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 first post of the series, she talks about shopping.

As someone with chronic illness, the lockdown imposed on society makes relatively little difference to me socially. My life was already a moderate version of what we now have. 

Practically, the major impact for me is shopping. I used to buy online and arrange delivery for when my assistant would be in to put shopping away. Now I can’t do that. Because I use a mobility scooter, I was able to access one of the early morning supermarket slots recently, but I’m not usually up at that time. By the end of the shopping I was feeling really quite ill, and I still had to queue through the checkout, get home and put everything away. I went back to bed for several hours and still feel slightly ill three days later.

The shopping itself was a bizarre feeling: all the most important products had large empty spaces behind them on the shelves, and by the time I found the paracetamol and the soap there were no paracetamol-only tablets (I got some with caffeine, which I didn’t notice until I got home) and the only soap was handwash and three luxury bars. I’ve read that the issue isn’t stockpiling, but that people are buying more from supermarkets rather than cafes, restaurants etc; all the people doing as we’re told and going shopping less often are therefore buying more with each shop; and the just-in-time, money-saving approach of the capitalist supply chain simply can’t cope with a slight change in demand.

But the solution isn’t to turn to delivery services. 30% of individuals used online grocery shopping in 2019 but it made up less than 10% of grocery sales. Yet some 12 million people, or 20% of the country, are disabled, and right now everyone with limited mobility, high susceptibility, high risk of complications, current coronavirus symptoms or sole responsibility for young children needs 100% of their grocery shopping to be online. Care workers, both social care, social work and healthcare should also be getting deliveries to reduce their role in transmission, given their high exposure. Yet the only people to whom the government guarantees access are the 1.5 million extremely vulnerable. That’s well over 10 million people being utterly failed. 

But getting delivery slots to disabled people isn’t enough. Healthy people need to eat and wash too! If disabled people need to go shopping at 8am to get paracetamol and soap, how are the healthy people who are also struggling to get delivery slots manage? We won’t control the spread of the virus if healthy people can’t wash, and there will be excessive suffering if the most basic drug, paracetamol, isn’t available. Our healthy population is about to discover why getting paracetamol on prescription, rather than only 32 tablets at a time, can make such a difference – because the last thing you want to do (and right now should do!) is to go out to the chemist to get more paracetamol when you have a raging temperature and debilitating pain.

The just-in-time supply chain doesn’t work. We urgently need much more rapid transport of food, hygiene and health products around the country for everyone. Not just the 1.5 million extremely vulnerable, not just the 12 million disabled, not just the over-70s, but everyone. Because everyone needs food and healthcare.


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

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

How do you run a food bank in a pandemic? Here are 6 steps we’ve taken

Talking global solidarity in Byker

Reporting poverty well: another step forward

Food banks can’t meet this demand. We urgently need a new plan

A video message from Nick in Sheffield

How 5 of our partners are maintaining community from a distance

How are you and your community responding to Coronavirus? Complete our survey and let us know

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

As an attempt to build up a rapid initial picture of the impact of the coronavirus crisis on organisations and individuals, we invited Church Action on Poverty members and supporters to complete an online survey on Friday 27 March. 

By 3 April, we had received…

0
responses from organisations
0
responses from individuals
in relation to the impact on them and their immediate family or household

Impacts on organisations

  • There is significant concern about the impact on the most vulnerable, including amongst people and communities who were already marginalised.  This includes people seeking asylum, refugees, migrants, people with poor access to healthcare, people working cash in hand in the informal economy, etc.
  • Isolated vulnerable older people are facing particular difficulties, including accessing basics – shopping, prescriptions, etc, and struggling to access online delivery slots.
  • A significant number of local churches and organisations have had to stop all existing activities and services, including food banks, community cafes, and night shelters.
  • There have been closures of a wide range of key local services, but other local churches and organisations are finding ways to refocus and continue to serve their local community.
  • Some are seeking to coordinate collaborative responses, whilst ensuring self-care for staff and beneficiaries.
  • There is a desire to try to stay positive, but aware of challenges ahead.

Impacts on individuals and families

  • It is evident from this very initial snapshot that the Coronavirus outbreak is deeply impacting the lives of people, families and wider social networks in many different ways.

  • What is particularly noticeable from the responses are the deep impacts on people who are already vulnerable, including disabled people, people with chronic health conditions older people and carers.

  • Some people are already reporting the impacts of loss of work or income, or of struggling to access or afford the basic essentials, including food and heating.

  • Key workers, clergy and others still working are in many cases under huge pressure, or having to adapt overnight to completely new challenges or working practices.

  • This is on top of wider social and psychological impacts of the loss of ‘ordinary life’ and social connection with friends, family, church and other social networks.

  • For some people, the impacts are particularly difficult or complex, as a result of a combination of caring, family or wider 

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

How do you run a food bank in a pandemic? Here are 6 steps we’ve taken

Talking global solidarity in Byker

Reporting poverty well: another step forward

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

In February Ben Pearson, our Food Power Empowerment Officer, along with Dr Kayleigh Garthwaite, facilitated a workshop on food justice and food security, exploring the need for global solidarity with a group of individuals with lived experience of food poverty on the Byker estate in Newcastle. Here are Ben's reflections on the process.

The Global Solidarity Alliance for Food Justice and Food Security was formed last September with colleagues from the United States and Canada, when both Ben and Kayleigh, along with Heather and Penny from Byker, attended the Closing the Hunger Gap Conference in North Carolina, USA.

The alliance is working on A Manifesto for Food Justice and Food Security. Key to this is that those experiencing and at risk of food insecurity take a lead in determining and shaping the public policies and strategies used to improve these situations, embracing people with lived experience as core members of campaigns and organisations.

It’s evident, perhaps now more so than ever, that many of the issues those in poverty face are very similar whether in the UK, United States, Canada or beyond. It’s therefore important to ensure the voices of those with lived experience are listened to and heard, and that the manifesto relates and engages those at the grassroots along with academics and those working in the sector.

A lively discussion was had, covering a range of topics from human rights to race, capitalism to climate. One message that was loud and clear from the group was that:

If welfare was paid to an acceptable level for people to live we wouldn’t have food insecurity.

That means:

Enough money so you don’t have to attend handouts for food and clothing, having a choice where to buy food, and an adequate education system to enable people to learn how to cook.

Food charity was seen to be neither dignified nor a long-term solution:

Money needs to be shared more equally.

They talked about “do-gooders” and the need to “feel grateful” often causing feelings of both anger and embarrassment:

They make you feel like you’re worthless.

One participant talked about how “people who have got don’t give a screw”, with persistent inequality lying at the root of persistent food insecurity. As we know in the current crisis, people are uncertain over the future and even more will become food insecure. This is perhaps an opportunity or ‘canny idea’ for many more of us to come together in solidarity, building a movement to tackle the underlying causes of poverty.

Penny Walters, a workshop participant and active campaigner with lived experience of poverty, says:

Bringing people together from different backgrounds to do workshops and have discussions brings a broader view, and could bring about a wider range of solutions.

Ben and Kayleigh hope to continue the conversation with grassroots activists and those with lived experience of poverty over the coming months, and will explore ways in which those with lived experience can get involved online. If you would like any more information regarding the Global Solidarity Alliance for Food Justice & Food Security, please contact Ben. 

Food Power Empowerment Programme Officer

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

How do you run a food bank in a pandemic? Here are 6 steps we’ve taken

Talking global solidarity in Byker

Reporting poverty well: another step forward

Food banks can’t meet this demand. We urgently need a new plan

A video message from Nick in Sheffield

How 5 of our partners are maintaining community from a distance

How are you and your community responding to Coronavirus? Complete our survey and let us know

Staying connected on the fringes – can you share stories of your experiences?

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

"If we are not community, we are nothing"

Throughout the Coronavirus crisis, Church Action on Poverty will be posting messages and reflections from a number of our partners around the country.

Here, Nick Waterfield, from Parson Cross Initiative in Sheffield, looks ahead to the end of the outbreak, and what might happen next.

If you want to watch his video, above, perhaps grab a tea of a coffee first and spend a few moments reflecting with Nick. Alternatively, an abridged version of his message is below.

Let’s spend some time together, reflecting on the Coronavirus situation as it is at the moment, and what implications that might have for all of us who are concerned about issues around poverty and the situation in the UK and coming out on the other side. While we are in it, and all our concerns, prayers and worries are in the immediate, I think it is important still that we take time out both to care for ourselves and to already think about what happens on the other side.

We know there will be more sadness, there will be more hardship to come, but I think already there are signs of what we need to put in place for once we have come through this.

We’ve seen a deep affection and also a deep acknowledgement of the need for a good quality health service available for all at all times. We can’t pay for that by any means other than taxation or by social responsibility. It’s a shared resource.

This crisis has shown perhaps more than anything practical ever could do, the interdependentness of each other. If we are not community, we are nothing.

It has also shown that there has been an over-reliance on non-statutory and charity responses. It’s worried me, as somebody who has run a food bank for nine years here in Sheffield that at least in these initial phases that the government, locally and nationally, has seen food banks as a means of distributing food to more and more people. Food banks that were never set up even to feed the numbers we were feeding before the crisis are now being seen to feed even more, as if that response was somehow appropriate.

Reflect about what is it that we want to be as a society going forward. How will we value community, value each and every citizen? How will we ensure that people are not reliant on charity but that as a society we see that inter-connectedness and we learn to explore it in new ways?

How, as a society, may we take this terrible, terrible set of events across the world as an opportunity to reshape the world, to reshape our attitude to climate change, to hunger and to poverty? How may we see this as a God-given opportunity to actually reimagine the world, and out of the hardship, the misery, the sadness and heartbreak that we will inevitably, sadly, have to go through, how might we see this as an opportunity to build something better on its back?

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

Here at Church Action on Poverty, our priority is to help people stay connected during this crisis, and ensure that people on the margins aren't cut off or left behind.

Here at Church Action on Poverty, our priority is to help people stay connected during this crisis, and ensure that people on the margins aren’t cut off or left behind.

We are still working on our response, and we would like to hear your insights into…

  • how the crisis is affecting people locally;
  • how you are responding;
  • how you would like Church Action on Poverty to respond.

If you can share your insights, it will help us keep people connected so we can all support one another. If you have some time, please complete our online survey today.

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

How do you run a food bank in a pandemic? Here are 6 steps we’ve taken

Talking global solidarity in Byker

Reporting poverty well: another step forward

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

During the current crisis, Church Action on Poverty's priority is to keep people connected and make sure no one is cut off. We invite creatives and anyone experiencing the crisis to share content through our digital platforms. We want to understand the issues people are facing and spread messages of positivity and resilience, whilst building a movement and ensuring people are socially connected during these challenging times.

You may have been engaged in our projects or campaigns previously. Or you may be experiencing one of the following emerging issues for the first time – or something else entirely:

  • Self-employed and losing work, finding it difficult to navigate Universal Credit and live day to day in the interim
  • Being a zero-hours contract worker and not being let go, but given no shifts
  • A student unable to claim anything, with little loan support and possibly losing part-time employment
  • Being fired by your employer before the government grant has started
  • Cash flow issues in business meaning the grant won’t protect employees unless they can access it now
  • Working for a business that’s staying open but isn’t on the essential list, meaning staff can’t get childcare
  • A young person experiencing home schooling for the first time and not having access to school meal provision

If you have a story to share, you could contribute just once or on a regular basis. You can choose what kind of content you could contribute:

  • Blog posts
  • Film or videos
  • Live streams
  • Spoken word and poetry
  • Music or songs
  • Short stories
  • Art
  • Photography or a photo diary

Equally, if you have an idea for another creative project, or have expertise in one of the above and could deliver a short online workshop to train others, we’d love you to get in touch.

We are keen to hear from and have contributions from as diverse a group of people as possible. Be part of our movement and get in touch – contact Ben or Kathryn:

Ben-Pearson3
Empowerment Programme Officer
Kathryn-Cheetham
Programme Manager

Understandably this is a busy time for us, so we apologise in advance for any delay in responding.

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

How do you run a food bank in a pandemic? Here are 6 steps we’ve taken

Talking global solidarity in Byker

Reporting poverty well: another step forward

Food banks can’t meet this demand. We urgently need a new plan

A video message from Nick in Sheffield

How 5 of our partners are maintaining community from a distance

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

A prayer of hope amidst Coronavirus, from our friend Revd Raj Bharath Patta:

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

Here's a message from our Director, Niall Cooper:

Please email your MP now and call for action to make sure no one goes hungry because of Coronavirus:

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

How do you run a food bank in a pandemic? Here are 6 steps we’ve taken

Talking global solidarity in Byker

Reporting poverty well: another step forward

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

Government must release funds so that people can buy the food they need to be able to self-isolate.

The Government and Chief Medical Officer say they will soon advise millions of older and medically vulnerable people to self-isolate for a long period. Advice has already been issued for more people to work from home, to avoid non-essential travel, and for people not to frequent places such as pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues. This will mean job losses and drops in income.

Many will struggle to follow the advice to self-isolate either because they already cannot afford enough food to cover this period; because their income is likely to drop substantially, placing pressure on their finances; or because they do not have support to access food and other basic necessities.

We are therefore calling on the Government urgently to release funds to eradicate household food insecurity, and to ease certain costs and welfare constraints, as a priority response to the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak. This unprecedented situation requires an urgent and unprecedented level of response.

If you would like to add your organisation to the list of those supporting the following statement (a list that we will update periodically on this page), please send your name, job title and the name of your organisation to: imogen@sustainweb.org.

Coronavirus Food Alert: Call for Government action - a joint statement

Low-income households – children, working-age people and pensioners – need to have enough money so that they can buy the food they need. This is true at all times, but the outbreak of COVID-19 Coronavirus means that people living on a low income, or those whose incomes drop dramatically, will struggle to afford sufficient food. This in turn will put pressure on social services at a time when these must prioritise support for older people and those with certain medical conditions.

Food banks and emergency food aid providers do commendable work to help people in crisis; and many businesses and communities will also step up to support older and housebound people with food deliveries. However, they will not be able to cope with the extremely high level of need – food banks were already struggling before Coronavirus. In any case, communal food banks are not a solution at a time when people are being asked to minimise contact with others, to slow the spread of Coronavirus.

To protect and support all members of our community, we ask that HM Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions act immediately to enable low-income households to have the financial resilience to be able to self-isolate. The following actions will also relieve avoidable pressure on the local authorities, frontline charities, businesses and voluntary groups who now need to focus more effort on supporting older and medically vulnerable people:

  • Suspend the five-week wait for Universal Credit. Make the advance payment a grant, not a loan.
  • Up-rate child benefit immediately when schools close to cover the cost of children’s food and enable families to buy what they need. Suspend the two-child limit. Charities and academics are already calling for cash transfers to help families cope with potential school closures.
  • Ensure there is adequate financial support available to people with the “no recourse to public funds” immigration condition so that they too are able to afford to follow self-isolation advice.
  • Make adequate sick pay more widely available, to include freelancers, temporary workers, those who are self-employed and those on zero-hour or low-hour contracts.
  • Pay cash grants to frontline charities that, alongside their main work, provide meals for especially vulnerable people, so that the charities can buy the food they need – for example, homeless shelters and domestic violence refuges. Note: These groups do not include frontline food aid charities such as food banks, emergency meal providers, community kitchens or social supermarkets – cash grants direct to low-income households will reduce need to access such already stretched charitable food aid providers.
  • Give local authorities and other frontline public-sector providers sufficient money to make crisis grants or welfare assistance schemes to households in need – the £500m Hardship Fund can be a key part of this.
  • Consider other ways to maximise household financial resilience, for example by capping or freezing utility bills, as has happened in Italy.

Organisations signing up to this statement support the general principles of the approach set out above. Some also have specialist expertise in the specific interventions recommended, although not all work on these technical issues in a professional capacity. All are united in support of efforts to limit the impact of the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak and to protect and support the most vulnerable.

The statement has been coordinated by Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, a registered charity that runs or contributes to several alliance initiatives to tackle the root causes of food poverty.

Supporting organisations:

Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive, Sustain the Alliance for Better Food and Farming

Sabine Goodwin, Coordinator, Independent Food Aid Network

Niall Cooper, Director, Church Action on Poverty

Dr Maria Bryant, Chair, Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO)

Tom Croft and Diana Skelton, National Coordinators, ATD Fourth World

Kemi Akinola, CEO, Be Enriched

Ali Harris, Director, Equally Ours

Anna Taylor OBE, Executive Director, Food Foundation

Dan Crossley, Executive Director, Food Ethics Council

Dr Helen Crawley, Director, First Steps Nutrition Trust

Victoria Williams, Director, Food Matters

Dee Woods, co-founder, Granville Community Kitchen

Jamie Burton, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Just Fair

Clara Widdison, Programme Manager, Kitchen Social

Alex Cunningham, CEO, Magic Breakfast

Carmel McConnell MBE, Founder of Magic Breakfast

Jane Streather, Chair, North East Child Poverty Commission

Helena Houghton, Programme Director, Royal Academy of Culinary Arts’ Adopt a School Trust

Duncan Stephenson, Deputy CEO, The Royal Society for Public Health

Stephanie Wood, Founder/CEO, School Food Matters

Rob Percival, Head of Policy, Soil Association

Abi Brunswick, Director, Project 17

Dr Rachel Loopstra, Lecturer in Nutrition, Kings College London

Dr Aaron Reeves, Associate Professor, University of Oxford

Dr Sinead Furey, Lecturer, Ulster University

Dr Hannah Lambie-Mumford, Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Sheffield

Dr Andrew Williams, Lecturer in Human Geography, Cardiff University

Dr Maddy Power, Research Fellow, University of York

Dr Kayleigh Garthwaite, University of Birmingham

Tim Baker, Headteacher, Charlton Manor Primary 

Steven Cross, Head Chef, Park Community School

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

How do you run a food bank in a pandemic? Here are 6 steps we’ve taken

Talking global solidarity in Byker

Reporting poverty well: another step forward

Food banks can’t meet this demand. We urgently need a new plan

A video message from Nick in Sheffield

How 5 of our partners are maintaining community from a distance

How are you and your community responding to Coronavirus? Complete our survey and let us know

Staying connected on the fringes – can you share stories of your experiences?

Stay at home, stay connected

No one should go hungry because of Coronavirus. Call for urgent action!

Coronavirus food alert: Support our calls for Government action

Gateshead Poverty Truth Commission launch

Humanity, dignity, poverty

Church Action on Poverty’s approach to Coronavirus

Speaking Truth to Power in Gateshead

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

Our local group in the North East is supporting the new Gateshead Poverty Truth Commission. They sent us this short report from the launch event.

The launch took place on 5 March at Gateshead council chambers. The Poverty Truth Commission has been set up by South West Tyneside Methodist circuit. Church Action on Poverty North East is not directly involved in the Commission, but does support it.

The launch event included several testimonies from poverty commissioners. One man gave an account of his journey from comfortable home, house, car, family, to mental health problems and homelessness following redundancy. I felt this story spoke volumes to those within and without churches who feel that this could never happen to them, and sometimes seek to blame those who are unemployed or homeless as being victims of their own inadequacies.

A lady gave her story via video, outlining the financial problems of grandparents looking after grandchildren full time. She stated that the cost of the state directly looking after the four grandchildren would be considerable, but that grandparents are expected to do the caring without state assistance. Catherine McKinnell, MP for Newcastle North, is now chair of an all-party group looking into benefits for kinship carers during the summer, so perhaps progress can be made in this area.

During this and other stories, the effect of mental health issues and the support received from mental health services was of considerable importance. The difficulty of dealing with DWP and Universal Credit system did not help people’s mental well-being.

Blaydon MP Liz Twist attended and has stated that she will be working with the PTC.

Lucy Zwolinska, the Gateshead PTC lead, has contacted those present at the launch and outlined the next steps for the PTC:

We’re encouraged that you have committed to be part of our ‘friends of Gateshead Poverty Truth Commission’ , but we would also ask you this: what will you do next? Is there anything you will do differently in your life or work because of the stories you heard on Thursday? Will you slip back into business as usual, or are you compelled to take the next step of a journey for change with us?  Gateshead Poverty Truth Commission will now accelerate, meeting regularly and joined by an equal number of Commissioners holding positions of leadership Gateshead (you’ll recall these are called Civic and Business Commissioners). Together we will begin to unpick the injustices of poverty and explore together how change can and should take place using the expertise of the people you heard from on Thursday. Invites to some of Gateshead’s foremost Civic and Business Leaders have already gone out, but we call out to you today to speak to us.

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak

How do you run a food bank in a pandemic? Here are 6 steps we’ve taken

Talking global solidarity in Byker

Reporting poverty well: another step forward

Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

Gathering on the Margins

How people are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak