Reflections on living in lockdown: shopping

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.

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

Where are the margins?

Who is my neighbour?

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

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

Bernadette Askins, from our North East group, reports on what the Coronavirus outbreak has meant for the Key 2 Life Foodbank in South Tyneside

Things are changing very quickly from day to day and we have been struggling to keep up and adapt to this fast-moving scene.

Thankfully, our co-ordinator and 25 volunteers have risen to the occasion and everyone is working hard to make sure no-one is without food. We are expecting an increase in demand as people start to run out of money while waiting for the various benefits and grants to land.

An earlier photo of some volunteers at the Key 2 Life Foodbank

Need has more than doubled

Demand for food bags increased by 110% last week and we were anxious that we wouldn’t be able to meet demand. Food supplies from supermarkets are well down and of course we cannot appeal to the churches now. However, we do have an active Facebook page and an appeal was very successful – lots of food and money donations from the wider community.

We have had new funding to buy food from South Tyneside Council and several foundations have been in touch to invite applications for grants. Plus all the donations from the public which continue to be very generous (£1000 in past 2 weeks). So, no problems with money – just finding food to purchase!

At present, it is quite difficult to obtain food as supermarkets are rationing items but things seem to be easing a little. The cash and carrys were sold out of most stuff last weekend.  Hopefully when things calm down we will be able to buy food again. In the meantime, we have received food donations from local people, businesses which have had to close and small local shops.

Community has rallied round

Our older volunteers are now self-isolating but we have been able to recruit new volunteers (including our MP and a local councillor). Also volunteers from projects that have closed have joined us. Many of our volunteers live alone and working at Key 2 Life Foodbank is very important to them. They were quite distressed at the thought we might close.

Our foodbank manager, Jo, has health issues so is working from home and most of our trustees are self-isolating. However, we were delighted to be ‘loaned’ Pauline, who would normally be running the Methodist shop in the town centre, which has temporarily closed. Pauline is working three days a week at the Foodbank to make sure protocols are followed and managing the finances. A great example of cooperation and sharing of resources! It is a big relief because otherwise we had no senior person able to actually go to the foodbank to support the volunteers. 

6 practical ways we have adapted

These are some of the ways we have responded at Key 2 Life Foodbank to the Coronavirus:

  1. We introduced strict protocols to keep the volunteers safe.
  2. We are doing deliveries for people / families who have to isolate and who have no car, so they don’t have to use public transport. Key (one of our Churches Together charities) has loaned us their van and we have several volunteer drivers.
  3. From next week we will be distributing Family Food Packs with 5 days food. These are intended for children entitled to free school meals, but we will also distribute them to families who are in financial difficulties. Families can self-refer.
  4. We have upped our game on social media with lots of good stories and suggestions of ways the community can get involved.
  5. We have put a donate button on our Facebook page.
  6. We have provided foodbank vols with a letter explaining their role, just in case they are questioned on the way to work

South Tyneside Council has set up a Hub which began operating this week. People who have no money can phone and they will be referred to the Foodbank

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

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

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

I am a volunteer and I manage our independent foodbank in Parson Cross, in North East Sheffield. We have been operating for over nine years and in the past twelve months we have been providing food parcels for around 90 households a week.

by Charlotte Killeya, from the Parson Cross Initiative

Almost two weeks have passed since I tried to order our regular Foodbank ‘top-up’ delivery from a supermarket online (see my previous blog article.) It feels much longer ago than that. Since then, life has changed more dramatically than any of us could have imagined. Unless we are a key worker, we have been told to stay at home. We can only venture beyond our front door to shop for essentials, to exercise locally once a day and to support someone who is vulnerable. For the vast majority of parents, our children are no longer at school. We can no longer visit friends and family. Contact with the outside world is now reliant on screens and phones, if we have them.  

Two weeks ago, we did manage to get a delivery slot with the supermarket. Items were substituted and we received less of some products. At the time, the focus was on panic buying, hoarding and fights over toilet rolls. We tweeted things like “Stop Hoarding, Start Sharing” and asked people if they could help foodbanks by donating any extra products that they could find. People spent days driving round different supermarkets trying to get us extra items. However, as we stood back from it all, we knew that we were facing a crisis that we, and the country, were not prepared for.

Anyone who has ever run a foodbank, or volunteered at one, will have experienced the feeling at the end of a session when you look at the shelves and realise that the food cupboard is bare. It’s something that we have got used to seeing: those gaping holes on the shelves.

Fortunately, in the past we have always managed to fill them again using donations of money and food. At times we have been astounded how quickly and generously the local community and other local food projects have supported us. However, each week there has always been that nagging question of doubt: “Will this be the week that we will run out of food and have to close our foodbank doors?”  We have continually said that this model of food access and distribution for the most vulnerable in our society is not sustainable and is not a solution to the underlying issues about why people use foodbanks.

Speaking truth to power

We have shared our fears far and wide. We have always believed that campaigning against the injustice we see is just as important as giving food. Like many charities, we have campaigned about the introduction of Universal Credit because we have seen the impact that it has having on people in our community. We have shared stories about how parents are going without food to feed their children and how people are having to make the choice between buying food and paying the bills. We have introduced new ways of offering support:  a social cafe, a pop-up food stall where people could choose food items, a self-referral system – lots of different ways of putting dignity, choice and community at the heart of what we are trying to achieve. Sometimes it has felt like we were shouting in the wind because the message just didn’t seem to get across. There are debates, articles in newspapers but it doesn’t seem long before the focus shifts.
How many more conversations can we have? How many more times can we share these experiences only to feel like those in power are not listening?

At crisis point

And now, we have this crisis that we could not have predicted. It became quickly apparent for us that we would not cope this time.

Many of our volunteers and helpers are elderly, have underlying health conditions, have family members who are vulnerable, are at home caring for their children or are already self-isolating with symptoms.

We knew that donations would likely become problematic as people were no longer able to buy the amount of food we would need. All of this would be coupled with the fact that more and more people would be in need of support. With much soul-searching, we made the decision to work with a larger Trussell Trust food bank in Sheffield who have access to more donors, space and volunteers. This is a pattern that we are likely to see repeated across the UK as some local foodbanks close their doors.

The problem that we urgently face in this Coronavirus crisis is the need for organised access and distribution of food nationally.

Panic-buying has been blamed for empty supermarket shelves, and for a time I thought this was true myself, because it was hard to step back from the footage we saw; but with time for reflection, I’m afraid that this is not the whole story.

Our food distribution has been largely based upon a system of just-in-time stock control. Supermarkets do not have vast warehouses on site, but instead rely on deliveries that are timed to meet with drops in stock levels. The way supermarkets manage stock control is linked to consumer behaviour. Before this pandemic, many consumers shopped frequently for smaller amounts. Now, many people are opting to go less often and therefore are buying more items each visit.

This change in behaviour is having a big impact on the availability of food and therefore we are seeing supermarkets ‘ration’ the amount of food we can buy per visit.

Then, there is the issue of access to food. For years, foodbanks have supported people accessing food when they have not been able to do so through the market. This is the very definition of “food insecurity” in the UK: there never has been a shortage of food in the last decade, just the problem of people being able to access it fairly. For the many reasons that we know, people within our communities have not been able to buy the essentials they need and foodbanks have been there to fill in the gaps. Our own foodbank never claimed that we were able to feed a family for a week, our parcels were more of a ‘helping hand’ a way of helping to subsidise low incomes.
So, the idea that foodbanks and the rest of the charity sector will be able to somehow “Feed The Nation” at this time is an impossibility and a burden that we cannot and should not bear.
This week alone, almost half a million people have signed up to Universal Credit and will be waiting five weeks until their first payment. Foodbanks up and down the country will not be able to deal with this sudden and dramatic increase in numbers. We have spoken to people who only a few weeks ago had a job, ran their own business or were self-employed are now saying they will soon have to start making the choice between paying bills and buying food. These are, as we keep hearing, unprecedented times.

The answer...?

So, what’s the solution? Increasingly there are calls from organisations such as the Independent Food Aid Network, Sustain and Nourish for the government to implement a Universal Basic Income. If people have the security of more money in their pockets they will be able to better support themselves. There are also calls for a National Food Service with a more centralised approach pushing forward the argument that every adult and child has a right to food. Questions have also been raised about why we aren’t seeing central government coordination. Why isn’t there a Ministry of Food, after all there was during the World Wars? These ideas share the principle that a centralised, co-ordinated response needs to be achieved – and quickly. It should not have taken a pandemic for us to arrive at these conclusions; there have been warning signs.
Foodbanks have been saying for years that we were under enormous pressure. Whatever remedies are put in place by Government, both at a local and national level, they need to be clear, they need to be fair, they need to be universal and they need to be implemented quickly.

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

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

A video message from Nick in Sheffield

"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?

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Stay at home, stay connected

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

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Humanity, dignity, poverty

Church Action on Poverty trustee Stef Benfield reflects on what scripture has to say about Christians campaigning for justice.

Should Christians work for structural change? There is a lot that could be said on this from a range of viewpoints. I’m going to use just one here: God’s law for Israel.

God gave the Israelites structures – laws – to prevent and eradicate poverty. His law specifically forbade exploitation and required generosity.

God forbade harsh treatment of workers. Pay was to be prompt, even daily, and adequate to the work done (Leviticus 25:35-43; Deuteronomy 24:14-15). Owners were not to hoover up to themselves all the available profit, but were to deliberately leave some available to the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22). Even animals were not to be treated harshly and worked for all they were worth, but to be looked after (Deuteronomy 25:4). The interest was not the money that could be made but the wellbeing of the workers.

If we followed God on this, there would be no job insecurity, no unpredictable hours, no overwork, no inadequacy of pay. Toxic jobs wouldn’t exist. There would be dignity in all work.

God required those with power to use it for good. The laws on gleaning mean that power is not to be used to grow wealthy but to support the poor. Laws on debt said that lending is not a means to more money, but a way to use your money to help others. If you could lend to someone who needed it, then do so – in the knowledge that debt is cancelled every seven years, essential items could not be taken as pledge, and usury is forbidden (Deuteronomy 15:7-11, 24:6,10-13). You were more likely to make a loss than a profit, and that was how God expected it to be.

For people who fell into poverty, God made structures to protect and provision them. This included the gleaning laws (access to food and work) and debt cancellation. It also included redemption of (extended) family property, based not on the worthiness of the poverty-stricken relative but their relation to one who could redeem (Leviticus 25:25-28). If a person had to sell themselves into servitude, it was for a fixed period of six years, with the option to buy one’s self out if the means became available. And in the seventh year, the person was not merely released from their job contract but restored to prosperity: the employer was to send the person away with gifts in accordance with not the contribution of the employee but the prosperity of the employer (Deuteronomy 15:12-15).

Finally, if all these remedies failed and a person had to sell their property outside of the family, then every 50th year was a year of Jubilee: all land went back to the original owners (Leviticus 25:28). It was a divine reset and redistribution that prevented both poverty and gross wealth.

Jubilee was a second chance for the very lowest, and a reminder to the richest that their prosperity is but a gift from God to use for others.

In these structures, God imbued humanity with dignity. The random chance of charity has little place here: gifts were made at the command of God, not the whim of the rich; and the primary mode of action was through the dignity of the law. Let us strive for the same dignity.

Join our book group

During March 2020, Church Action on Poverty staff and supporters will be reading Stef Benstead’s new book Second Class Citizens: The treatment of disabled people in austerity Britain. At the start of April we’ll discuss the book in a blog post here, and on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

If you’re interested, please get a copy of the book to read, and let us know you’ll be joining in!

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

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

“I rang our food bank supplier but there was little they could do”

Coronavirus: will food banks be able to meet demand for those who can't bulk buy?

Charlotte Killeya, Social Food Coordinator at Parson Cross Initiative in Sheffield, shares her reflections on coronavirus:

I started to read the headlines this weekend; it’s not easy reading at the moment due to the amount of information regarding the spread of Coronavirus. The stories about people stockpiling items in supermarkets and photographs of empty shelves concerned me. In addition, some supermarkets started to limit the number of certain items people could buy. My thoughts quickly turned to the food bank we run here in Sheffield and the people that we help.  How are we going to manage if shelves are beginning to empty of the very items that we always need? 

As well as relying on donations of food from the public, we also purchase additional items from supermarkets to ‘fill in the gaps’ on our shelves. Some supermarkets have always restricted the amount of some items that you can purchase online for delivery, but it’s usually more than the five that I saw on my computer screen this weekend. Concerned about this ‘rationing’, I telephoned the supermarket we usually use for deliveries. I asked if the reports were true and if so, was there any way around this, particularly as we are currently supporting around 90 households per week. Customer services understood our situation but told us that there was little that they could do if the stock was not available or was in short supply. They could not make an exception.

I did manage to place an online order from a couple of supermarkets, albeit some items I wanted were unavailable, the amount was restricted and we had to order more expensive alternatives. Thanks to social media posts we have had kind offers from people offering to donate to us. We are fortunate to have generous donors and supporters who respond in this way, but none of this deals with the fundamental issues at heart.

The spread of Coronavirus raises issues regarding food security, how we respond to crises in our society and the role that food banks have, and indeed should have.  

It is understandable that people are trying to prepare themselves should they become ill or isolated due to Coronavirus. Topping up their cupboards with extra tinned foods and making sure that the freezer is well stocked is not an irrational thing to do. It brings a sense of security and control – it gives us a ‘back-up’ if we need it. However, problems arise when stockpiling and panic buying takes hold because it has a direct impact on the most vulnerable now.

Again, understandably perhaps, it’s the cheaper versions of products that sell out first. Often, it’s the more expensive items that are left on the shelves, and this has an impact on people living on the lowest incomes. Unsurprisingly when items become scarce and demand is high, the cost of such products increases dramatically (we only need to look at the example of hand sanitiser to see how this happens.)

If you are on a low income you cannot afford to stockpile: there’s often little or no slack in your budget to stock up your cupboard for ‘just in case’ times.

Often, the people we support tell us that they manage food day-to-day or even meal-to-meal. Linked to this, it’s also difficult to get online orders if you have no internet or you have to reach the ‘minimum basket’ amount to get a supermarket to deliver: currently some of these minimum amounts vary from £25 to £40.

I was also struck by the types of food that some in the media have suggested that we ‘stockpile’ (or at least get a few items of each.) These foods won’t sustain you in the long term, but they can be easily stored away and used in an emergency. The lists are so similar to those we ask for at food banks – dried pasta, UHT milk, tinned tomatoes, baked beans, soup and so on. We give out these foods week on week. As a society we need to question this:  it’s not okay to expect people to live on these ‘emergency’ foods long term. The people we support are already surviving on this ‘crisis’ food.

We all hope that this virus does not cause the levels of suffering that many fear. We need to stay calm and try to think about those who are more vulnerable than themselves. Hopefully, if people have surplus food and toiletries they will share them out to others who need them. I believe many people will reach out and help others because we see them doing it in so many ways already, for example when they donate to our food bank or when they volunteer their time.

In light of all of this, we need to question the idea, and often the expectation, that charity should be the safety-net, the ‘back-up plan’, the solution to the problems and crises that we face as a society.

Food banks and charities like ourselves, have been saying this for years. Recent events highlight the flaws in using the charity sector to ensure food security. Food banks rely on public donations and volunteer time – if either of these things falls we will struggle to continue the service that we provide. For many people, food banks and the charity sector is their safety net, but unfortunately this net is already full of holes.


See this article in The Guardian for more background on the impact of the Coronavirus crisis on food banks.

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

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Make like Moses

Hannah Brock-Womack, facilitator of our Church on the Margins network in Sheffield, talks to network member Siggy Parratt-Halbert.

This blog post is mainly about not giving up.

Siggy doesn’t give up easily, it seems to me. She works where she lives in the village of Woodhouse, to the east of Sheffield, for Unlock Urban. Woodhouse is a place where everyone knows everyone. They’re justifiably proud of their long industrial history, including having one of the pits where the Bevin boys were trained. It’s just down the road from the Orgreave where the biggest confrontation of the ‘84-’85 miners’ strike happened.

Unlock aims to share the Bible with people who don’t usually read that much. It has a really laid back and non-intrusive way of working, giving people the chance to have conversations about faith, knowing that no one is going to try and convert them at the end of the conversation!

Siggy started off her work for Unlock spending several months talking to people at coffee mornings. It felt like slow work. In fact, the first two years of that job didn’t go that well. She felt like things weren’t moving in the right direction. When asked if she wanted to keep at it for another two years, she almost said no. When she agreed to keep going, she decided that it had to be be by doing something that she enjoyed, so that she could keep going, even if it was tough. And one of the things she enjoys is drawing.

 

Inspirational women

I first met Siggy when she came to our Church on the Margins reflection day here in Sheffield a few months ago. On that day, she wowed us with the cartoons she’d drawn, which are of modern-day women and a Bible character that they have something in common with. These aren’t pious women who no one can now relate to, they’re inspirational women who changed the world with their vision, like Rosa Parks and her scriptural counterpart Hannah (from the book of Samuel), or Radclyffe Hall, a lesbian and author who was ‘out’ long before it was safe to be, who’s a bit like the Witch of Endor (also from Samuel), another powerful woman who nailed her colours to the mast and was at risk of death for doing it.

Siggy’s drawings on show in her church in Woodhouse

This project was the thing that kept Siggy going, and got connections all around the community flourishing. She drew them at the coffee mornings and other community events, starting off with those from the book History of Britain in 21 Women. Then everyone got involved, suggesting different women she should include. The last picture was of Jodie Whittaker, the first female Doctor Who (from Sheffield) – because where do you go from there?!

In the end she drew 51 pairs of women – including lots from the Bible that many who’d been going to church their whole lives hadn’t heard of. The people at the coffee morning are different from the people attend the church on a Sunday morning, so it was a way of getting the whole community (not just church-goers) to pull together around a shared, creative project. But it was also a way of making scripture more accessible, and bringing the tales of these inspirational women into the modern day. It makes the Bible more relevant, in a way, said Siggy, because, really, the lives we’re living haven’t changed, in a lot of ways.

Bringing the community together

Around the UK today it can feel like people are living more insular lives, needing to concentrate on their families to survive difficult times. It’s hard to make a living in Woodhouse too, so Siggy was making links with the local shops, letting them know they’re supported.  There have been several community projects that involved local shop workers, including giving out postcards of the four days of Christ’s Passion that Siggy had drawn. These offered lots of opportunities for non-churchgoers to ask questions about Easter that they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to ask before.  There were a lot of interesting conversations!

There’s also a homeless hostel in the village, which is quite a transient place to be. That means there are lots of young men passing through, with sometimes chaotic lives.  There’s a big disconnect between those who live in the village long-term and those who are there for a short time only at the hostel. The transient community often gets blamed for anything that goes wrong. Siggy wanted to encourage folk to reach out to each other but in reality, they were a bit too scared. One thing the project has done, though, is to encourage everyone who uses the church building to want to make contact with each other. That means two church communities that use the building, as well as the karate club, breastfeeding club, and the toddlers’ group and more.  She is confident that the men from the hostel will soon be included in this list. Baby steps!

As we’re both part of a Church Action on Poverty network, we talked about what being part of a church community means for people who are struggling to make ends meet. Siggy reckons that when people do go to churches that are working well, the thing they get out of it most is the family feel and the fellowship – you’re held. If anything goes wrong, or if you’ve got something to celebrate, there are people who are there for you. Knowing that other people have got your back is really valuable.

“It’s not about bums on seats, it’s about the kingdom”, Siggy said.

She hopes that churches can be seen as places where, when people have nothing, and don’t have the support mechanisms they need, they know that support is available. The faith side of things might come later.

Keep on going, even when it’s hard

The Bible Women cartoon project sounds like an incredible piece of work that really brought diverse people together. Right now it’s available to hire out, so you can bring it to your church if you’d like to!  Get in contact with Unlock.

When we met we talked a lot about perseverance, and what you need to keep going when you feel like you have a passion to do something but it’s not working out. The answer in the end turned out to be quite simply: do something that you enjoy and that makes you feel alive, so that even if it doesn’t have the impact you imagine, you are still being fed, and you are less likely to get despondent. It reminds me of the quote which is a bit of a cliché, but is nonetheless true:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
(Howard Thurman, African-American civil rights leader)

Siggy’s other advice to those who are struggling to keep going? Be creative. Find something that gets people involved and makes your community ‘bite’ and come together. Use your gift (everyone has one!), or find that someone in your community who has the gift that you need.

And also…

“If it took Moses 40 years in the desert and he still didn’t see the fruits of the seeds that he sowed, who was I to complain?!”

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A decade of action on poverty

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A decade of action on poverty

Where did the 2010s go? Whoosh, just like that, another whole new decade is upon us.

Ten years lie ahead like blank canvases or unfilled journals. 3,653 days that we can shape, use and hopefully enjoy.

We know our priorities as we begin the decade, but only time will tell what new issues, challenges and opportunities arise as we continue trying to loosen poverty’s grip. Before the 2020s gather pace, however, allow us to pause, and briefly look back at some of the work you helped to fund, enable and support in the 2010s. Thank you!

 

2010

We began with a pleasing result from some of our earlier work. The Methodist Church and the Church of Scotland committed to support the Living Wage, helping ensure that people’s incomes are enough for them to live on.

Our ‘Rip-off TV’ action (pictured) persuaded the chief executive of a high-cost lender to sit down with his customers, listen to them, and join them in working for more responsible practices in the sector. Many aspects of our economy exacerbate poverty, charging poor people more for goods and services. We challenge this wherever we can.

2010
2011

Our Close The Gap campaign was launched, and thousands of you got involved, Giving, Acting and Praying to tackle inequality. We focused on fair taxes, fair prices and a fair say.

Working with partners near our own offices, our Salford Apprentice programme supported local people with experience of poverty to become community leaders. Those involved have since launched and spearheaded fascinating and powerful work of their own.

2011
2012

We and Christian Aid took a double-decker Tax Justice Bus around the UK, mobilising people to campaign against tax dodging.

There was more good news on the Living Wage, with support from the General Synod of the Church of England and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

2012
2013

We knew hunger was a growing issue in the UK, but it had been hard to quantify. Working with Oxfam, our joint Walking The Breadline research made front-page news as a pioneering and vital look at the full picture. Only by fully understanding such issues can we ensure we tackle the root causes effectively.

That Christmas, our “Britain Isn’t Eating” poster struck a chord across the country and went viral online.

We undertook a fascinating visit to India, which led to the creation of our Self-Reliant Groups project, small groups that can save and invest together, and provide mutual support.

We published the Charter to End the Payday Loan Rip-off in partnership with the Centre for Responsible Credit and Paul Blomfield MP. More than 40 MPs signed up to the Charter at the launch event in the House of Commons. This helped persuade the Financial Conduct Authority to crack down on payday lending and bring in new regulations, which led to Wonga and others paying more than £50m redress to customers.

2013
2014

The food focus continued. We began building partnerships among churches, charities, academics and others, to build an alliance that could explain, challenge and ultimately end food poverty. These were the foundations of the End Hunger campaign.

Many church leaders have embraced the campaign, and that year we worked with vicar Keith Hebden (pictured), as he fasted for the whole of Lent to raise awareness of the crisis.

2014
2015

We worked with the Joint Public Issues team on the Rethink Benefit Sanctions campaign. Sanctioning, which often tipped people into destitution, has since reduced and has been proven to be damaging.

Our Real Benefits Street project provided a true and balanced alternative to the sensationalist TV coverage, persuading one TV producer to meet our participants and listen to their concerns about stigma and inaccuracy.

We listened to churches around the UK, so their visions of what makes a Good Society could influence our planning.

2015
2016

We worked with the National Union of Journalists to produce new reporting guidelines, launched the End Hunger UK campaign, and launched our Church on The Margins work, exploring the challenge by Pope Francis and others to build a ‘poor church that is for the poor’.

2016
2017

Having researched ways for communities to tackle the Poverty Premium in their neighbourhood, we launched the Your Local Pantry network nationally. Pantries alleviate poverty by reducing shopping bills, allowing other essential costs to be met. Research has shown they are having a fantastic social, economic and health impact.

Our Voices From The Margins project, putting people with experience of poverty at the forefront of social and political conversations, was launched. More than 120 people have contributed so far.

2017
2018

We exposed the scale of cuts to localised crisis support in England. When people are swept into poverty, there must be lifelines to reach for, but most have been removed or neglected.

We launched our Scripture from the Margins Bible studies, helping churches and church-goers to think more deeply about, and respond more effectively to, poverty and injustice.

2018
2019

Our Food Power programme shifted the narrative around food and poverty, and helped strengthen local campaigning. Young people we worked with in Lancashire appeared on national TV and spoke truth to power, when they met politicians and took part in the national Children’s Future Food Inquiry.

Hundreds of people embraced a week of action in October, calling on the Government to Act Now To End UK Hunger.

2019

Thank you for all your support. What will the 2020s bring? Watch this space…

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A Good Society? We failed

An open letter to Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, from Church Action on Poverty supporter Liz Delafield.

Cast your mind back to 2015. Churches together in Britain and Ireland had asked churches to  discuss with their local communities the question ‘What makes a good society?’ From these discussions they produced the 2020 vision. The expectation that the churches, other religious bodies and community organisations would work together with our elected representatives to build a good society in which all could thrive. It was where we aspired to be by the year 2020.  

This is what it said:

  • All citizens have access to enough income to enable them to live with dignity, either through paid work or through a properly functioning welfare safety net.
  • Reasonably priced homes where people can flourish are available for everyone who needs them and there is a reliable safety net for all homeless people.
  • All children and young people are enabled to live fulfilling flourishing lives, their contributions are valued, and they are enabled to grow and achieve their potential.
  • An economy that is in service to every person irrespective of their wealth or the market value of their labour; including robust action to clamp down on tax dodging.
  • UK greenhouse gas emissions are falling rapidly, and the Government has helped to secure a global climate deal that limits global temperature rises to 2 degrees.

This was not meant to be an exhaustive list. For example, the local conversation that I was involved in wanted to add ‘There is a thriving NHS which meets the needs of all.’

So with only just over a month until 2020, and another general election looming, this seems a good time to take stock. How did we do?

Quite simply, we failed. We did not build a good society – or even make steps towards it. If anything, we have moved further from our vision.

The implementation of Universal Credit and PIP assessment has led to greater hardship for many vulnerable people. An increasing number of people rely on food banks to get by. Homelessness is still evident in our communities. Most school budgets have been cut in real terms, reducing children’s and young people’s’ opportunities to thrive and achieve their potential. Cuts in local government have made youth services almost non existent in some areas. Young people’s mental health is an increasing concern. Tax dodging is still prevalent. As extinction rebellion campaigners remind us, the climate is in crisis and we have been far too slow to respond.

We failed – big time.

So what did we do with our vision? Did we hold it up as a beacon? Did we shout from our pulpits and to our communities “Look, this what we said. What are we doing about it?” No, we didn’t. We filed it away as yesterday’s news, a sound bite for the 2015 election.

Building the Good Society, or what Christians call the Kingdom of God, is not a short-term project. Neither is it only for politicians. It is a long term task that involves us all.

The General Election will take place during Advent. This is traditionally a time of waiting and preparation. But what are we waiting for? Not for a political leader, but for a vulnerable refugee child. A child who reminds us that leadership is about love and service. This is the way to a good society.

Let us remain faithful to our vision. No matter what happens in the election, let’s keep holding our politicians and churches to account. None of the people standing in this election is our saviour. We simply need to decide who would best love and serve with us as we strive towards a good society.  The road is long, and sometimes difficult, but as the advent and Christmas stories reminded us, Christ walks with us. 


​This post first appeared on Liz Delafield’s blog.

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