. But schooling is about more than education. The researchers believe that social participation after school hours is just as important.

“Social participation is the key to eradicating poverty for future generations”, says Garmann-Johnsen.

He points out that interaction with other children and young people will help develop conversation and social interaction skills. Practicing social skills and conversation skills gives pupils a sense of mastery.

“These pupils do not fall outside, but become part of the community”, says Garmann-Johnsen.

The researchers also believe that there should be greater emphasis on aesthetic subjects in school.

“Aesthetic subjects often require that you participate in discussions sharing your own experiences, and this strengthens a sense of community and develops the ability to express ideas”, says Garmann-Johnsen.

An offer open to all

Here are some of the measures that work well to create an inclusive community:

  • Leisure activities for children of all ages
  • Youth coordinator or family coordinator who works with those who need support
  • Free sports equipment and free leisure activities
  • Free transport

Froland and Tvedestrand are among the municipalities that have established a library club for children aged 8 to 12 years. This age group has no after-school programme (SFO) nor any other offers.

“The club functions as a social gathering place for this age group from the end of the school day and until their parents get back from work. They also get homework help and are even provided a meal”, says Garmann-Johnsen.

The municipalities of Risør and Åmli have good experiences with so-called pilot coordinators. They simply guide young people from underprivileged homes from lower to upper secondary school.

The report advises all municipalities to offer relevant leisure activities for children and young people of all ages.

“Free leisure activities entail expenses for the municipalities, but in the long run it pays off when young people socialise, are able to communicate well with others, make friends and build a network, and eventually choose to continue their education”, says Garmann-Johnsen.

Together with other researchers, Garmann-Johnsen would like to follow up the measures that are now being continued in the nine municipalities.

“We should establish clear criteria to evaluate how the various measures perform over time”, he says.