fbpx

How do we safeguard food access without compromising on dignity?

Your Local Pantry, through its rapid growth, is showing an answer to that question.

Charities and community groups have wrestled with the issue for years. But the pantry network has been a beacon of hope in the past year.

58 photos: Scroll through the images of Peckham Pantry, by Madeleine Penfold.

In a compassionate society, everyone should have access to a choice of good food, free from anxiety and stigma. Achieving that, however, has often proven difficult.

We need Government action to ensure all household incomes cover living costs. But while we press for that, we also need dignified projects here and now, to loosen poverty’s grip.

The Your Local Pantry approach is proving particularly effective. Peckham Pantry features on the April page of the 2021 Dignity, Agency, Power calendar, and in the photos on this page. It is, however, part of a much larger network. In the past year, the number of such shops in the UK has risen from 14 to 43, supporting more than 9,000 adults and almost 14,000 children.

Inside Your Local Pantry in Peckham.
A volunteer at Your Local Pantry in Peckham

How does the pantry model work?

The model is simple. Anyone who lives in a neighbourhood served by a Your Local Pantry can join.

Members pay a small weekly subscription of a few pounds, and in return they can choose around £20 to £25 a week of groceries from the wide and varied stock. It’s a shop in all but name, but members can save nearly £1,000 a year compared to supermarket prices. Stock is supplied through the food redistribution charity FareShare and local suppliers in each area.

The team at Your Local Pantry in Peckham

How do pantries differ from food banks and other projects?

There are several differences. Firstly, and most profoundly, pantries maintain people’s dignity.

Pantries do not hand out food to strangers at moments of severe personal crisis. They create and strengthen communities that work together to reduce the risk of crisis ever happening.

They are bustling, upbeat food clubs that people enjoy all year round. They are places where relationships and communities grow, and there are many resultant benefits:

  • People save on their shopping, freeing up money for other essentials or leisure activities
  • Members make new friends
  • Diet improves
  • People’s physical and mental health improve
  • Many members said that, during lockdowns in particular, the pantries were a vital lifeline and reassurance.

How we picture poverty

The photos in this article were captured by photographer Madeleine Penfold, who teamed up with Church Action on Poverty last autumn as part of our work to improve the way poverty is represented.

She visited the Peckham Pantry, run by Pecan. There, in the midst of the pandemic, members were cherishing the chance to see one another from a safe distance, access their food without anxiety or stigma, and keep their relationships and community going in difficult times.

Supplies at Your Local Pantry in Peckham
Members outside Your Local Pantry in Peckham

Peckham members were among those to contribute to the recent Your Local Pantry impact report, along with members from around England, Scotland and Wales. 

What pantry members say:

“Being a Pantry member has made a dramatic difference to my financial situation. As a single parent, things can be extremely tight. The Pantry provides plenty to enable me to prepare meals and snacks. And the staff are a bonus! It’s taken a burden from my shoulders.”
Another told us she had gone on to do a cooking course through the Pantry, and said: “I learned how to make a few meals I have never tried before such as a new spicy rice full of veg and flavour and mixed bean tortilla that are now firm favourites in my house.”
“In the first stages of the lockdown, I don’t think I could have coped without the Pantry. I didn’t have time to queue at the shop after work and the few times I attempted it, the shelves were bare. The Pantry guys delivered our bags and some cheer each week.”
“It brings it all back to the community and feels like we are shopping local. I prefer this to shopping at a supermarket.”
“Being a member has allowed my family to save money and buy more fresh meat that is halal, as they are Muslim and find it difficult to afford halal meat.”
A team member at Your Local Pantry in Peckham

Why are so many pantries opening?

Pantries have proliferated for a couple of main reasons. 

Firstly, because organisations have seen and want to emulate the difference they make.  And secondly, because we’ve all been reminded in this pandemic of the importance of community and mutual support. 

Local neighbourhoods can and should be at the forefront of developing pandemic responses that can work and last. Setting up a dynamic, inclusive, community-focused project like a pantry is the perfect way to start.

What does the future hold?

Councils, school trusts, churches, a GP surgery and numerous grassroots groups have embraced the approach, aided and inspired by one another. 

As the network grows, pantries can continue to build dignity, choice and hope for thousands more people. And, we will be well on the way to having a better, stronger society, where nobody is cut adrift or neglected.

Other 2021 calendar stories

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

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

Lent course for 2022: Life on the Breadline

Our Cookery Book

Keep the Lifeline – sign our open letter to the Prime Minister

Seeking food justice in York

Jayne and Shaun’s story: creativity, self-reliance and truth

Sign the Anti-Poverty Charter!

Long read: How do we build dignity, agency & power together?

The story of a Cornish food and community revolution

“You are worthy. Don’t ever give up.”

How can policy-makers and churches work together to tackle UK poverty?

How have Christians responded to poverty during austerity?

Reset The Debt in Parliament

Watch the Food Power story

How we can use poetry to accelerate social change

Activism, struggle and superpowers

Why does digital exclusion matter?

62% want action on income inequality. So, what do we do?

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

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

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

Ruth Lister's book challenges the UK’s approach to poverty, and highlights the work of several of Church Action on Poverty’s partners.

Baroness Ruth Lister is a member of the House of Lords, the honorary elected president of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), and a Professor of Social Policy at Loughborough University. Poverty links to academic research and anti-poverty campaigners’ views on the concept of poverty. The second edition uses updated research and puts a renewed emphasis on the importance of participatory research, involving ‘experts by experience’. Poverty attempts to widen public understanding of poverty and therefore will not be new to campaigners. Lister’s arguments link heavily with Church Action on Poverty’s strategy of Dignity, Agency, and Power.

In the 2020s, poverty is more salient an issue than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic looms large throughout Poverty. Lister argues that focused definitions of poverty affect political policies but asserts that poverty shouldn’t be “reduced to statistics”. She emphasises that poverty should not only be seen as insecurity but as a “corrosive social relation” that permeates the experiences of those experiencing it. Lister analyses the non-material aspects of poverty and argues passionately for:

  • The need to treat those living-in poverty with dignity and respect
  • The recognition of agency within the experience of poverty
  • The importance of reframing the dominant narrative of poverty in terms of power and citizenship.

Ultimately, Poverty calls for the recognition and respect of the viewpoints of those impacted by poverty and a rethink of the politics of poverty in order to redistribute resources more fairly.

Church Action on Poverty’s work is centred upon the ideas of dignity, agency and power, and the book reinforces the importance of all of these.

Dignity

Lister hypothesises that how poverty is seen and experienced is created by a power dynamic within a society where the majority ‘non-poor’ decides the attitudes towards ‘the poor’. ‘The poor’ are created as ‘the other’ through language and images that “label and stigmatise marginalised social groups, with fundamental implications.” The main one being that they are treated differently to the rest of society. The best example of this is the 2014 Channel 4 show Benefits Street, which was criticised for reinforcing negative stigmas of claiming benefits.

The stigma of poverty causes social shame and leads those in poverty to feel disrespected. Participatory research in the UK and internationally has concluded that those in poverty are fighting to maintain dignity and respect as the experience of poverty takes it from them.

Lister asserts that treating people experiencing poverty with dignity can “increase their self-confidence and sense of agency” arguing for the recognition and representation of those in poverty within wider society and the media. Lister argues later for the importance of participation of those with lived experience in making policy decisions to shift the narrative and allow dignity and respect.

Agency

One of Lister’s main arguments is the importance of recognising the agency of people experiencing poverty, emphasising that they make their own decisions to cope with their circumstances. She claims that the acknowledgment of the agency of people living-in poverty can be another sign of respect. But she emphasises that an important consequence of poverty is the constraints of agency, either through ‘othering’ or a lack of material resources. Lister categorises four different types of agency, from the everyday to the more strategic:

  1. ‘Getting by’ – the struggle to keep going in the face of adversity and insecurity, which is not acknowledged by wider society. Lister stresses how impactful insecurity can be, as it can impact mental and physical health.

2. ‘Getting (back) at’ – the feeling of being trapped in poverty and powerlessness can create anger that can be directed at the state (through benefit fraud) or families and neighbourhoods (through anti-social behaviour). But challenging the narrative doesn’t have to be negative. For example, ATD 4th World’s poetry written by ‘experts by experience’ contains assertions of dignity in the face of indifference/disrespect.

3. ‘Getting out’ – Individuals use their agency to negotiate their way through the structural routes out of poverty, usually employment or education. Lister argues the key to agency, in this case, is raising the aspirations of those who feel powerless.

4. ‘Getting organised’ – ‘othering’ processes can discourage those in poverty from activism, but Lister argues that action often takes place within communities in the form of mutual aid (which has increased during the pandemic). Lister also uses the example of APLE Collective (Addressing Poverty through Lived Experience) and Poverty2Solutions, who address the perceived lack of political action from people in poverty by creating a platform to speak out against political policies.

Lister argues government policies tackling poverty should address societal structures while also helping individuals use their agency to negotiate the pathways open to them. The emphasis of participation of ‘experts by experience’ in research and activism to challenge the ‘othering’ of people in poverty is key to the book.

Power

Lister emphasises the importance of the use of human rights, citizenship, voice, and power as a counter-narrative to characterising people in poverty as the ‘other’. Anti-poverty campaigners use this discourse to link political narratives on poverty to wider concerns about human rights, citizenship, and democracy. Lister argues this is a potentially transformative way of speaking about and mobilising against poverty.

Our understanding of poverty can be enlarged when we frame it in this way, and it supports a focus on dignity and agency. The idea that poverty is a denial of basic human rights implies a moral imperative to tackle it and shifts responsibility to structural causes. Lister argues it is important to promote the discourse of human rights through the political action of those with lived experience of poverty, to reinstate dignity, agency, and power to rearrange the societal structures in their favour.

Social divisions and different experiences of poverty

It is becoming increasingly acknowledged, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, that the impact of poverty and how it is experienced is affected by social divisions such as age, gender, race, disability, social class, religion, and geography. Lister reasons that poverty cannot be effectively tackled until inequality is reduced both locally and internationally. Throughout Poverty, the effects of the social constraints of poverty and the individual agency of those who experience poverty despite these constraints are emphasised.

Women, black and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, those living in deprived areas, children, and the elderly are more likely to experience poverty.

Lister maintains that “policies combating poverty need to address underlying intersecting inequalities and be embedded within broader gender, ‘race’ and disability equality and antidiscrimination strategies”. This view that anti-poverty strategies should tackle intersecting inequalities as a whole is not yet widely acknowledged but should be taken seriously. Here at Church Action on Poverty, we learnt valuable lessons through discussions on some of these themes during Challenge Poverty Week 2020.

Sign reading Look After Each Other

Overall, Poverty maintains the empowerment of people in poverty is needed for them to realise their visions of society that don’t include poverty, which would lead to new ways of thinking about poverty. Lister cites ongoing initiatives from ATD Fourth World and Poverty2Solutions. This book aims to widen the general understanding of poverty to galvanise us all to recognise the importance of including people in poverty. That’s something all of us in the anti-poverty movement recognise the importance of, as we work to ensure that dignity, agency and power are better understood in the context of tacking poverty.

Jessica Waylen is Challenge Week Intern at Church Action on Poverty.

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

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

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

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

A shopping basket at a community food project

Now that we know the extent of food insecurity in the UK, the Government’s obligations are clear.

43% of Universal Credit claimants experienced food insecurity

For the first time, the Government has laid bare the true scale of household food insecurity in the UK.

The Government’s own research conclusively shows that, even prior to the pandemic, one in twelve of all households in the UK were experiencing low or very low levels of food security. 

The data was in the Family Resources Survey 2019/20, published by the Department for Work and Pensions on Thursday 25th March.

Most shockingly, it shows that more than four out of ten (43%) households in receipt of Universal Credit experience high or very high levels of household food insecurity.  This confirms what people who have to rely on Universal Credit to survive have known for a long time: the level of Universal Credit is simply too low. 

It’s worth noting that the survey asked only about people’s experiences in the 30 days before they were interviewed. If people had been asked about the full year, the number of food insecure households would have been far higher still.  

It is an indictment of successive Governments that benefit levels across the board have been allowed to drop to such low levels that we have reached this stage. 

Millions of families face worrying whether their food will run out before they get money to buy more; can’t afford balanced meals; skip meals or are forced to eat less than they should because there isn’t enough money for food.

The data will be invaluable in enabling the UK to better understand poverty and therefore to address it. That we have this new information is thanks to sustained pressure from End Hunger UK campaigners and others in recent years. Much analysis will come, but there are two conclusions that can immediately be drawn:

Firstly, the Government’s own research makes the case for retaining the £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit after September unanswerable. As this new report clearly demonstrates, to fail to do so would plunge countless families further into hunger.

Secondly, now that it is equipped with this data, it is time for Government to come up with a coherent plan for ending household food insecurity in the UK. That means making sure all incomes are adequate to ensure every family has enough food to eat, and that no parent or child needs to go to bed worrying where the next meal will come from.  

Notes from the data

  • Universal Credit is the single highest contributory factor by some considerable way – in driving levels of household food insecurity in the UK [See table 9.7].
  • Over 4 in 10 households in receipt of Universal Credit (43%) experience low or very low food security – over five times the national average of 8% across all households.
  • Over a quarter of households on Universal Credit (26%) are ranked as having ‘very low’ food security – more than six times the national average of 4% for all households.
  • Households in receipt of state benefits in general terms experience far higher levels of household food insecurity than the general population [See table 9.7]
  • One in four households on any income-related benefit experience low or very low levels of food security, including: Income Support (36%); Jobseekers Allowance (37%); Employment Support Allowance (31%).
  • One in four households in receipt of carers allowance and more than one in five households in receipt of personal independence payments are food insecure.
  • Specific groups experiencing particularly high levels of household food insecurity:
    • 31% of working age households living in social housing experience food insecurity compared to just 3% of owner occupiers [See table 9.8]
    • 29% of single parent households [See table 9.2]
    • 25% of households with one or more unemployed adults under state pension age
    • 19% of households with one or more disabled adults under state pension age.
    • 19% of black households, compared to 8% for the general population [See table 9.6]

Niall Cooper says the new data on household food insecurity shows the need to protect the Universal Credit uplift, and must lead to a coherent Government strategy to prevent poverty.

Author: Niall Cooper, director of Church Action on Poverty

26th March 2021

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

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

Lent course for 2022: Life on the Breadline

Our Cookery Book

Keep the Lifeline – sign our open letter to the Prime Minister

Seeking food justice in York

Jayne and Shaun’s story: creativity, self-reliance and truth

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

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

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

Watching birds in the park helps Self-Reliant Group facilitator, Laura Walton, listen to God.

Many Christians hear God speaking to them in an audible voice, giving them guidance, comforting them, reminding them that they are not alone. Others ‘hear’ God’s voice when they read the Bible and know that a particular verse is for them in their own unique set of circumstances. I believe God speaks in many ways just as a parent finds different ways of teaching their child the ropes of life. I almost never go to my local parks without seeing God’s hand and knowing I’ve been shown something relevant to my life or to a situation. I realise how important the natural environment is to my faith.
 
Yesterday my walk in the park gave me a completely new and amazing experience. I met two baby thrush, spotty chested, short, fat and fluffy around the edges. They were at ground level looking up at me…..with interest, without fear. The Mother was close by, demonstrating the foraging for food lesson and crossly prompted them to keep focused on the task. Because she was there, they had no fear of me and began again to imitate their Mum, hopping a couple of steps away from me.
 
Fear can be paralysing. It can stop us moving forward. It can cause us to retreat. It can create barriers which seem to be insurmountable and it can disguise itself in so many valid reasons which deter us from even trying.
 
We have become lockdown experts here in the NW. We are lockdown graduates. We have survived, we’ve come through. As restrictions are eased yet again, our daily schedules face change and our watches have come back into use. Our calendars come alive with possibilities and doorbells pave the way to back garden reunions. The roads take longer to cross and the pavements no longer seem so wide.
 
But actually the long straggly hair gets tied up quite neatly and the nails aren’t long enough to paint. The supermarket birthday cards are familiar and easily accessible and stories on the news of charity shops being restocked during the day because they are so busy are reason enough to stick to wearing what we’re comfortable in.
 
As our Self Reliant groups begin to make plans to meet in parks or gardens, there is a feel of that hesitancy to move out of our very definite comfort, stay at home zones. Obliged to stay in and stay local and stay alone and apart has had its effects on us. Doing something simple like meeting our friends in the park seems unnatural, unreal and a big exertion. But it does not have to be. We are all in the same boat. With trust and sensitivity to each other’s unique experience of lockdown and the pandemic itself, we can begin something new. We are not alone and we can, like the baby thrush, learn a new way of living, where we depend on each other and are encouraged and emboldened by each other.
 
A prayer….
 
Father God , thank you that you are the rock on which we stand. Thank you that you are our Protector and you go before us into each day. Thank you that your presence brings us calm and peace and your spirit draws us forward and closer. I pray for each one of us, that we would know you, hear you, see you and face each day without fear, but with courage and determination.
In Jesus’ name we pray.
 
Amen

Find out more about Self-Reliant Groups: http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/srg

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

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

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

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

A surprise hail storm makes Self-Reliant Group facilitator, Laura Walton, consider the uncertainties of life

Working up a sweat whilst digging at the allotment this week, I was confused by what I thought was blossom drifting onto the dark soil I was exposing. It was in fact small tight balls of hail! Perfectly round pellets of ice bouncing down around me. I’d brought packets of seeds with the intention of planting but the hail threw me. Planting in the snow I knew would not impress anyone and certainly was not to be found in my RHS Allotment book.
 
Early morning shopping at Aldi found me stopped in my tracks as I emerged into a mini blizzard. Quite incredible after coffee in the back garden only the day before resulted in a sun burnt ear! Hail, sun, snow, sun. Gloves, t shirt, scarf, sunglasses. Life is still very unpredictable. But one thing we have learnt in the last year is to take each day a little bit more as it comes and rely less on our own plans and organisation of our time. Without thinking and worrying too much about what is out of our control, we have more time to enjoy the things of today especially if that means snow in April when the supermarkets are full of disposable bbqs and sun loungers.
 
As shops spruce themselves up for a return to business and we get ready for a gear change with hairdressers open again, charity shops to be delved into, local libraries and the odd theme park, let’s not forget the lesson of the snow in spring or the hail instead of blossom. We live in unpredictable times and have only some control over our tomorrows, unlike Mr. Johnson. So we have learnt to give up worrying beyond this current 24 hours and concentrate more on the NOW which is actually always enough. We can say this to ourselves, our anxious kids going back to school again, friends going into work again with the public and those who have been religiously shielding and who can now after one or two jabs and a letter, jump on a bus into town, grab a coffee, hit the sales………or not.
 
We all have our fears about next week, our excitements and our reliefs but all come with an underlying unease of what the future holds and how long it will all last, despite the rapidly rising number of people who have had one jab or two.
We all have questions and spend time wondering about ifs and maybes when we should be being content with the moment that is.
 
The God in the bible takes those questions, wonderings, uncertainties and fears off our hands and points us instead to the moments surrounding us. There we can find everything we need and so much more.
 
Stop and think about this moment that is, whether it’s a night time or a daytime moment, a dark or a bright one, a noisy one with warm voices or a silent and cold one. God knows where you are and where you are at. He knows your moment and he knows you. He holds that moment and he holds you now and for always.
 
From the song …..If He can hold the world,
He can hold this moment.
 
You’ll find that He’s enough.

Find out more about Self-Reliant Groups: http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/srg 

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

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

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

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

Stef Benstead with a copy her book, Second Class Citizens, which looks at the way the UK has breached disabled people's human rights

In Second Class Citizens, author Stef Benstead shows how the rights of disabled people have been systematically breached in the UK since 2010.

The videos on this page show Stef Benstead, author of Second Class Citizens.

What does it mean to speak truth to power? What messages need to be told, and who most needs to listen?

These questions are always integral to our thinking and priorities at Church Action on Poverty, and we stand alongside those who have been marginalised.

We work with many inspiring groups and individuals around the country, but one of those leading the way is one of our own trustees, Stef Benstead.

Stef Benstead with a copy her book, Second Class Citizens, which looks at the way the UK has breached disabled people's human rights
Stef Benstead with her book, Second Class Citizens

An important but under-told story

Stef is the author of Second Class Citizens, which is a devastating critique of the way the UK has treated disabled people in the past ten years.

In it, she charts the development of attitudes and care towards disabled people in the past few centuries. Next, she analyses and deconstructs the policies of the past decade.

The book also contains powerful true stories. In many cases, people have been swept deeper into poverty by a system that ought to be a lifeline.

In 2018, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, delivered a scathing report on the UK’s approach over the past few years. Policies and practices he examined have left millions trapped in poverty by circumstances out of their control

The report generated much discussion, and yet two years earlier, a similar evidence-led report on the UK’s treatment of disabled people went largely unreported.

The opening lines of Second Class Citizens begin with that study. Stef writes:

“In 2016, the United Nations made an extraordinary announcement: that the United Kingdom, a rich and developed country, was violating basic human rights.”

Widely-contrasting views

The Government was dismissive of the UN report and said it was actually a world leader in the field.

Second Class Citizens is a forensic examination of the UN and UK’s opposing claims. Stef finds a catalogue of changes to policies, rules, administration, approach, and political rhetoric. Overwhelmingly, the changes contributed to a steady and steep erosion of disabled people’s rights, opportunities and incomes. In addition, they were all implemented with minimal consultation or discussion with those affected.

In the end, Stef finds the evidence overwhelmingly supports the UN position. By contrast, the Government’s claims and arguments do not stand up under cross examination.

Stef writes: “The post-2010 Governments have caused substantial harm to sick and disabled people’s health, living standards and social inclusion.

“It has done so without any moral or economic justification, and has signally failed to uphold one of governments’ most fundamental reasons to exist: to ensure and improve the access to basic rights of its most vulnerable citizens.

“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.”

There is a better way

Our society should not be like this.

The goal of a modern society, Stef writes, should be that sick and disabled people have access as far as possible to the same choices as everyone else, in terms of where to live, work or study, and what to eat, wear and do.

However, that ideal has become a more distant hope for several reasons. Firstly, the narrowing of criteria for help has locked more people out of the support system. Secondly, the removal of some support systems completely has cut people adrift, and those with greatest needs have endured the greatest cuts. Thirdly, many attempts to improve the system have been flawed, often due to failure to properly consult and listen.

Stef has the genetic connective tissue disorder, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and Postural Tahycardia Syndrome and fibromyalgia. This means she is always exhausted and in pain. She has a 1st from Cambridge but had to leave her PhD at the same university when she became ill. 

It was her own experience that led her into researching disability rights and treatment. Drawing on this experience and research, Second Class Citizens aims to provide a clear and lasting answer to many recurring questions. 

“Speaking truth to power is important when it means MPs listen to someone who they do not normally listen to and hear about issues they do not normally hear about,” says Stef.

“I would hope that would stimulate them to then look more into the issues and learn more about it from another perspective. We need to keep saying what is wrong and we need to have a story of how things can be better.”

Language matters

The book is compelling in its assessment of Government policies, and statutory systems:, and makes clear demonstrations of failure. For instance, people are hamstrung by infuriating errors and flawed systems. Public transport is often inaccessible. Support is frequently unreliable. The flawed benefits system punishes minor or non-existent errors. Letters from the DWP say large-print or Braille options are available… but fail to say so in large print or Braille,. As a result, blind people are often unable to read important correspondence.

Stef also examines the political rhetoric that has sustained many of the injustices and systemic problems. She scrutinises, dissects and finds wanting the narrative of a ‘dependency culture’ that has been adopted by many politicians in modern times.

She concludes:

“It is not simply that there is a lack of evidence, but that the evidence shows a strong commitment to work, even among people who are too ill to work or whose only experience of work is of low-paid, dead end jobs.”

Throughout the book, Stef introduces people with first-hand experience of systems and policies that have made life harder.

Adam, for instance, had a good relationship with his landlord, until Universal Credit swept him into rent arrears. Beth, who has autism and severe anxiety, was in seclusion in hospital not because of her own needs but because the hospital has lacked staff. She spends more than 23 hours a day in one room and has not been outside since early 2018.

Their stories are among dozens that hammer home the impact of the systems Stef examines.

Stef is part of the Spartacus network, a collective of disabled or ill researchers, and also works with the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project. She is also a trustee of Church Action on Poverty.

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

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

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

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic