Click on the right to download the latest issue of SPARK, our newsletter for supporters of Church Action on Poverty.

We’re very sorry, but for the first time in many years, we aren’t able to send out a printed newsletter. Our printer is closed because of the coronavirus outbreak, and our staff and volunteers are unable to manage the mailing.

So please share this digital newsletter as widely as you can in your church, and with friends and family.

The focus of this issue is on the ways we can stay connected despite lockdown and isolation. It’s full of inspiring stories of how communities continue to look after one another. It also has tips and ideas to help you stay well, and to use the time for reading, thinking, prayer and reflection.

Church on the Margins: video reflections

SPARK newsletter summer 2020 – online edition

Food Power Toolkit

Our Empowerment Programme Officer Ben Pearson shares some reflections on class and COVID-19.

I spoke to a young person in Darwen, Lancashire last week whose only way of getting online during lockdown was via their mobile phone. According to the Office for National Statistics, 12% of 12-17-year-olds don’t have access to the internet by a computer or tablet at home, and in areas of deprivation its likely this is much higher. It’s ironic that only a few months back people laughed at Jeremey Corbyns ‘radical’ promise to give all households free broadband. This comes at a time when we are more reliant on digital technology than ever before, whether that’s for staying connected to family and friends, home-schooling or ordering groceries.

It’s all very well telling people not to leave their homes, far easier for those though with houses big enough to give people space and a garden.

Working-class communities are being hardest hit by COVID-19, and many of those implementing measures to deal with the crisis fail to understand the grassroots reality. Take lockdown measures for a start: it’s all very well telling people not to leave their homes, far easier for those though with houses big enough to give people space and a garden. If you’re in a tower block or terrace with little or no outside space this becomes much harder. We see and hear stories of those more privileged filling their days with novel pastimes, baking, reading, exercising to Joe Wicks, knitting, learning a new instrument, and going on long country walks. The reality is many never had the disposable income, access, space or indeed the calm concentration to engage with any of these prior to lockdown, and with heightened levels of anxiety & stress, now is hardly the right time to start.

Home-schooling unfairly disadvantages those in working-class communities due to digital exclusion, lack of space and resources, and frankly more pressing issues to be worrying about, like putting food on the table.

Times are evidently difficult for all, we’ve never experienced a crisis like this in our lifetimes, and we are all learning to adjust to new ways of living, working and coping. For those with children, home-schooling is no longer an activity for the privileged liberal left with time on their hands; instead it’s become a necessity. Much like lockdown, it unfairly disadvantages those in working class communities, who face digital exclusion, lack of space and resources, and frankly more pressing issues to be worrying about, like putting food on the table. Another young person in Lancashire said how they hadn’t been able to get online to access lessons since school had closed for lockdown, creating unnecessary disadvantage. And the amount of time some schools expect young people to continue to engage in education is unrealistic and unfair; one’s health and wellbeing should be a priority. With an education system that runs like a business, with more interest in grades, it’s hardly surprising this is happening.

Buying the simplest of ingredients to bake with would be a luxury, especially for those with children eligible for free school meals, families I’ve spoken to receiving as little as £11.75 per child, per week.

Whilst baking sourdough for the first time might be an exciting activity for the privileged middle classes, far more are struggling to put meals on the table. When Boris tweeted ‘Stay Home, do some baking’ he clearly failed to understand the reality of so many, the patronising tone cringe-worthy. Buying the simplest of ingredients to bake with would be a luxury, especially for those with children eligible for free school meals, families I’ve spoken to receiving as little as £11.75 per child, per week. This allowance is emailed out as a voucher by individual schools to be used in supermarkets, either online or in store. This provides challenges for many: not having internet at home, not having a printer to print the vouchers, not being able to afford the minimum spend if ordering online, not being able to get a delivery for days or weeks, or being unable to get to one of the supermarkets the vouchers can be spent at. It’s worth noting the official government website lists M&S and Waitrose as two of these supermarkets – clearly places lots of families in receipt of free school meals regularly shop at. For others a ‘grab bag’ is provided by the school. One school in Lancashire, but possibly many more, requires students to attend in uniform to collect these. Talk about those in positions of power making rules that stigmatise the most disadvantaged – how about a sign spelling out ‘I am poor’? Chances are many of these kids won’t attend due to fear of embarrassment, therefore going hungry. Why can’t we just ensure families have enough money in their pockets in the first place, and empower them to make their own decisions on how to feed their families?

When payday came, many were already living from one paycheque to the next; having anything spare to stock up on essential items wasn’t a reality.

The rations that many shops have put on certain food items have hit working-class communities too. Whilst the middle classes panic bought, filling car boots with an endless supply of toilet paper and rice, stockpilingemergency freezers, others were waiting for payday. When payday came, many were already living from one paycheque to the next; having anything spare to stock up on essential items wasn’t a reality. Those living in working-class communities are less likely to own a car, making it difficult to do a ‘big shop’. Larger supermarkets are often not close by, and so it requires many trips to do smaller shops, often paying a premium at more expensive local stores. For larger families the one-item restriction isn’t realistic; one mum told me how a bag of chicken wouldn’t fill the plates of everyone for one mealtime. And so, whether those in working-class communities want to or not, the likelihood is they have no choice but to leave their home more often to feed their family from one day to the next, putting themselves at more risk.

Those able to work from home are more likely to have jobs that pay more; manual workers in lower-paid work have no option but to leave home, be that cleaners, bus drivers, NHS staff or those working in retail.

The government did listen to people who said Universal Credit wasn’t enough to live on. It’s just a shame it wasn’t to those communities who’ve said this since its introduction. Of course not – it was now that ‘hard-working’ people with more middle-class jobs might actually need welfare support. People with more power like themselves, whose voices they were prepared to listen to. And so from 6 April, the weekly allowance went up by £20 per week. Then there are the workers. Those able to work from home are more likely to have jobs that pay more; manual workers in lower-paid work have no option but to leave home, be that cleaners, bus drivers, NHS staff or those working in retail.

Weakened safeguards and lower care standards will impact those already at risk, such as disabled people and those with mental health issues.

Those in working-class communities & from marginalised groups are also more likely to be victims of newly introduced police powers. The police are now able to arrest anyone ‘who is or may be infectious’ and take them to a ‘suitable place for assessment’, and this is likely to impact communities that are already over-policed. Weakened safeguards and lower care standards will impact those already at risk, such as disabled people and those with mental health issues. Powers to restrict events and gatherings may silence those who want to speak out in protest, and with these new powers being introduced at such a pace, it’s difficult for people to understand how to comply or challenge them. It’s far easier to rush things through in a crisis when people are distracted on the immediate issues, but these state powers risk drastically reshaping our civil liberties for years to come.

This is ironic, and further shows the class divide when we hear of privileged individuals breaking or bending the ‘rules’ – with the prime minister’s father Stanley Johnson saying early on he would ignore government advice and go to the pub if needed, and more recently Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer (who has since resigned) traveling to her second home twice during lockdown.

Providing emergency food parcels or vouchers to school children isn’t the answer, families should have enough money in their pockets to respond without the need for charity.

Finally, the idea that we are all ‘in this together’ is difficult to comprehend. We are made to believe that people coming out of retirement and vast numbers volunteering is something to be celebrated. Instead we should be angry that austerity measures that have drastically underfunded the NHS and  other vital services have left us in this position. Providing emergency food parcels or vouchers to schoolchildren isn’t the answer, families should have enough money in their pockets to respond without the need for charity. If everyone had an adequate income, charities could better respond to those deep in crisis, rather than filling the vast gaps in provision that should be provided by the state. This isn’t only a public health crisis but a social crisis, one that shines a light on the deeply entrenched inequality in our society, not only nationally but on a global level.

It’s easy for many to think this isn’t a time for politics as they try to stay positive during the most challenging of times. Communities have come together across the country to support their friends & neighbours; tremendous generosity has been shown, and its important for us all to stay hopeful and resilient. It is, though, a time that we should challenge, scrutinise and speak out more than ever before, an opportunity to come together in solidarity and change things for the better, for generations to come.

Staying connected: 3 stories from Sheffield

Gathering on the Margins – 26 May

You Can’t Eat the View

How a few photos from 2008 still undermine attempts to tackle UK poverty

New wine, new wineskins part 3: What needs to change?

Gathering on the Margins, 19 May: Building back better?

New wine, new wineskins part 2: What does our faith tell us?

Reflecting together, 14 May: Power and powerlessness

New wine, new wineskins part 1: Journeying into a new world

New wine, new wineskins: introduction

Gathering on the Margins – 12 May

Church on the Margins: resilience

Are we in the same boat? Some creative responses

Shopping online? You can raise money to loosen the grip of poverty

Listen up! New podcast to help end poverty

Church on the Margins in the time of coronavirus

Solidarity and sacrifice

The prophetic imagination

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

What does it mean to be a Church on the Margins? A monthly space for shared reflection in these challenging times: 2pm on the second Thursday of every month.

These are extraordinary times for all of us, but what does it mean to be a ‘church on the margins’ and to seek to be attentive to and inclusive of those on margins of society in the current context?

We are not offering any answers, but simply a space to reflect together with others on these challenging times, on our own hopes and fears, on the practical and theological issues thrown up by the crisis, and what it means for church, discipleship, ministry and spirituality to be a ‘Church on the Margins’ at this current time.

Each session will start with a short reflection, but mostly be spent in small groups sharing together our own experiences, thoughts and reflections on these questions.

The event will take place via Zoom. You can participate via any internet-enabled device with a microphone (laptop, tablet, phone etc) – or simply over the phone. Once you have signed up via Eventbrite, we will send you a link or a phone number that will allow you to take part.

Sign up for one session, or for the whole series. Dip in and give it a go!

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

1 city, 8 tales: sudden poverty & an outpouring of goodwill

Be in my Bubble

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

Church Action on Poverty trustee Stef Benstead shares reflections on how the Coronavirus outbreak is affecting her life, as someone with disabilities who is used to being on a low income. In the fifth post of the series, she talks about isolation.

I first became ill in 2011, had brief remission in 2014, and then got steadily worse until the end of 2015. That second deterioration was worse than the first, as I lost again everything I had so recently regained. It took me a year to gradually give up all the activities that had become too much for me. I stopped doing youth work at church, tried to become church treasurer (I was still picking up new things when I should have been putting things down!), stopped going to church at all for three months, reduced my visits to my gran from three times to once a week, stopped running and cycling and returned to using a mobility scooter, and stopped any attempts at housework. At the very last, I stopped what I should probably have dropped first: my half-day a week of paid work.

Because I need a lot of rest, it took me all day to complete that half-day of work. I got a lift to and from work from colleagues, which also constrained me to fitting in with their driving times. I loved the work that I was doing, but my body couldn’t take the physical toll, and putting myself into that physical harm was mentally harmful. I ended up with severe reactive depression and took an overdose. I should have resigned about a year before I actually did, but I thought I couldn’t bear the mental loss.

In reality, the mental loss of giving up work was much better for me than the mental strain of slave-driving myself into work. I cried for about two weeks in the run-up to resigning, but once I had resigned I felt much better. I was free to live within my health constraints.

It was a year of great loss and I had to learn what it meant to be a Christian and yet not serve God through serving others.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. This is something that each one of us can do in complete isolation from anyone else. It feels futile, but actually it works wonders. Even if we were to never leave our isolation, our closeness to God and our time spent talking with him would impact the world. But for most people, a period of isolation is temporary. It is then a time for getting ready, a time more precious than any other, a time when you have unprecedented hours to spend talking to God, singing and making music, doing gardening or art or hobbies with him, studying and meditating on his word, and generally getting to know him and be more like him.

My three-month break from church felt almost like being on retreat. My faith was just me and God. Without a weekly church service to kid me that I’d done enough on my relationship, the time I spent with God during the week suddenly felt a lot more important and worthwhile. I had to read his word for myself, and pray to him myself, and listen to him myself, rather than do all these things filtered through another person. As I was also cutting out social activity, my friendship with God also became more important. I needed God to be my best friend, which meant talking to him that way. 

My prayer is that for each of us for whom this is a time of isolation, it becomes a time of closeness to God that is sweeter than any we have ever known.


Stef Benstead’s book Second Class Citizens: The treatment of disabled people in austerity Britain is available from the Centre for Welfare Reform.

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield Update, June 2020

Viral Song

New wine, new wineskins: theological reflection on ‘building back better’

Gathering on the Margins – 2 June

Reflecting together, 28 May: Whom are we serving in our services?

You can’t eat the view

Reflecting together, 21 May: inhabiting the public realm in the midst of lockdown

Book review: Bread of Life in Broken Britain

Staying connected: 3 stories from Sheffield

Gathering on the Margins – 26 May

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

On Tuesday we had the third of our Gatherings on the Margins on Zoom. This week we talked about how lockdown is affecting the lives of disabled people.

We are having these gatherings every Tuesday at 2 pm. Join us on Zoom to connect with people across the country to hear each other’s stories, discuss issues that we are facing and share advice.

This week we were focussing on how lockdown is affecting the lives of disabled people. Stef Benstead, author of Second Class Citizens, shared some of her insights. Stef has been exploring the problems that disabled people face in accessing the support they need for the last eight years. She told us that one of the issues now is that many people have a lack of understanding of what the problems were before the virus struck, which means that there is a lack of understanding of what the issues are now. Stef told us about the experiences of a many different disabled people, especially the difficulties they are facing shopping or accessing food.

Read Stef’s blog post Living in Lockdown: sustainability here.

The additional difficulties accessing food many disabled and chronically ill people face was a common theme in the discussion. Not all those who need food deliveries are able to get them, and Penny explained that even if you are lucky enough to get a delivery slot, the food you order might not arrive, or what you receive might not be adequate. Ben pointed out that even government food parcels might not be adequate, for example, a tin of tomatoes is not suitable for a 94-year-old with dementia who wouldn’t be able to open it, let alone cook with it.

We also heard how the lockdown can exacerbate mental health conditions. Those who rely on others to shop for them may feel guilty about sending others out to get their food or frustrated at their lack of independence. The lack of social contact can make anxiety and depression much worse and, as Penny pointed out, vulnerable people told to self-isolate by the government can feel that they are being banished to their houses

Both Penny and Andrew talked about how those needing medical treatment are left in a difficult position as their treatments are postponed or cancelled, and they are left without the support they need to cope with their medical conditions.

We were also joined by Evan Odell from Disability Rights UK. He talked about concerns about social care, and how the Coronavirus Bill allows local authorities to suspend their responsibilities under the Care Act, but it is unclear exactly how this process will be overseen.

Next week we will be discussing the benefits system. Join us on Zoom at 2 pm on the 21st April.

If you have any feedback or suggestions for these gatherings, contact me at felicity@church-poverty.org.uk

New wine, new wineskins: theological reflection on ‘building back better’

Gathering on the Margins – 2 June

Reflecting together, 28 May: Whom are we serving in our services?

You can’t eat the view

Reflecting together, 21 May: inhabiting the public realm in the midst of lockdown

Book review: Bread of Life in Broken Britain

Staying connected: 3 stories from Sheffield

Gathering on the Margins – 26 May

You Can’t Eat the View

How a few photos from 2008 still undermine attempts to tackle UK poverty

New wine, new wineskins part 3: What needs to change?

Gathering on the Margins, 19 May: Building back better?

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

Church Action on Poverty trustee Stef Benstead shares reflections on how the Coronavirus outbreak is affecting her life, as someone with disabilities who is used to being on a low income. In the fourth post of the series, she talks about sustainability.

When I became ill, for several years I battled with simultaneous loss and overwork. The loss was every time I chose to care for my physical health by not doing something that I really wanted to do. The overwork was every time I chose to do something that I wanted to do, but wasn’t physically capable of doing. The challenge was balancing the loss with the overwork; balancing the pain of loss and social isolation with the pain of being your own slave-driver and torturer.

Consistently making yourself do something that is bad for you is very difficult and very bad for you. It’s like being your own slave-driver or torturer, and that’s worse than having an external slave driver. When I finally learned not to strive to do things beyond my body’s capability, my physical health stabilised and my mental health returned.

You never come out of overwork by continuing to overwork. That way lies physical collapse and deep despair.

Ultimately, what I learned was that you can go through grief in a way that you can’t go through overwork. You never come out of overwork by continuing to overwork. That way lies physical collapse and deep despair. You only come out of grief by experiencing it, mourning your loss as it happens. You come out of grief by grieving; you can only come out of overwork by stopping.

We are very good at justifying our activity. I told myself I couldn’t give up this or that or the other because so-and-so needed me. If I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done. Actually, what happened was either that more practical ways of doing something were found, or it turned out to be a whole lot less important than I thought. But I couldn’t see that in the midst of the activity; I had to stop doing it first.

The rest Jesus gives us is literal, physical rest and therefore also peace-of-mind rest: that he genuinely allows us to put down things that we, or others, think are essential, and to not be bothered or feel guilty or a failure about it.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about the Sabbath and Jesus’ phrase that we could come to him for rest. I have come to the conclusion that the rest Jesus gives us is literal, physical rest and therefore also peace-of-mind rest: that he genuinely allows us to put down things that we, or others, think are essential, and to not be bothered or feel guilty or a failure about it. And really, what else could he mean? He tells us to put down the world’s yoke: all the demands that the world places on us about what we should do and achieve. And he tells us to pick up his yoke: a yoke which he describes as easy; a yoke which sees listening to Jesus as better than feeding your household.

The point of the Sabbath is not to have a single day where we let go of the burdens and demands and standards of the world, but to bring that principle into every day of the week. Every single day, you can stop when you’ve done all you can handle. Every single day, you are not the creator, sustainer and redeemer of the universe. Every single day, you are just a frail, created being with limited powers.

I don’t know what that will look like for you. I wonder if, like me, it means doing less paid work and living on a smaller income, so that you have more time. Time to be with God. Time to be with family. Time to fit crises, whether your own or someone else’s, into your life. Time to live, love and serve.


Stef Benstead’s book Second Class Citizens: The treatment of disabled people in austerity Britain is available from the Centre for Welfare Reform.

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield Update, June 2020

Viral Song

New wine, new wineskins: theological reflection on ‘building back better’

Gathering on the Margins – 2 June

Reflecting together, 28 May: Whom are we serving in our services?

You can’t eat the view

Reflecting together, 21 May: inhabiting the public realm in the midst of lockdown

Book review: Bread of Life in Broken Britain

Staying connected: 3 stories from Sheffield

Gathering on the Margins – 26 May

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

What is the gospel imperative for churches in this challenging time? Church Action on Poverty trustee Stef Benstead has been reflecting on what she's seen. In this last post, she thinks about what we can learn from the Old Testament.

Jesus told us that all the Law and the Prophets – everything God has told us about what to do and his commentary on his people’s adherence to it – hangs on the two commands, “Love God” and “love your neighbour”. The Old Testament law made special provision for an economy and way of life that, followed faithfully, would eradicate poverty. The prophets are full of challenge to both the Israelites and pagan nations that they are subject to God’s wrath because of their oppression of others and their failure to provide for, defend and uphold the poor, sick and needy. Indeed, it is by far the most common judgment of God against pagan nations, and ranks alongside idolatry in God’s judgment of the Hebrews.[1]

The Law also contains a key commandment on blasphemy. The third of the Ten Commandments tells us not to misuse the name of God. There are many ways we can do this beyond just our language. One key way in which we can either honour or dishonour God’s name is through our actions. In Ezekiel, God challenges the Israelites that their unrighteous, uncaring lives are causing the nations to profane God’s name. They make it look as though God isn’t worth following; or that he is as selfish, capricious and unjust as his people; or (when he eventually sends his people into exile) that he can’t defend his people against the pagan nations.

God expects his people to better than the rest of the world, not at best just the same and often even worse. He expects us to step in where the rest of the world steps back. The current situation, where it is the secular groups in our country who are filling the need for affordable food and access to food, is a terrible dishonour to God and an indictment upon his people. The very last thing that Christians should be doing is stepping back and closing our doors. We should continue to be open to serve our communities and meet their practical needs, and striving to do more as the need deepens. We should not be waiting to see what new regulations come out or how the course of the virus goes, but getting ready now to serve the need that is present now. Let tomorrow worry about itself, so long as we are faithful today.

So this is my challenge to all denominations, congregations and Christians: open your doors, open your hearts, open your pockets and serve.

 

[1] The most common indictment against the Hebrews is their general rejection of God, with over 200 verses dedicated to this. Oppression and idolatry each occur around 145 times, with the next highest being harlotry and lying leaders, at a little under 100 verses each (by my count).
God condemns the pagan nations for oppression over 80 times, for pride 45 times, and all other charges fewer than 25 times.


At Church Action on Poverty, we know that some churches are struggling to keep services open because their volunteers are themselves vulnerable and need to self-isolate. But many others are finding creative ways to serve and keep people connected.

Gathering on the Margins – 16 June

Gathering on the Margins – 9 June

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield Update, June 2020

Viral Song

New wine, new wineskins: theological reflection on ‘building back better’

Gathering on the Margins – 2 June

Reflecting together, 28 May: Whom are we serving in our services?

You can’t eat the view

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

Church Action on Poverty trustee Stef Benstead shares reflections on how the Coronavirus outbreak is affecting her life, as someone with disabilities who is used to being on a low income. In the third post of the series, she talks about grief.

Because of my chronic illness, I’ve already done the loss and grieving process. I’ve already lost a job; lost contact with friends; been all-but housebound; seen no one but parents for days on end. I’ve experienced the loss of purpose or fulfilment, and the dislocation of no longer having an idea of where the future is going. 

It is best to let yourself feel the grief, rather than hide or deny it. And don’t feel that your loss isn’t worthy of grief: it is.

Having gone through that, I can assure you that it is possible to come out the other side to a sunny life. But there is no escape from going through the grief, and that is sad and painful. It is best to let yourself feel the grief, rather than hide or deny it. And don’t feel that your loss isn’t worthy of grief: it is. Sometimes it’s the smallest things in life that mean the most.

It’s difficult refusing to do things that you want to do, particularly when other people want you to be there, but the lockdown removes that mental pressure. The mental strain I face regularly – shall I go to church today; shall I go to homegroup; can I go to that conference; can I finish this project – is all gone, because the answer is “no”, and I didn’t impose it. Someone else is now safeguarding my physical health for me! In that way, the coronavirus is giving me a much-needed holiday, with much less mental strain than when I have to choose for myself to miss out on something I really want to do.

The Bible tells us,

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”

(James 4:13-15)

It has been easy in the West to neglect the truth of that verse and how to live by it. But the truth is that there is only one constant in life, and that is God. There is only one constant task, and that is to live to glorify God. That path will never leave us. Like a little child holding her father’s hand, we do not ask to know the whole route, but only to walk what is before us. We know how to walk; we have our best friend, protector and guide with us; and with that we can rest content.


Stef Benstead’s book Second Class Citizens: The treatment of disabled people in austerity Britain is available from the Centre for Welfare Reform.

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield Update, June 2020

Viral Song

New wine, new wineskins: theological reflection on ‘building back better’

Gathering on the Margins – 2 June

Reflecting together, 28 May: Whom are we serving in our services?

You can’t eat the view

Reflecting together, 21 May: inhabiting the public realm in the midst of lockdown

Book review: Bread of Life in Broken Britain

Staying connected: 3 stories from Sheffield

Gathering on the Margins – 26 May

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

What is the gospel imperative for churches in this challenging time? Church Action on Poverty trustee Stef Benstead has been reflecting on what she's seen. In this second post, she thinks about the links between faith and action.

God is very clear that his people are to be like him: to be holy as he is holy; perfect as he is perfect; loving as he is love. And the Christian scriptures, documenting as they do both God’s interactions with humanity and his declared will, are very clear that God has a special care for the physical wellbeing of the materially poor.

This is why one of God’s descriptions of Christianity is those people who care for the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned by providing what they materially need – food, water, clothes, healing, social contact (Matt 24:34-36).[1]

But note something interesting: God does not at any point link Christianity with how much we talk about the gospel or how many people we ‘save’. God does not say, “talk much about me, that people may hear your good words and glorify your Father in heaven”, but “let your light [i.e. good deeds] shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:16). God does not say, “Love your enemies, speak of the Gospel to them, and convert them to salvation. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he talks to the ungrateful and wicked.” Rather, God says, “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35).

When Jesus was asked about obeying God, he never said, “Go and talk about me”. Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13), “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” to your dinner table (Luke 14:12-14); “be generous to the poor” (Luke 11); “sell everything you have and give to the poor” (Mark 10:21). In the Gospel of John, we are told not merely to love our neighbour “as ourselves”, but to love one another as Jesus has loved us (John 13:34; 15:12). And the definition of neighbour is anyone in need, even someone who despises us or whose claim on us would take us to considerable time, effort and expense.

This is a time for us to do the same. It is not a time for worrying if we can sustain the level of help that people need. It is not a time for fretting about whether we do exactly the right thing. It is a time for providing help, trusting in God to sustain us, and knowing that even if we run out of capacity at least some people will have been helped in the meantime. Let us go out and bring glory to God through our good deeds.

[1] This is not a salvation by works, for the good deeds are the fruit of a saving faith in Jesus’ death for our sins. They are the demonstration of our salvation, not the cause of it.


At Church Action on Poverty, we know that some churches are struggling to keep services open because their volunteers are themselves vulnerable and need to self-isolate. But many others are finding creative ways to serve and keep people connected.

Gathering on the Margins – 16 June

Gathering on the Margins – 9 June

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield Update, June 2020

Viral Song

New wine, new wineskins: theological reflection on ‘building back better’

Gathering on the Margins – 2 June

Reflecting together, 28 May: Whom are we serving in our services?

You can’t eat the view

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

Church Action on Poverty trustee Stef Benstead shares reflections on how the Coronavirus outbreak is affecting her life, as someone with disabilities who is used to being on a low income. In the second post of the series, she talks about money.

I’ve learned to live on relatively little money, around £145/week for living costs. It’s basically a case of only buying clothes when an old item wears out (I have clothes over 10 years old that I still wear regularly) and not eating out or going to a café. I also don’t have a TV license or streaming account, my mobile is £5/month, and I don’t have a car. There are probably other areas that I’m so used to that I don’t even notice the gap between my spending and that of my peers. But a key one is the support of my family, who paid for my last two holidays and various bits of home improvements that they won’t let me pay them back for. 

I’m very fortunate to be in a benefits group that gets twice as much money as the typical jobseeker. People deemed either fit for work or too sick to work yet capable of ‘work-related activity’ got only £73/week (now £94 because of coronavirus), a level that is below the destitution threshold of £70/week once the need to top-up rent and council tax is factored in. By comparison, the state pension is £168.60/week, and single working-age adults are deemed to need £200/week to have a socially acceptable level of inclusion in society.

Fortunately for me, the government is not carrying out any assessments or reassessments of benefits for three months, so I’m not going to be reduced to destitution in the immediate future. This is less good for people who are on benefits that don’t match their level of illness, who can’t get assessed and placed in a higher award group.

Other people are able to get up to 80% of their income, up to around £24,000. Whether this is enough depends upon the cost of housing, so some people will get more than they need whilst others get less. This is inefficient. It’s also a major administrative cost for the government and leaves workers vulnerable to the good will of employers, for many of whom it is sufficiently easy to hire as to make keeping workers on at this time an unnecessary cost.

There is a very simple way around this: a means-tested income replacement. This could be made even easier by applying the means-test through the tax system, by including the benefit in tax calculations. The benefit should be made up of a livings cost element (£150-200/week) plus housing costs up to the 50th percentile in the equivalent private rent. This simple measure wouldn’t pay excess money to people who don’t need it, nor leave the poorest people under-supported. Many people who have been used to a higher income will have savings they can utilise now that the very rainy day is here, whilst others may be able to remortgage their house to free up some up money. Many people who are used to a lower income would be better off, and may even be able to get out from some debt whilst buying what they need to safeguard their, and our country’s, health. It’s a very simple approach that helps everyone, including the government.


Stef Benstead’s book Second Class Citizens: The treatment of disabled people in austerity Britain is available from the Centre for Welfare Reform.

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield Update, June 2020

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New wine, new wineskins: theological reflection on ‘building back better’

Gathering on the Margins – 2 June

Reflecting together, 28 May: Whom are we serving in our services?

You can’t eat the view

Reflecting together, 21 May: inhabiting the public realm in the midst of lockdown

Book review: Bread of Life in Broken Britain

Staying connected: 3 stories from Sheffield

Gathering on the Margins – 26 May

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June