Healthy Livelihoods: Insights for happier, healthier children and families

The Healthy Livelihoods stream of the ActEarly programme is focused on the development and evaluation of a range of interventions designed to address child, young people and family wellbeing and opportunities, initially in Bradford and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

It covers initiatives across areas such as income, learning, skills, engagement and control over community resources, with a view to designing interventions that support families’ material resources.

All of the interventions draw on sound research evidence and are co-produced with borough stakeholders and communities. They include understanding the take up of existing policy measures, for example the two-year-old early education offer, together with more radical interventions such as unconditional allowances and life skills for young adults.

Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on a number of areas within the Healthy Livelihoods work programme over the last 12 months, providing both challenges and opportunities.

Some planned research has been unable to be progressed due to lockdown or social distance measures, whereas other initiatives have been adapted to provide valuable new insights into the effects of COVID-19 on families and young people.

Projects and progress to date include:

Young families and pregnant women

Our planned parent engagement project in children’s centres in Tower Hamlets that aimed to increase parental uptake of the government’s policy of so-called free hours in early education for two-year-olds could not be completed because parents were no longer visiting children’s centres.

However, relationships developed with University College London (UCL) during the set-up phase paved the way for an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded project looking at the impact of the pandemic on families with children under five and pregnant women in Tower Hamlets.

The project consists of a survey of 1600 families and pregnant women run twice, a qualitative longitudinal panel of 20 households, run twice, and a community assets map of changes to services for families with young children during the summer of 2020.

The same data collection is also being run in neighbouring Newham, extending our collaborations with the UCL Institute of Child Health and with London Borough of Newham’s public health team.

This project, adapting to Covid-19, parallels a second project funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) – study of pregnant women and new mothers in ‘The Born in Bradford 2020 Families Study’.

These projects offer considerable potential for future data analysis and collaboration with local health, housing, care and education service providers, among others, and innovating new service configurations, in line with families’ needs and circumstances.

Mapping community assets

In collaboration with the ActEarly citizen science research fellow, we have won additional funds from the ActEarly Research Innovation fund to commission a visualisation of the community assets map from social enterprise Mapping for Change, and we are awaiting news of a further bid for UCL public engagement funds, to work with two parent-focused groups to develop local ownership and maintenance of the map.

Unconditional Allowance for Young Adults

Our original plan to develop a trial of Universal Basic Income (UBI) among young adults – assessing health and wellbeing outcomes as well as the role of training and skills development – has won local support and undergone considerable thought and development.

We have recruited an ActEarly-funded PhD candidate, whose focus is on developing this intervention and considering its benefits and drawbacks. We will be conducting research on whether or not adopting a capability approach to the development of wellbeing would be helped by an unconditional allowance for young adults. This will entail a comprehensive literature review and the design of a pilot study.

This initiative has led to collaboration with Lancaster University and colleagues at the The Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) to develop bid for funding to the ESRC and Wellcome for a programme of work on UBI to promote wellbeing.

Welfare benefits

Despite the disruption of the pandemic we have also been able to make headway on our project to establish welfare benefit advice in maternity care services.

We supported Sian Reece in a successful application for a National Institute for Health Research doctoral training fellowship to develop a welfare and benefits advice service. Sian is also an Academic Clinical Fellow and will do her PhD alongside her GP training.

Detailed evaluation

In recognition of the severe hardship brought out by the pandemic and the service innovations in both Bradford and Tower Hamlets, we began conversations in the summer with key players in the poverty teams of both local authorities.

We identified two pandemic-related initiatives aimed at supporting residents that would benefit from research-based evaluation – a loan scheme run in conjunction with the Credit Union in Bradford, an emergency food hub run in conjunction with 20+ voluntary organisations in Tower Hamlets and an expanding community food aid system in Bradford.

We are now able to take these projects forward and are currently seeking ethical approval for the food hub evaluation.  In Bradford, we are in the final stages of a community food asset mapping project, which has been delivered in collaboration with the council as a service evaluation to support decision-making on resource allocation.

Through the relationships developed for this work, we have also joined an NIHR funding bid on community food assets, being led by the University of York.

Supporting wider research

Our researchers and investigators regularly participate in wider national research programmes and we are currently providing input into:

  • The Nuffield Foundation funded Covid Realities Group coordinated by Birmingham University which brings together a number of new and existing projects concerned with families on a low income and the way the pandemic is changing resources and lives.
  • An informal national network of maternity and child health researchers from organisations including Kings College London, Liverpool, UCL and the University of Central Lancashire.

For more information please contact Professor Kate Pickett, Theme Lead, Healthy Livelihoods