“A good home rule is very important, but it is under more pressure than before”

Turn off the heating, put on an extra jacket, and keep an eye on the little ones while they shop. No one will notice that lately life has become so expensive. There are families who can handle the blows well with some mods, but more and more horrific stories are being told of people who are in serious financial trouble. In Utrecht, too, a growing number of families are barely making ends meet. This is noticeable in more and more places. Schools and sports clubs are experiencing the consequences of an energy crisis and inflation for children in the city. “We are already anticipating that the most difficult time has yet to come,” says Anko van Houben, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the school’s inclusive organization SPO Utrecht.

Utrecht schools hardly had time to cope with the consequences of Corona, but the following social crises soon appeared in recent months. SPO Utrecht has 38 schools located in all areas of the city. Chairman Anko van Houben explains that schools are still trying to get an idea of ​​what the energy crisis and inflation mean for the children they go to school with. “These problems are on the agenda of all schools, but you have noticed that at this point there is still a bit of research. The picture is not quite clear yet,” van Houben says. That’s for sure so far.”

In 2019, nearly 8,400 children in Utrecht grew up in a family with incomes up to the poverty line (125 percent of the legal social minimum). This is clear from the Superintendent of Public Health in the municipality of Utrecht. More than half of these children live in a family that must live on income at the level of social assistance. Research conducted by the Children’s Ombudsman shows that growing up in poverty has many negative effects on the health, social environment, living condition and nutrition of children. In families with financial problems, there is not always enough money for healthy food, suitable clothes and shoes, picnics, sports and birthday parties. As a result, children from poor families also often feel excluded and angry. They are harassed often and shame is common. Thus the risk of psychological problems is greater and children also suffer from physical complaints. About a quarter of the children in the study by the Children’s Ombudsman say they suffer from complaints such as headaches, abdominal pain and fatigue. Two-thirds of children who grow up in families with little money say they suffer from stress. For example, they worry about expenses like daily groceries, school costs, and clothes. There are often tensions in the home.

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Printer in the baking room

Schools in Utrecht have recently received signs that more and more children are having a hard time at home. One SPO Utrecht school, for example, has a “Broodlokaal”. Kids can make sandwiches there in the morning or in the afternoon if they are not with them. “It can also be done under the guise of ‘I forgot my bread,’ rather than ‘I don’t have bread.’ Recently the school has seen an increase in the number of children using the baking room,” says Van Houben, who in many ways sees parents making different choices. than before. Some schools require parents to give their children healthy things for breaks. Now you notice that parents are thinking: “Yeah, healthy stuff? Unhealthy stuff is cheaper.”

“In families where it is truly declining, choices must be made” – Anko van Houben, Chairman of the Board of Directors of SPO Utrecht

Schools for Equal Opportunity in Utrecht. “It is a matter of concern to us that inequality of opportunity in Utrecht is increasing as a result of these crises,” says van Houben. These types of strikes are most severe in neighborhoods with low socioeconomic status. These are also the neighborhoods where many families are already struggling. People are canceling sports subscriptions and using their U-pass, for example, to pay for things other than activities like sports. In families where it really declines, choices must be made. As a result, the differences between people are getting wider.”

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SportUtrecht – the organization that brings together sports supply and demand in Utrecht – is aware of this, but currently has no good idea of ​​what exactly is happening in Utrecht. In the time of Corona, they have already seen that people are spending less money on sports. It has not been restored since. “Obviously people are starting to make choices because you can only spend money once. Everything becomes more expensive, so you choose what you spend your money on,” says Silk Haverkorn, sports and education broker at SportUtrecht. The costs have also at times exceeded the revenue of the sports providers. If a coach got a certain amount per hour a few years ago and that didn’t change, while the room rent tripled, you can’t keep up. People can no longer afford those high prices.”

“We have a bad idea about people getting in trouble now” – Silk Haverkorn, SportUtrecht Training, Education and Sport mediator


But it’s not clear which families exactly can no longer make ends meet, according to Haverkorn. We have a bad idea about the people who are in trouble now. This does not mean people with a U-pass, for example. They have already been helped in many ways and it is known who has such a pass. Those who fall outside of that group are having a really hard time right now.”

Schools also pay attention to those most in need of help. According to Van Hoepen, teachers in neighborhoods of low socioeconomic status are used to identifying problems that children have at an early stage. Which is fine, of course, but focusing on neighborhoods with a lot of problems also brings risks, he explains. “We are focusing a lot on schools in neighborhoods like Overvecht and Kanaleneiland, because these kinds of problems have been going on there for a longer time. But now we also have to look more closely at the situation of students in schools in other neighborhoods. Teachers who teach in schools where they are struggling. Many parents of problems are more vigilant, while school teams in neighborhoods where there are fewer problems may be less accustomed to paying attention to these kinds of cues. They may not be picked up until later.”

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So schools pay a lot of attention to how they pick up on these signals at the right time. Neighborhood teams can play an important role here and in some schools there are parent advisors. They have a low-threshold connection with the parents. Parents can approach them, but you can also “move” in the opposite direction. Ask parents how they are doing,” says Van Houben. Moreover, schoolmates help each other, for example, on how best to enter into discussions with parents about these kinds of problems. We also keep our finger on the pulse of the school staff. They may also encounter problems for which we do not yet have a clear picture. Finally, as schools, we look at the barriers that we may create ourselves. The voluntary parental contribution in our schools is low and children are always allowed to participate, even if parents are unable to pay the contribution. But this parental contribution is still You feel pressure on the parents. As schools, we have to check if there are any additional obstacles there.”

Keep in mind what is required

The question is how the children in Utrecht can go through this difficult period. The above-mentioned study by the Children’s Ombudsman has already shown that children who grew up in families with little money often experience stress. Van Hoepen also thinks this will play a role. Tensions will increase in some families. Big money worries cause stress. School is for learning, but for good learning, the foundation for the child must be good. You should feel satisfied, get enough nutrition, be healthy and be warm enough. Having a good home base is very important, but it is under more pressure than before.”

Both Van Hoepen and Haverkorn believe that what is needed in the city must be carefully considered. “The use of funds from the National Education Program (established for recovery after the Corona epidemic, editor) and the support provided by the municipality to counteract the negative effects of the Corona restrictions on children should be carefully examined. Go,” says Van Houben. “The world has changed again since the emergence of Corona and we need to look at what is going on now. Perhaps some of the money can be used to give the children a foundation on which to learn well.”

“Tensions will increase in some families” – Anko van Houben, Chairman of SPO Utrecht

Haverkorn hopes subsidy spending will be considered. “We need to look carefully at how to ensure that people have a level playing field. To do that, we need to know which families need help, for example in the form of subsidies, the most.”

According to Inko van Houben, the schools themselves are also looking into what they can do for children. All kinds of initiatives already exist, such as Broodlokaal, but schools are also considering whether they can or will provide breakfast and lunch or whether they should adjust their activities. “We need to know if the activities we offer outside the regular school program are appropriate for the times we live in now. Perhaps other types of activities should be offered with support in the context of the Rijke Schooldag (aimed at reducing inequality of opportunity in education, editor). You can Think about sports activities, but it can also be a moment to offer children food in an accessible way,” says Van Houben. The Rijke Schooldag application for Utrecht will be sent soon. Many areas of the city should benefit from the support.

first steps

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 who are looking for activities in Utrecht can see what to do. “For many people the bottom line for going to a sports club is high, especially when they get there and it turns out that there is also a waiting list. People on in-utrecht.nl can see if there are waiting lists and also book a sports activity at the same time. Then the threshold becomes lower.”

There are now 600 sports clubs on in-utrecht.nl and this number will increase in the coming period. The platform also explains what the situation is. “If the website is used by clubs and service providers, we get more information about, for example, club membership numbers. This helps get a clearer picture.”

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‘The need is so great’

The consequences of the price hike were recently discussed in the Utrecht City Council. During question time, parties DENK, D66, Volt, Party for the Animals, GroenLinks, BIJ1, Utrecht Solidair, PvdA and Student & Starter asked the board member last week to do something in the short term. “The need is very high. As far as we are concerned, it cannot come soon enough,” said the parties. They argued, among other things, for providing school lunches or breakfasts.

In response to questions, Alderman Eelco Eerenberg noted that initiatives are already being taken in a number of schools, such as Lunch Buddies, Groentjes Soup and Broodlokaal mentioned above. In the short term, a bread cart is also being considered, which will visit schools with a children’s lunch. What else will be done to help the children of Utrecht should become clear in the coming weeks. An action plan is being prepared and will be announced soon.

Do you know the stories of the hospitality industry in Utrecht from the 20th century? Arjan den Boer and Ton van den Berg are writing a book together on the disappearing restaurant industry of this period and they need your help! Read more here and pre-order a book.

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