“Good home base is very important, but is under more pressure than before”

Turn off the heat, put on an extra sweater and keep an eye on the little ones while you shop. No one will have noticed that life has recently become much more expensive. There are families that can withstand the blows with some adjustments, but more and more harrowing stories are being told of people getting into serious financial trouble. Also in Utrecht, a growing number of families are barely making ends meet. And it is felt in more and more places. Schools and sports clubs are seeing the consequences of the energy crisis and inflation for the city’s children. “We actually expect that the hardest time is yet to come,” says Anko van Hoepen, chairman of the school umbrella organization SPO Utrecht.

The schools in Utrecht have barely had time to overcome the consequences of corona, but the following social crises have quickly appeared in recent months. SPO Utrecht includes 38 schools spread across all districts in the city. Board chairman Anko van Hoepen explains that the schools are still trying to get an impression of what the energy crisis and inflation mean for the children who go to school with them. “These problems are on the agenda at all schools, but you can feel that at present it is still a bit of a quest. The picture is not completely clear yet,” says Van Hoepen. “We actually expect that the toughest time is yet to come, but that cannot be said for sure yet.”

In 2019, approximately 8,400 children in Utrecht grew up in a household with an income up to the poverty line (125 percent of the statutory social minimum). This appears from the Public Health Monitor in the municipality of Utrecht. More than half of these children live in a household that must live on a welfare-level income. Research from the Children’s Ombudsman shows that growing up in poverty has many negative effects on children’s health, social environment, living situation and nutrition. In families with financial problems, there is not always enough money for healthy food, suitable clothes and shoes, excursions, sports and birthday parties. As a result, children from poor families also feel excluded and angry more often. They are bullied more often and shame is common. The risk of psychological problems is therefore greater, and the children also suffer from physical discomfort. About a quarter of the children in the Children’s Ombudsman’s survey say they suffer from ailments such as headaches, stomachaches and fatigue. Two-thirds of children growing up in families with little money say they experience stress. For example, they worry about expenses such as daily shopping and expenses for school and clothes. There are also often tensions at home.

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Printer in the bread room

Schools in Utrecht have recently received signals that more and more children are having a hard time at home. One of the schools in SPO Utrecht, for example, has a ‘Broodlokaal’. Children can make sandwiches there in the morning or at dinner time if they don’t have them with them. “It can also be done under the guise of ‘I forgot my bread’ instead of ‘I don’t have any bread’. The school has recently seen an increase in the number of children using the bread room,” says Van Hoepen, who at several ways see parents making different choices than before. “Some schools are asking parents to give their kids healthy things at recess. You notice now that parents are thinking, ‘Yeah, healthy things? Unhealthy things are cheaper.'”

“In the families where it really cuts, choices have to be made” – Anko van Hoepen, chairman of the board of SPO Utrecht

The schools are concerned about equal opportunities in Utrecht. “It is of great concern to us that the inequality of opportunity in Utrecht will increase as a result of these crises,” says Van Hoepen. “These kinds of blows are harder in neighborhoods with low socio-economic status. These are also the neighborhoods where many families already have problems. People cancel sports subscriptions and, for example, use their U-pass to pay for things other than activities such as sports. In the families where it really cuts, choices have to be made. As a result, the differences between people only widen.”

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Sport

SportUtrecht – the organization that brings together sports supply and demand in Utrecht – recognizes this, but currently does not have a good idea of ​​what exactly is going on in Utrecht. In the corona era, they already saw that people spend less money on sports. It has not been restored since then. “It is clear that people have started to make choices because you can only spend money once. Everything is getting more expensive, so you choose what you spend your money on,’ says Sylke Haverkorn, exercise broker education & sport at SportUtrecht. “Costs have also sometimes exceeded income for sports providers. If a few years ago a coach earned a certain amount per hour, and it hasn’t changed, while the room rent has increased by three times, then you can’t keep doing that. People can no longer afford the rising prices.”

“We have a bad idea about the people who are now getting into trouble” – Sylke Haverkorn, exercise broker education & sport at SportUtrecht

Aware

But it is not clear who exactly are the households that can no longer cope, according to Haverkorn. “We have a bad idea about the people who are now getting into trouble. This does not apply, for example, to people with a U-pass. They are already offered help in many ways, and you know who has such a U-pass. Those who fall just outside that group are having a really hard time right now.”

The schools are also aware of those who need help the most. According to Van Hoepen, teachers in neighborhoods with low socioeconomic status are used to identifying problems in children at an early stage. This is of course a good thing, but the emphasis on neighborhoods with many problems also entails dangers, he explains. “We are very focused on schools in neighborhoods like Overvecht and Kanaleneiland, because these kinds of problems have been going on there for a much longer time. But we must now also take a closer look at the situation of students in schools in other neighbourhoods. Teachers who teach in schools where many parents have problems are more aware, while school staff in neighborhoods where there are fewer problems may be less accustomed to paying attention to these kinds of signals. They may not be picked up until later.”

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The schools are therefore very aware of how these signals can be picked up in time. “Neighborhood teams can play an important role here, and some schools have parent advisors. They have low-threshold contact with parents. Parents can turn to them, but you can also ‘step’ the other way around. Ask the parents how they feel,” says Van Hoepen. “Furthermore, the colleagues at the schools help each other, for example with how best to enter into a dialogue with the parents about these kinds of problems. We also have our finger on the pulse of the school’s employees. They may also be confronted with problems of which we do not yet have a clear picture. Finally, as schools, we look at barriers that we can create ourselves. The voluntary parental contribution at our schools is low, and children are always allowed to participate, even if the parents cannot pay the contribution. But that parental contribution can still feel like pressure for the parents. As schools, we need to check if there are further obstacles there.”

Consider what it takes

The question is how children in Utrecht can get through this difficult period. The aforementioned study by the Children’s Ombudsman already showed that children who grow up in families with little money often experience stress. Van Hoepen also believes this will play a role. “In some families, tensions will rise. Big money worries cause stress. School is for learning, but to learn well, the foundation for a child must be good. You need to feel good, get enough nutrition, be healthy and be warm enough. A good home ground is very important, but is under more pressure than before,” he says.

Both Van Hoepen and Haverkorn believe that careful consideration must be given to what is needed in the city. “The use of the money from the National Education Program (which was created for recovery after the corona pandemic, ed.) and the subsidy from the municipality to counter the negative effects of the corona restrictions for children must be carefully examined. go,” says Van Hoepen. “The world has changed again since corona and we have to look at what is going on now. Maybe some of the money can be used to give children a foundation on which they can learn well.”

“Tensions will rise in some families” – Anko van Hoepen, chairman of the board of SPO Utrecht

Haverkorn hopes that the consumption of subsidies will be looked at. “We must look carefully at how we ensure that people have equal opportunities. In order to do that, we need to know which families most need the help, for example in the form of subsidies.”

According to Anko van Hoepen, the schools themselves are also looking at what they can do for the children. There are already all kinds of initiatives, such as Broodlokaal, but the schools are also thinking about whether they can or want to offer breakfast and lunch, or whether they have to adapt their activities. “We have to see if the activities we offer outside the regular school curriculum are suitable for the times we live in now. Perhaps other types of activities should be offered with the grant in connection with Rijke Skoledag (intended to reduce inequalities in educational opportunities, ed.). You can think of sports activities, but it can also be a moment to offer children food in an accessible way,’ says Van Hoepen. The grant application for Rijke Schooldag for Utrecht will be sent out soon. Several districts in the city should benefit from the subsidy.

First step

SportUtrecht has also taken the first steps to improve the situation. SportUtrecht has developed the platform in-utrecht.nl together with a number of other organisations. People looking for things to do in Utrecht can see what there is to do. “For many people, the threshold to join a sports club is high, especially when they get there, and it turns out that there is also a waiting list. At in-utrecht.nl, people can immediately see if there are waiting lists and book a sports activity at the same time. Then the threshold will be lower.”

There are now 600 sports clubs on in-utrecht.nl, and that number will increase in the coming period. The platform also makes it clearer what the situation is. “If the website is used by clubs and providers, we get much more insight into, for example, the membership numbers at the clubs. It helps to get a clearer picture.”

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‘The need is very great’

The consequences of the rising prices were also recently discussed in the city council of Utrecht. In question time, the parties DENK, D66, Volt, Partiet for Dyrene, GroenLinks, BIJ1, Utrecht Solidair, PvdA and Student & Starter last week asked the councilor to do something in the short term. “The need is very high. For us, it cannot come soon enough,” said the parties. They argued, among other things, for the provision of school meals or breakfast.

In response to the questions, councilor Eelco Eerenberg stated that initiatives have already been taken at a number of schools, such as Lunch Buddies, Groentjes Soup and the aforementioned Broodlokaal. In the short term, a bread van is also being considered, which will visit schools with lunch for children. What else will be done to help Utrecht children should become clear in the coming weeks. An action plan is being prepared and will be published soon.


Do you know the stories behind the hospitality industry in Utrecht from the 20th century? Arjan den Boer and Ton van den Berg are making a book together about the vanished catering industry from this period and need your help! Read more here and pre-order a book.


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