Greater Manchester poverty gap widens: time to act
For Paul, one of the testifiers to the Commission – and one of the 1.6 million already struggling to make ends meet, action cannot come soon enough.
‘I don’t feel like a person any more’
Paul used to be a truck driver, travelling all over Europe, but he now suffers from various illnesses which mean he can’t walk more than 30 yards. He receives Disability Living Allowance and has a car, without which he would be house-bound. Paul currently lives in a two-bedroom property; his children sometimes stay with him and help him around the house and with his personal needs. He is devastated that, due to the imminent Housing Reform Act, he will have to move to a one-bedroom property, and there will no longer be space for his children to stay over.
Paul says he feels very vulnerable and frightened, which makes his illnesses worse. It is very unlikely that there will be a one-bedroom property available in the same area, so Paul will have to move away from his community.
He is very concerned that the housing benefit reform is destroying communities, and will cause individuals to become isolated and lose their self-worth. Paul is terrified of being evicted, and feels that people like him are ‘such easy targets’.
Paul is currently part of a community association which has recently won a bid to take over and run the local community centre. He thinks running events for themselves will increase people’s self-esteem. He talks about how neighbours help and support each other, and that the community centre builds relationships and increases self-worth. However, the housing reform means that Paul will most probably have to leave the area and will no longer be able to run the community centre.
The Greater Manchester Poverty Commission has spent the past nine months listening to the personal stories of testifiers at 10 Poverty Hearings across Greater Manchester, facilitated by a team of organisations including Church Action on Poverty, Greater Manchester Council for Voluntary Organisations and Manchester Diocese.
I nearly froze to death last winter. My house was that cold I literally had icicles on the thingy. I begged the gas board to come and put some electric on, this was at Christmas, and they wouldn’t.
The Commission’s final report is a hard hitting mixture of testimonies and hard facts. Its conclusions:
Poverty is having a lack of choice: not being able to choose what you eat, where you live, what you buy, or where you go. A lack of options leads to frustration or boredom.
Poverty is all-encompassing. Poverty is evidently more than the suffering caused through the lack of basic requirements, such as food, clothing and housing; it is also the social isolation and feelings of shame which come as a result. Boredom, misery, fear, lack of choice, insecurity, lack of control, and lack of dignity can culminate in a downward spiral which is difficult to reverse.
Poverty is about boredom. It is a groundhog day of poverty, the monotony of routine without variety of options.
Poverty is characterised by insecurity and a lack of control. People living in poverty do not have the resources to cope with an unexpected event (e.g. meeting the demands of a bill or unexpected expense, a change in benefits or ill health).
People talked of their vulnerability. Many on benefits are fearful that these will change; this is particularly prevalent at the moment due to the changes to the welfare reform agenda and their potential impacts upon the lives of residents.
Poverty is characterised by fear, anxiety and uncertainty. Feelings of fear and uncertainty can lead to depression and mental ill health, factors that were frequently mentioned by those living in poverty. Poor mental health or low self-esteem can aggravate poverty as people lose their social networks and the ability to seek help, find work or have an active lifestyle. A lack of dignity, self-worth and feeling stigmatised were common to all the testimonies given by people living in poverty.
The Commission has issued a challenge to public, private and voluntary organisations across Greater Manchester: It is up to you to take action together to make a difference – to stop matters getting worse – and to lift your game, to prevent the very real hardship that Paul and thousands like him, turning into despair over the months and years ahead.