Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Stef Benstead, a trustee of Church Action on Poverty, has written a book which has been described as a "definitive account of the austerity decade".

This review of Stef’s book first appeared on the Disability News Service website:

The government is continuing to breach disabled people’s rights despite repeated exposure by the United Nations, according to a new book that provides a “definitive” account of the harm caused by a decade of cuts and reforms.

In Second Class Citizens, disabled researcher Stef Benstead looks at the conclusions of various UN investigations that have examined the UK’s provision for disabled people and how it has changed and have concluded that the government has been “gravely breaching disabled people’s rights”.

In contrast, says Benstead, the UK government “remains confident that it is a world leader in disability rights, and that in recent years it has improved its provision through better targeting of resources and more support to help disabled people get and stay in work”.

Her book, published by the Centre for Welfare Reform, includes a series of examples describing how government cuts and reforms have impacted on individual disabled people.

It has been described as “essential reading” by the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell.

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said it provided “the definitive verdict on government welfare reform, the UK’s shame”. He said: 

“It’s a policy against the evidence, against human rights and most of all against disabled people. Here the truth gap is filled with the real voices of disabled people.”

Niall Cooper, director of Church Action on Poverty, described the book as “a benchmark study of the treatment of disabled people under austerity”. He said:

“It is illuminated by numerous powerful personal stories illustrating the human impact of austerity, and a devastating critique of the shift from a positive vision of social security to today’s welfare system based on a culture of blame and the myth of dependency.”

Benstead has previously worked with the Spartacus online network, which produced a string of influential research reports on cuts to disabled people’s support between 2012 and 2017, and the thinktank Ekklesia.

She is currently working with the user-led Chronic Illness Inclusion Project and Church Action on Poverty.

Her book presents evidence on the impact of policy changes that have affected disabled people since 2010.

But she also looks at the history of how disabled people have been treated by society and the state, and examines the development of the welfare state and post-war campaigns for a more inclusive society, and the Thatcherite policies of the 1980s and the “gradual erosion of the welfare state”.

Benstead describes how politicians began to frame benefit recipients as “scroungers and frauds and the benefit system as a costly mistake”, before extending this argument to recipients of out-of-work sickness and disability benefits.

She then begins to examine the impact of the austerity policies introduced by successive Tory-led governments from 2010, including cuts to social care and employment and support allowance, growing claims by ministers that work should be seen as a health outcome, and substantial increases in the use of conditionality and benefit sanctions imposed on sick and disabled people.

Benstead also examines the introduction of Universal Credit, which she says is “a mess, deliberately designed to fail to cope with reality” and has left people “trapped in unsuitable homes without enough money to cover their rent, the support they need or their food and bills”.

Her book – which includes many personal stories that illustrate the dehumanising impact of austerity – concludes that sick and disabled people are being failed by the government, which is “failing both to provide the opportunity to work for those who can, and an adequate alternative income for those who can’t work”.

Since 2010, says Benstead, governments have “caused substantial harm to sick and disabled people’s health, living standards and social inclusion”.

She says they have done so “without any moral or economic justification”, failing to uphold one of governments’ “most fundamental reasons to exist: to ensure and improve the access to basic rights of its most vulnerable citizens”.

She adds: “Sick and disabled people in the UK today are treated as second-class citizens, and until this situation is rectified the UK Government will continue to be violating international law by its ongoing breach of disabled people’s rights.”

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Father Bill Rooke RIP

Learn how you can use our resources to put faith into action

Transforming unjust structures: how not to become stuck in the mud

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

At the event, a Sheffield MP urged faith communities to help society set new caring priorities. Here's a report from our local group who organised the Pilgrimage.

Sheffield Central Labour MP Paul Blomfield has urged faith communities to play a major part in setting new priorities for society that would make Britain a more caring and inclusive country.

Mr Blomfield was speaking at the end of the annual Sheffield Church Action on Poverty Pilgrimage, which saw a record number of 40 people from different faith communities visit initiatives aimed at reducing poverty in the city.

This year’s pilgrimage focused on initiatives, mostly located within his constituency, based at Anglican and Methodist Churches, the Madina Mosque and Heeley City Farm as well as St Vincent’s Furniture Store and St Wilfrid’s Centre, established by Sheffield’s Roman Catholic community.

Participants in the 2019 Sheffield Church Action on Poverty Annual Pilgrimage show their support for the End Hunger UK campaign by 40 national charities, frontline organisations, faith groups, academics and individuals working to end hunger and poverty in the UK before setting off to visit initiatives aimed at reducing poverty in the city.

Mr Blomfield told those taking part in the Pilgrimage that there was a need to re-establish the post-war cross-party consensus on the need for taxation to provide services for all and tackle inequality:

“When I was a child, Budgets were about putting 1p on this and 1p on that to maintain public resources and create the kind of society we wanted to live in.

More recently, politicians have been measured by how effective they are in cutting taxation, but that has a consequence.”

The Government’s austerity programme had shifted responsibility for cuts from Westminster to local councils and had led to the most disadvantaged areas facing the deepest cuts.

“We need to reverse the narrative about austerity. We need to challenge the consensus around taxation and spending. We need to recognise that we can’t have Swedish style public services on American style taxes.

We need a cross-party, societal agreement. Faith communities have a hugely important role in taking that debate forward and helping to shift that debate.

This year’s Pilgrimage began at Highfield Methodist Church, which is currently undergoing a major refurbishment to enhance its place as a community asset and is also a base for worship for the local Liberian community who came to Sheffield as refugees in 2004.

Pilgrims went on to visit:

  • Madina Mosque, which annually feeds around 5,000 people of different faiths during Ramadan in addition to making major contributions to city food banks and other charities.
  • Heeley Parish Church, where £310,000 is being spent on creating flexible space for the community, in addition to its Cafe Care initiative, which provides food and assistance for disadvantaged people. The church also hosts services for worshipers from the local Ethiopian Orthodox and Nepalese refugee communities.
  • Heeley City Farm, which provides ‘Health Holiday’ breakfasts and activity sessions during school holidays for children who might otherwise go hungry, in addition to supplying more than 13 tonnes of fresh produce to food banks and other city initiatives and providing advice and support to help people with difficulty funding their energy bills. through its Energy Centre.
  • St Vincent’s Furniture Store, which prevents around 120 tonnes of good quality furniture and other household goods from going to landfill by recycling and distributing it free of charge to people in need, supplying special ‘starter packs’ for those moving into unfurnished homes.
  • St Wilfrid’s Centre, which provides a safe space, food, activities and personal development opportunities for people who include rough sleepers, sufferers of domestic violence and mental health problems, asylum seekers whose cases have been rejected and people who have been trafficked, many of them from other British towns and cities. Two years ago the Centre opened St Wilfrid’s Place, creating 20 self-contained apartments for adults with a history of homelessness.

Participants in the 2019 Sheffield Church Action on Poverty Annual Pilgrimage show their support for the End Hunger UK campaign by 40 national charities, frontline organisations, faith groups, academics and individuals working to end hunger and poverty in the UK before setting off to visit initiatives aimed at reducing poverty in the city.

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Father Bill Rooke RIP

Learn how you can use our resources to put faith into action

Transforming unjust structures: how not to become stuck in the mud

SPARK newsletter autumn 2019

Forgotten People, Forgotten Places

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield 11th annual Pilgrimage, 12 October 2019

Vacancy: Programme Manager

Strengthening the local safety net

Transforming structural injustice

Dear Mr Johnson: Here’s how we can end poverty and hunger

Workshop registration open: Transforming injustice in UK austerity & poverty

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Father Bill Rooke RIP

It was with great sadness that members of Church Action on Poverty heard of the death of one our members, Father Bill Rooke. He died on 3 October, which happened to be on the 49th anniversary of his ordination to the Priesthood. He was 73 years old.

After his ordination, Bill stayed in Rome for further studies. From 1971 to 1983, Bill was a curate, in Newcastle and then in Hebburn in South Tyneside. It was during this time that Bill was involved with the Charismatic Renewal Movement. Many people across the diocese and beyond got to know Bill through this movement. Bill then spent six years working in Kenya. On returning to the diocese Bill was parish priest in Stockton and then Gateshead. In 2002 Bill was appointed as Parish Priest to St Vincent’s and St Laurence’s in Byker, where he lived in part of the famous ‘Byker Wall’. This part of Newcastle has much deprivation and poverty. In 2005 Bill became involved with Church Action on Poverty North East, with Bill kindly hosting the monthly meetings at the church hall in Byker.

Alongside one of the local head teachers, St Josefa, Bill was a big influence on the ‘Images for Change’ campaign. Bill also  saw the important value of Credit Unions, working to promote Credit Unions across the North East. For many years he was Chair of  Gateshead Credit Union, going on  to become a board member of NEFirst Credit Union.

Bill was a clear, strong and independent thinker. He was never afraid to go against the majority view, always willing to challenge lazy thinking or common assumptions. His wisdom often brought fresh insight and he made you think more carefully about what was the right and just thing to do.

I will remember a man who was often making ‘roll up’ cigarettes, whose joy, faith, deep wisdom and care for others had a profound impact on those who encountered him. He will be greatly missed.

His body will be received into St Vincent’s Byker on 15 October with his Requiem Mass on 16 October at St Mary’s Cathedral at 12 noon. He will be interred at Heaton Cemetery.

Father Chris Hughes is a member of Church Action on Poverty North East

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Father Bill Rooke RIP

Learn how you can use our resources to put faith into action

Transforming unjust structures: how not to become stuck in the mud

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Learn how you can use our resources to put faith into action

You are invited to a training day, to learn how you can use Church Action on Poverty's new 'Poverty, Faith and Justice' workshops in your church or diocese.

Friday 15 November
11am-4pm
Church Action on Poverty, 28 Sandpiper Court, Water’s Edge Business Park. Modwen Road, Salford M5 3EZ

‘Poverty, Faith and Justice’ is a series of five workshops, designed to help people to explore the relationship between their faith and action for justice. The sessions make use of a variety of content including factual information, real experiences, videos, biblical reflection and church teaching from different traditions.

The training day is for people who want to run the workshops for their own church or group. It will equip you with the skills and confidence to deliver the workshops, and answer any questions you may have about what is involved.  

Originally designed for Leeds Justice & Peace Commission, the workshops have been piloted across Leeds Diocese with great success – see the comments from participants on the right.

The cost of the training day is £20. Please contact us if a bursary place is required.

Great balance of content - informative, practical and theological.

————

How to take action. It was simplified and made action seem accessible and possible.

————

I really enjoyed the mixture of activities: icebreakers, videos, discussion, information, slides, etc.

————

Practical, bitesize, manageable approach to social justice issues.

————

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Forgotten People, Forgotten Places

See videos of some powerful talks about being church on the margins.

In summer 2019, Church Action on Poverty was a partner in the National Justice and Peace Network’s annual conference, on the theme ‘Forgotten People, Forgotten Places’. We shared stories and explored ideas from our own ‘Church on the Margins’ programme.

NJPN have now shared videos of two of the talks at the event – watch them here:

Professor Anthony Reddie talked about ‘Theologising Brexit: Deconstructing the Myths of Racial Purity. White Marginalisation and Urban Poverty in Britain’.

Deirdre Brower Latz talked about ‘Re-membered People, Re-imagined Places: Being Church on the Margins’.

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Father Bill Rooke RIP

Learn how you can use our resources to put faith into action

Transforming unjust structures: how not to become stuck in the mud

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield 11th annual Pilgrimage, 12 October 2019

Hear about local issues and responses to them

Work and pray together

Start

9:30am
Highfield Methodist Church, Holland Place, S4 4US

Visit

  • Madina Mosque
  • Heeley Christ Church
  • Heeley City Farm
  • St Vincent’s Furniture Store
  • St Wilfrid’s Centre, where we will meet with Paul Blomfield MP

End

Approx 2:00pm

Join us and learn about:

  • The community work of the Mosque and Heeley Christ Church
  • Heeley City Farm’s support for children who might otherwise go hungry during school holidays
  • St Vincent de Paul Society initiatives, including the furniture store, which supports vulnerable and disadvantaged people
  • St Wilfrid’s work with homeless, vulnerable and
    socially excluded adults

Practicalities

  • The closest bus stops to Highfield Methodist  Church are Highfield Place, on London Road and Batt Street, on Abbeydale Road.
  • There is no parking at the church, but free on-street parking is available in the surrounding area.
  • Please wear suitable shoes and bring a waterproof, drinking water and a packed lunch.
  • If you plan to leave before the Pilgrimage ends please see a steward.
  • Please follow stewards’ advice, particularly at road crossings.
  • Walkers take part at their own risk and anyone under 18 must walk with a responsible adult.
  • The event is not suitable for dogs as we enter premises.

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Father Bill Rooke RIP

Learn how you can use our resources to put faith into action

Transforming unjust structures: how not to become stuck in the mud

SPARK newsletter autumn 2019

Forgotten People, Forgotten Places

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Vacancy: Programme Manager

Church Action on Poverty is looking to recruit a Programme Manager to manage the delivery of programme activities and core organisational functions.

The role will include:

  • Line manage the organisation’s staff team.
  • Work with staff to promote high programme quality in line with our strategic vision and aims.
  • Support the Director with setting organisational strategy and reporting to trustees.
  • Ensure the efficient use of organisational and programme-related funding and resources.

Closing date: Monday 7 October 2019

Interviews:     Monday 14 October 2019 in Salford

For further information and a job pack, click below or call 0161 872 9294. 

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Father Bill Rooke RIP

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Strengthening the local safety net

What would you do if you needed a new boiler but had no money in the bank? Or lost your job and didn’t know how you were going to heat your home or feed your family? In this guest blog, the Children's Society explain how they are campaigning, like Church Action on Poverty, for decent support for people in crisis.

We all would like to think that if the worst happened, there would be someone or something there to protect us. For some of us, that might be friends and family we could call on, or savings that could help us get out of a difficult situation. But there are many people for whom there are no savings, and no one they can turn to for help.

In these situations, a strong local safety net can help. Churches are part of a vital network of faith, voluntary, and community services that provide refuges, shelters, food, donations and advice to those in need. Along with council-run emergency funds, these schemes and projects provide a vital lifeline when crisis hits that can help prevent people spiralling into debt or destitution.

Under threat

But with increasing financial pressure, and a lack of support from national Government, these schemes are facing unprecedented challenges. Since 2015, councils have not received ring-fenced funding for welfare provision. Inevitably this has had a devastating impact. One in every seven councils has had to close their welfare support scheme – and of those still running, two-thirds have cut their budgets.

This means fewer people can access the support they desperately need from their council. In turn, this is putting more pressure on voluntary and community services to plug the gaps.

The time for action is now

Help from volunteers cannot, and should not, entirely replace a well-functioning local safety net. And that’s why we’re taking action. The Children’s Society, Church Action on Poverty, The Trussell Trust and others are working with churches like yours to tackle this hugely important issue. Your church might run a food bank, or support families and vulnerable people living in poverty. As such, you are an important part of the local safety net.

As Autumn approaches, it’s a critical time to raise the importance of proper funding for local welfare support with councillors and MPs and push this up the agenda. Now is the time councils begin to plan budgets for the year ahead, and the Government sets out its spending plans nationally. This small but vital part of our incredible social security system is too important to be forgotten.

How you can help

The Children’s Society has an interactive map on our website that shows you what the situation is in your area, and how you can contact your councillors and MPs to take action. 

We know that meeting decision-makers face to face can be really impactful. If this is something you would be able to do, please get in touch with the Children’s Society, and we can provide support, briefings and bespoke local information to take with you.

Compassion in Crisis

Church Action on Poverty is also campaigning to restore proper support for people in crisis. Click here to see our report and background information.

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Father Bill Rooke RIP

Learn how you can use our resources to put faith into action

Transforming unjust structures: how not to become stuck in the mud

SPARK newsletter autumn 2019

Forgotten People, Forgotten Places

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield 11th annual Pilgrimage, 12 October 2019

Vacancy: Programme Manager

Strengthening the local safety net

Transforming structural injustice

Dear Mr Johnson: Here’s how we can end poverty and hunger

Workshop registration open: Transforming injustice in UK austerity & poverty

Press release: Wales gets its first Your Local Pantry, to help tackle food poverty in Cardiff

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Transforming structural injustice

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously suggested that, "The Church is not simply called to bandage up the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice but to drive a spoke into the wheel itself."

In our three-year  ‘Life on the Breadline’ project (funded by the Economic Social Research Council) we are asking ourselves whether Christian action on poverty during the ‘age of austerity’ is bandaging up its victims’ wounds, or moving beyond this to challenge structural injustice and drive a spoke into the wheel of unjust structures and systems. The Church is better placed than almost any other institution to challenge grassroots poverty in a coherent and sustained way, because it is deeply rooted in local neighbourhoods across the UK. What does the Church do with this power?

After 10 years of austerity, our ‘Life on the Breadline’ team (Chris Shannahan, Robert Beckford, Peter Scott and Stephanie Denning) is exploring Christian responses to poverty through a survey of regional church leaders across the UK, interviews with national church leaders and six in-depth case studies in Birmingham, London and Manchester. Ours is the first theological project to explore Christian action on poverty since the global financial crash. We want our research to make a difference. Martin Luther King compared poverty to an octopus – one beast with many slippery tentacles. Our case studies demonstrate that poverty comes in all shapes and sizes – food poverty, low pay, insecure zero-hours work, poor housing, homelessness, holiday hunger, fuel poverty and rising levels of debt. Like a perfect storm, these different aspects of poverty, when combined with a failing Universal Credit system and a culture that blames people living in poverty for being poor, come crashing down on our heads like some inescapable wave. 

The Church meets the immediate needs of many thousands of people who are living in poverty … but is caring alone enough? For more than 20 years our project partner Church Action on Poverty has been engaged in the battle to defeat poverty. Its work moves beyond caring to raise awareness about social exclusion in churches across the UK. Church Action challenges unjust government policy and business practice, addressing the root causes of poverty and works with other to try to build a ‘Church of the Poor’.

First articulated in 1984, the ‘Marks of Mission’ summarise the calling of the Church. Adopted by a wide range of denominations, this checklist is intended to guide Christian mission. The fourth of these marks is to ‘challenge unjust structures’ within society. In spite of the vast amount of work they do, churches are perhaps less keen to challenge the structures and the systems that give rise to poverty. Together with Church Action on Poverty, the Life on the Breadline team want to do something about this….

We are hosting a participatory one-day workshop entitled ‘Transforming Structural Injustice’ on 13 September at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University.

We will explore some of the ways in which the Church can live up to its calling to tackle the root causes of poverty and build a just society. An exciting range of speakers – some activists and some academics – will stimulate our small group conversations and help us to begin to identify ways in which we can begin to transform structural injustice in breadline Britain. It would be great if you could join us and be part of the conversation. Together we can make a difference!

Chris Shannahan is lead researcher on the Life on the Breadline project.  

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Father Bill Rooke RIP

Learn how you can use our resources to put faith into action

Transforming unjust structures: how not to become stuck in the mud

SPARK newsletter autumn 2019

Forgotten People, Forgotten Places

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield 11th annual Pilgrimage, 12 October 2019

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Workshop registration open: Transforming injustice in UK austerity & poverty

A participatory workshop from our partners at the 'Life on the Breadline' project - challenging and reflecting on the Church’s aim to transform unjust structures of society in austerity Britain.

What are the different forms of poverty in the UK and how do they relate to each other? How can the Church be an effective agent for change in an age of austerity? How can the Bible and Christian tradition enable us to challenge structural injustice?

This participatory workshop on 13 September 2019 will revolve around small group discussion of these three questions that reflect on transforming unjust structures.

Speakers include:

  • the Life on the Breadline research team
  • Niall Cooper (Church Action on Poverty)
  • Helen Gale (B30 Foodbank)
  • Heather Buckingham (Trussell Trust)
  • Anthony Reddie (The Council for World Mission and the University of South Africa )
  • Paul Morrison (Joint Public Issues Team)

The workshop will take place at Elm Bank, Coventry University, Coventry CV1 2LQ.

Elm Bank is a short walk from Coventry train station and nearby bus stops. There is no public car parking at the venue, but on-street parking is possible a 10-minute walk away.

Tea and coffee will be available from 9:30am, and the workshop will start at 10:00am and finish at 3:30pm.

The workshop is free to attend but places are limited. Please register in advance. 

Church Action on Poverty is a partner in the ‘Life on the Breadlines‘ research project.

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Father Bill Rooke RIP

Learn how you can use our resources to put faith into action

Transforming unjust structures: how not to become stuck in the mud

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?