Health visitors report ‘epidemic’ levels of poverty in UK families

Largest UK survey of frontline health visitors, conducted by the Institute of Health (iHV), paints a ‘bleak picture’ of the states of families across the UK.

As the cost-of-living continues to bite more families are struggling financially as well as facing an increased amount of mental health struggles and domestic abuse.

person holding brown leather bifold wallet

Published yesterday, the results of the iHV survey display 91% of health visitors reported an increase in poverty affecting families with a vast majority of them now relying on foodbanks.

Additionally, 83% of health workers surveyed, found the number of parents experiencing perinatal illness had increased, as well as 75% reporting an increase in families falling victim to domestic abuse.

Health visitors in England, who visit people’s homes to provide extra care, also raised serious concerns that national data mask increases in child safeguarding, as children living with significant risk and vulnerability are not detected. 

As a result of service funds being cut, their are fewer social workers meaning their case loads now have to be capped to a maximum limit. 

Against this backdrop, growing numbers of children living with vulnerabilities now fall below higher thresholds.

Children have been found to be struggling more – with 76% of health visitors reporting an increase in child behaviour problems and 60% of them reporting further cases of an incline in child safeguarding over the last 12 months.

As well as reporting a devastating number of families who are out of pocket and children found to be increasingly at risk, the survey also displays that due to health grant cuts, the number of care professionals available to help people struggling are very limited.

Funding cuts to health services has resulted in the number of health visitors plummeting by an estimated 40% since 2015.

Alison Morton, Executive Director at iHV, said: ‘Through their universal reach, health visitors have a privileged and unique view into the lives of babies, young children, and their parents/carers across the UK.

‘Health visitors’ experiences presented in this report provide an important ‘early warning signal’ of the most pressing threats and challenges to the health and wellbeing of our youngest citizens which are often hidden behind front doors and invisible to other services.

‘The findings also paint a deteriorating picture of a health visiting workforce under immense pressure as practitioners struggle to meet the scale of rising need. Families are facing the brunt of these challenges with a widening postcode lottery of health visiting supporters across the UK.’

In an attempt to improve this situation, Ms Morton claims the government must now prioritise ‘the first 1001 days’, which is a shared cross-government strategy to improve health outcomes for babies, young children, and families.

However, to ensure babies and young children’s health is prioritised, Ms Morton notes this will not be possible without devising a plan to ‘rebuild the health visitor workforce.

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya


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