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Rev Jules Middleton, Associate Vicar at Trinity, Lewes, responds to the child hunger debate

This summer I, my colleagues, and an army of amazing volunteers ran the Food Hub in Lewes to help the local foodbanks cope with the overwhelming number of referrals coming in – due to the pandemic. I believe a key reason the church is here, is to help, support and love those in our community – all, not just those who come to church. But running a food hub is not something I really want to celebrate and here’s why…

We already have 3 foodbanks in Lewes, a town that most people assume is affluent. Of course it’s not inner city London, our problems seem small compared to larger areas but they don’t feel small to those who face not being able to feed their families, or pay the bills, on a daily basis. Running the Food Hub I have heard first-hand the real life struggles of those who need to use a foodbank, I’ve seen parents in tears or overwhelmed with shame, pathetically grateful for a few carrier bags of tinned goods that most of us would take for granted. It’s been frankly, heartbreaking.

Let's think before judging

It’s so easy to think that this sort of thing only affects them over there, “the poor” and people often assume those on benefits are bludgers, lazy or stupid. Frankly if anything is stupid or lazy, it’s taking that view without doing some homework, because the reality is that unless you’re earning a super salary, or have some decent savings, any one of us could end up needing Universal Credit or a foodbank.

People find themselves needing support in this way for lots of reasons, perhaps an unexpected bout of ill health – short term or long term, loss of a job or being made redundant, self-employed and can’t work for a period of time, having a child, having a child with extra needs, worldwide pandemic… For most people it only takes one thing to change their stable situation. One missed payment means a fee, possible bank charges and often no way to make them up, so next month adds on another charge, and another fee, and so on ad infinitum. It’s very easy to slip into debt quickly.

We could have so much more compassion

So it was deeply saddening to hear that the voucher scheme for free school meals in the holidays is not going to be extended and, more so, to read some of the negative and judgemental comments posted online.

So many of us view things from a place of privilege or from our own experiences. We talk a lot about privilege in this day and age but how many of us actually recognise it? How many of us actually bother to try and put ourselves into the position of the person we are idly judging and try to understand what life is like for them? I wonder how many of us have actually spent any time at a foodbank? Or have actually met those struggling with the shame of having to ask for help to support their families?

How many of us have chatted to those who have had some bad luck – lost a job or suffered an injury and been unable to work? If we all did this a bit more I am sure we would have so much more compassion and understanding for each other. And indeed it was so encouraging to see that in response to the news of the voucher scheme ending many cafes and restaurants have chosen to offer free meals for children though half term.

Imagine...

If you genuinely want to know why parents can’t budget better, imagine what it is like if your income is so tight it’s down to the last penny and any tiny thing could throw it out. What if the washing machine breaks (and that’s assuming you could afford to buy one in the first place), or your child has a growth spurt and suddenly needs new clothes, or someone gets sick and you need the public transport fair to get to the hospital?

Or you may ask, why can’t people shop for cheaper food, grow their own food or even forage?! This assumes choice and time, it assumes the time needed to do any of these, it assumes choice of shops and the ability to get to them, or to be able to buy in bulk. It assumes owning or having the money to buy garden tools, seeds and plants, or even having a garden in the first place.

Are you wondering if the benefit system or food banks breed reliance on ‘the system’? Well, if you’ve ever had to apply for benefits you’ll know how hard it is, the paperwork is lengthy and intrusive – and mostly now online. Did you know many digital forms cannot be filled out on a smart phone? And before anyone notes the expense of a smart phone, ask yourself how you would live your life with no access to the internet or even a phone line? Imagine you can’t get a contract for a landline because you don’t have a good credit rating – because of those bank charges that were not your fault? Don’t think that anyone ‘wants’ to rely on this.

All of this is also to assume that a person needing help has no physical or mental health concerns that might affect how they live and whether they are actually able to find out what support they can get, let alone apply for it.

Marcus Rashford, a footballer who has been campaigning for free school meals, was accused of ‘celebrity virtue signalling’ by an MP this week. But isn’t it a shame that he or any other celebrity even needs to highlight issues like these? Wouldn’t it be much better if our leaders led by example, in helping us all to think about how others’ lives might be; who might encourage us all to look out for one another. A bit like a version of herd immunity where we all protect each other by our love for one another, and with the recognition that sometimes bad stuff happens for no reason and no one is to blame. Isn’t that the sort of society we want to be?

I know some will say I’m simply a ‘bleeding heart lefty’ but you know, I believe Jesus Christ bled and died for each of us, so if my heart is aching for those who are suffering, I’d say that’s a pretty good label.

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We need to provide lifelines so families can stay afloat, writes Gavin Aitchison

What would it mean to live in a levelled-up country?

What would that sort of society actually look like? What would be different, and what would it mean for people who have previously been held back?

Think of the trapped potential that could be unleashed; the dreams that could be realised. By its very nature, we can only imagine the creativity, ingenuity and inventiveness that would burst forth if everyone was able to pursue their prospects, unencumbered by systemic injustices. 

Let every child reach their potential

It’s the sort of country the Department for Education presumably had in mind as recently as 2018, when it said investing in its holiday activities and food research fund would “help to ensure every child, whatever their background or wherever they are growing up, has the opportunity to reach their potential.”

In a levelled-up country, your life chances would not depend on the chance of your childhood circumstances. And by allowing everyone to flourish and thrive, whole communities – indeed the whole country – would benefit.

We are not there yet, are we? There are huge inequalities in Britain, cutting across race, class, gender and the regions, and the pandemic has exacerbated these. But a levelled-up country is supposed to be our national ambition, is it not? It is the oft-stated Government aim; the central theme of the Prime Minister’s seismic speech back in January, when the UK and the EU parted ways. There are clear steps that could be taken right now to start the process, and ensuring that children have enough to eat is one.

A commitment that must be honoured

The Government has said it should not be up to schools to feed children during the holidays, but the role of schools, per se, is beside the point. The UK has a duty to protect citizens of every age from hunger. We made that commitment more than 40 years ago. We signed the UN’s International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights in 1976, accepting that everyone has a right to an adequate standard of living, including food, clothing and housing. The agreement obliges us to take progressive steps towards that goal. We then advocated and signed the Declaration of Rome in 1996, seeking food security for all. We signed the UN Millennium Goals, committing to end hunger by 2030.

We’ve considered and decided this issue before and repeatedly accepted the principle that, in a compassionate society, the state should work to alleviate hunger. Holiday hunger is not a new phenomenon, but the need this year is greater and families, more than ever, have been harmed by circumstances wholly beyond their control.

106 years of evidence

Many of us will have been angered by Parliament’s recent decision on not to safeguard children’s nutrition over the winter. Saying that children must go hungry strikes many of us as abhorrent. But furthermore, it is also nationally foolish, damaging and self-defeating.

The decision will sweep huge numbers of children into hunger, and will harm their long-term prospects. That isn’t levelling up; it’s pushing down. We’ve known for generations that holiday hunger harms children. In 1914, Fred Jowett, the then Bradford MP demonstrated that children who ordinarily received meals in term time lost weight when provision stopped. In recent years, teachers have seen children returning from holidays malnourished and modern research by Northumbria University shows that the academic gap across income groups appears to widen after holidays. 

Support makes all the difference

Children in low-income families have already been battered by the waves this year. All children lost out on vital education when schools closed during lockdown, but those in low-income families suffered most because of a lack of access to the devices or connections needed to access resources.

Those children should now be a national priority, lest anyone be cut adrift academically. We should provide every lifeline available to ensure people can get back on track. Allowing children to be swept further from their peers over the holidays will not do that.

The limited, localised, programmes that do safeguard children’s nutrition over the holidays are working. The most recent impact reports, from Derbyshire, Somerset and Coventry, are filled with comments from parents who have been left on a financial precipice by covid, and who were kept on solid ground over the summer thanks to this most elementary support. Families whose income fell below a manageable level amid the pandemic say the projects were the difference between managing and not. The public support for such projects is shown by the response to Wednesday’s vote, with many companies stepping up, but ad-hoc provision, while wonderfully compassionate, is no substitute for coordinated and adequate support across the board.

Every step matters

The day after Parliament’s vote on whether or not to safeguard children’s access to food, Boris Johnson told the Great Northern Conference that people in northern areas with higher covid restrictions faced “hardships and sacrifices” over and above everyone else. He said he did not underestimate the challenges and difficulties that lie ahead, nor the heartache of families and businesses. And he vowed: “This Government is going to be with you every step of the way.”

If levelling up the country is to happen, that first step needs to be forwards rather than backwards, and this decision should be reversed immediately.

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

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Church Action on Poverty supporter Naomi Maynard reflects on how the pandemic is exposing and worsening inequality.

Danny's story
Benjie's story

Last week I received a call from nursery, my son Danny had a temperature, I needed to come collect him. This time last year that phone call would have triggered a dose of Calpol and an early night. This year, 10 minutes after receiving the call I logged onto the government website and booked a drive-through Covid test for two hours’ time. It was on the Wirral, about 20 minutes’ drive away.

The next day my husband and I patiently waited for the results, Danny was much better and tearing around the garden. Our older son James filled his time with a mixture of work sent from school and telly as my husband and I juggled working from home.

Later that night my phone pinged – Danny’s result was negative. He hadn’t had a temperature for over 24 hours so the next morning he went back to nursery and James returned to school.

Later that week I heard a very different story from my friend Natalie.

Natalie’s son Benjie is the same age as Danny, they both attend the same nursery. On Saturday morning Benjie had a persistent cough.

Natalie logged onto the government website to book a test. Natalie doesn’t own a car. The nearest walk-in test centre was in south Liverpool, two bus rides away. There were no home tests available. Natalie refreshed the website throughout the day. By Saturday evening a home test became available, Natalie ordered it.

On Monday evening the test arrived. Natalie returned it in the post first thing Tuesday morning. Benjie’s cough eased.

Waiting for the result, Natalie followed government guidelines, staying indoors with Benjie and his older brother Tom. Their home does not have useable outdoor space. Homeschooling Tom was a challenge as he became increasingly frustrated with being stuck inside. By Friday afternoon Natalie was exhausted. She called the testing helpline to chase Benjie’s result. Benjie’s result arrived late Friday night – six and a half days after his first symptoms. It was negative.

Reflecting on the stark differences between our experiences, the key factor is obvious: I own a car and Natalie doesn’t. But the knock-on effects of this are staggering.

Natalie’s son Tom missed a whole week of school, my son James only missed one day. Repeated over the course of this pandemic, that difference will grow exponentially, potentially impacting Tom for years to come.

In her own words, Natalie explains some of the other knock-on effects:

“It was only six days, but it took a real shot at our mental health. There are only so many rooms and so many toys before kids get bored and destructive. Being the sole person to entertain them and do everything was exhausting. After a couple of days I would wake up already depressed, just knowing I had the whole day to get through. That might sound dramatic, but they are energetic kids who are used to going to the park and for walks every day.”

This is Natalie’s second experience of a Covid home test, during both times she has waited six days for the results.

“I hate to say it, but it has made me think I would probably hesitate next time to get a test, and would probably take more risks. I wouldn’t ignore the symptoms but it would make me pause for a minute and think ‘Can I actually do this again?’”

“The longer it goes on the worse it will be for mental health. And those of us who are taking it seriously and trying to do what is right and follow the rules are making sacrifices, we all are. But the sacrifices made are much higher for those like me on low income or the vulnerable. The government needs us to make these sacrifices, so they need to do their part and make sure it is not as painful and as detrimental as it is currently.”

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stock cartoon image of two people sitting in adjacent chairs, talking

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

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This poem by Ellis Howard comes from the new anthology 'Same Boat? Poems On Poverty And Lockdown'.

It is Sunday afternoon. Every window is pushed open and usually we can hear the sounds of shouts and tears from Number 46 as they routinely explain to Sarah that the country is in lockdown and why that means she can’t play footie on the field, even if she does Dettol the flies away, but today is quiet. There’s a stillness.

All I can hear is me Mam boiling water in the pan to make minestrone cup-of-soups for me, her and me Grandad. Cup-of-soups are a delicacy in our house but the packed croutons are hastily whipped out because today is the 1966 World Cup Final and me Granddad, sunken into the couch, remnants of wotsits all over his t-shirt, is ready to relive his youth.

I’m not much of a footie fan. The astroturf has been turned into offices and so me Grandad says I didn’t catch the bug young enough. But I still can’t help but feel Martin Peters started the combover revolution five decades before Justin Bieber. Half way through the game, me Grandad is shouting and busting a gut, me Mam looks terrified that his dodgy kidney will flare, but to me it’s hilarious. Before lockdown I’d sit in the library and watch old people kicking off on TikTok and think they were the funniest thing I’d ever seen.

I reckon if I had an iPhone, me Grandad would go viral, we’d be rich and we could eat cup-of-soups and get as many combovers as we wanted.


My text/poetry is mostly concerned with giving a voice to the glorious and complex lives of those who surround me in Liverpool. This piece is an insight into how those living on the breadline have been forced to make do during the pandemic. I am wholly inspired by my family and friends who met COVID-19 and Conservative policy with energy, humour and kindness. This poem is a love letter to those brave souls who history continually tries to undermine, but we don’t let it. X

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

“All it needs is people willing to listen”

1,000+ church leaders say: Don’t cut Universal Credit

This poem by Grace Collins comes from 'Same Boat? Poems On Poverty And Lockdown', an anthology published today by Church Action On Poverty

worry
fear
worry
fear

round and round in my head
can’t sleep
can’t stop thinking

bills
eat
bills
eat

round and round in my head
the voices say, what should I do?

shut up
shut up!

hunger
shame
hunger
shame

round and round in my head
are they judging me?
I can’t ask for help

hope
guilt
hope
guilt

round and round in my head
food boxes
thanks
feed the kids

worry
fear
worry
fear

round and round in my head
every week
nothing changes

joy
understanding
joy
understanding

round and round in my head
a helping hand
no judgement passed

peace
relief
peace
relief!


When the food box arrived during the first week of lockdown, the feeling was of such relief. It was embarrassing to admit we needed help, but for us as a family, it was the inability to be able to book a delivery slot, and get hold of the essentials. As a carer I felt the weight of responsibly fell completely on my shoulders and it was such a relief to have that shared.

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

“All it needs is people willing to listen”

1,000+ church leaders say: Don’t cut Universal Credit

A short film written by Ellis Howard and directed by Brody Salmon, inspired by the stories of those with lived experience of poverty during lockdown.

The film was made as a result of creative workshops run by Church Action on Poverty during summer 2020, and launched during the first Challenge Poverty Week England and Wales.

To find out more about the writer and film-maker, you can follow them on Twitter:

Ellis Howard

Brody Salmon

Poems collated as a result of creative workshops run by Church Action on Poverty's Poet in Digital Residence Matt Sowerby during summer 2020

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

Lent course for 2022: Life on the Breadline

Our Cookery Book

This poem by Brody Salmon comes from 'Same Boat? Poems on poverty and lockdown', an anthology to be published by Church Action on Poverty on 15 October 2020.

Sometimes I squash flies and align them on the windowsill like fingernails. I cough
on park gates as well, see, it isn’t hard to socially distance when I’m socially distant.
This fish bowl is flooded with make believe people, trudging like moths to make
|believe places. You just can’t see it, can you? That’s why I started letting the toast burn,
the baked beans n all! Letting the phone ring and the odours of animal honesty
reek out the house. The neighbour’s cat has been missing a week now.

Nothing says freedom like pausing the prisons, unfolding
prisms, ripping neckties, exchanging white ironed shirts
for pyjamas and slippers. I climb into the old suitcase
that we used to take to the seaside. I climb inside and pull
the zip, leave just enough room for a fingertip, and imagine
seagulls swooping, squawking for fish and chips.

Dad once hit the back of my hand.
I hear arcade machines and pennies
dropping. I miss you dad, but the gulls
won’t go away because they don’t
believe me when I say (scream)
there’s no food in here at all. Truth is,

I’m just too clever
for my own good.


I wrote the poem because there’s something lovable about a freak like my narrator. There’s something intriguing and disturbingly honest about his cynicism that everybody can sort of relate to. This is somebody whose madness is crippling them now that social norms and practice have been stripped from them. This is somebody relishing the isolation of lockdown, and in fact enjoying being locked away from the world, in a time where everybody seems to want to be seen, my character wants to disappear.

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

“All it needs is people willing to listen”

1,000+ church leaders say: Don’t cut Universal Credit

This poem by Matt Sowerby and Penny Walters comes from 'Same Boat? Poems on poverty and lockdown', an anthology to be published by Church Action on Poverty on 15 October 2020.

We look out for one another, or some of us do.
The older community that has been here since here began,
when the Victorians slums were ripped out,
and the people in them. Faces change – Russian, Zimbabwean,
they keep themselves to themselves mostly.
Here, we have our own microclimate. 
The jobs have been gone so long that unemployment
is almost part of the culture. These are people who spit
the name of Mike Ashley but would kill for a season ticket.
There is something wrong about the children. 
And then there are others. Those same ones you saw
collecting on matchday. Doing deliveries
from the grangermarket, working down the pantry,
Vinny’s, pay what you feel, love. Gobshites with a cause.
Mamma P, who should be home but is shopping for her neighbours.
These people are splitting deliveries between
houses.They don’t shout about it.

In the background, Erskine’s wall rises up,
a limping promise, a tropical bird on the roadside.


this poem is based on real experiences of living on the Byker Estate. The estate is instantly recognisable from its brightly coloured early 1970s buildings, which replaced Victorian slums which had been condemned unfit for human habitation almost three decades before. Byker Wall was designed by the socialist architect Ralph Erskine, based on consultations with the area’s residence. However, following completion, fewer than 20% of original residents were housed at Byker Wall. Like many inner-city urban housing areas, Byker experiences high levels of poverty. This poem is a tribute to the residents of Byker who were working to support their neighbours long before lockdown began.

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

“All it needs is people willing to listen”

1,000+ church leaders say: Don’t cut Universal Credit

This poem by Jayne Gosnall comes from 'Same Boat? Poems on poverty and lockdown', an anthology to be published by Church Action on Poverty on 15 October 2020.

The Price of Conformity

School shoes. Cost big. Growing feet
Struggle. Worry. Missed heartbeats
Wish that those who make the rules
Remember our kids go to school.

White shirts. Black skirts. Black trousers 
Black socks. Black shoes. No trainers. 
All kids hate them, fight against ‘em
No colour, stripes or fancy laces

Special school ties snag and fray.
Blazers shine more every day.
Mates might mock a hand-me-down
so got to buy new, scour the town.

Boy says all his mates have Vans
forgets they also have helpful Nans.
Girl says Kickers fine for her
I’m wishing that their Dad would care

Benefits not fit for purpose.
Constant fear. State couldn’t care less
When they’re laughed at ‘cause of me
of course I feel guilty.

Boy comes home after PE
says “My shoes got nicked!” expecting me
to solve the problem, like they’re free.
They’re our food budget for the week.
I cry so hard can barely speak


Every time I think of my sisters and brothers struggling to raise their children in poverty, I remember crying over my son’s stolen school shoes.

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

“All it needs is people willing to listen”

1,000+ church leaders say: Don’t cut Universal Credit