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Why does digital exclusion matter? That's the question being explored by our friends at the APLE Collective during June 2021, APLE Month. We invited Tracey Herington to explore the issue in this guest blog.

About the APLE Collective

You may well ask what is APLE and why have an APLE month? APLE  is a growing coalition of groups and individuals who have experience of poverty, hence the name Addressing Poverty with Lived Experience. The emphasis here being with lived experience. All too often decision- and policy-makers have done things to people and on their behalf. Sometimes we could assume with the best of interests and other times, we could rightly say not with our best interests at heart.

The real experts

Expertise has often been associated with knowledge and knowledge has presumably connotations of formal accepted routes relating to education, certificates or letters after your name. But this is most certainly not true. Expertise and insight come in many different forms. It is the lady down the street who is looking after her grandchildren and is fully appreciative of the lack of appropriate policy responses to carers and their families. It is the guy who has been working a zero-hours contract for the past three years and has no financial security. It is the family who are suffering due to the inadequate levels of child benefit, the two-child limit and rising child care costs. My examples of real-life experiences could continue.

Digital exclusion and the pandemic

During this very challenging year, we have seen the amplification of the very real difficulties faced in our communities. These difficulties are not new, but have intensified and come to the fore. Digital exclusion is one of the many issues preventing people from fully participating in everyday life. Lockdowns led to everything going online – homeschooling, accessing services, staying in touch, connecting with others, accessing a Universal Credit account and searching for jobs. Prior to the pandemic, many people would pop to the local library to log into their journals, pay a council tax bill, meet up with others. What was once an overwhelmingly lengthy process to access entitlements – Personal Independence Payments, for example – became nigh on impossible. No face-to-face meetings, no assessments, no one-to-one support and no way of knowing where to access help because all the help and support was advertised through websites and social media.

Why does digital exclusion matter?

Imagine feeling silenced and cut off from the outside world at the best of times – what if you had no device, no data and little confidence to navigate the many social platforms? This is why the debate around digital exclusion matters. If you are not digitally excluded, how could you possibly comprehend the difficulties and limitations of this situation and how could you possibly meaningfully develop solutions that could actually work?

APLE Month

APLE don’t just talk about the issue or gather stories, we use the insight from personal experiences, coordinate ourselves, make friends, gain allies and seek support from others.

Click here to see the response to date from APLE around the digital divide 

For the month of June, The APLE Collective are highlighting and celebrating all of the organisations, charities and individuals who have lived experience of poverty or use their voice to campaign against poverty and inequality. I suppose we would rather not have to amplify the voice of silenced groups. We would much prefer to be commenting upon how fair and equal society was and then showcasing other things. We work tirelessly to ensure positive change and are proud of our members and supporters.

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

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Scouse writer-actor Ellis Howard has worked with us over the past year, helping people channel their experiences of poverty and struggle into powerful activism. In this new video, Ellis explains why telling your own story is like having a superpower.

Transforming lived experience into activism

My name is Ellis Howard. I  am a Scouse actor-writer.  With Church Action on Poverty, I ran a series of workshops all about how we can use our lived  experiences and transform them to activism; how we can own our stories of struggle, of  food shortages, to empower us and to help shape future policy and future lives.  

Celebrating unheard stories

For so long these stories, these experiences, these lives have been completely undocumented.  They haven’t been celebrated in a glorious nuanced way. 

Harness your superpower

Get in touch with all of those things that make you unique, and absolutely harness them, because that’s where your superpower lies.

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

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

We look at three ways the UK can begin building the society it wants by tackling inequality.

How do we make sure everyone is included in the UK’s pandemic recovery?

How do we ensure the injustices and inequalities exposed and exacerbated by covid are not made worse still when the country gets going again?

There has been much talk of roadmaps in the past few months, but let’s also talk about destinations. Where do we want to go as a country – and how to get there? We can’t have a recovery where some speed off down the road, while others are left behind on the hard shoulder. We need to address inequality.

And, before we set off, we need to make sure all the systems we rely on are roadworthy.

Where do we want to go?

Covid has caused us to reassess our priorities as a country. We have been reminded of the importance of community, the value of neighbours, and the extent to which we all rely on one another.

There are signs also that many of us want to see a more just society, with less inequality. Polling data has shown that 62% of us think the Government should take measures to reduce differences in income levels, while only 12% disagree.

What might action look like? 

There is much work to be done in the UK to narrow the many gaps between those of us who are economically privileged and those of us who are not. This blog looks at just three potential steps: one simple and immediate policy decision, one medium term strategy, and one profound long-term change, all of which would help to reduce inequality.

1 - Protect Universal Credit

43% of Universal Credit claimants experienced food insecurity

Millions more people have been receiving Universal Credit in the past year, as a result of the economic upheaval caused by covid. It is not a great system. The security it provides is flimsy and volatile, and frequently insufficient.

Data released this year showed that people on Universal Credit were eight times as likely as the national average to be food insecure.

Universal Credit should be increased, but instead the Government is planning a cut. It intends to reduce weekly payments by £20 a year from the autumn, which would reduce many struggling people’s incomes by £1,000 a year. That would increase inequality rather than reducing it. We should all be included in the post-covid recovery, but that won’t happen if the Government leaves people without enough fuel in the tank. 

The public want the Government to reduce income inequalities. It should start by abandoning this cut, and keeping the Universal Credit lifeline.

2 - Carry out an MOT on the benefits system

Protecting Universal Credit is a vital first step, but we need to go further. The benefit system needs to be made roadworthy. Just like other vital public services, it needs to be invested in and kept up to date, so it is fit for purpose when needed.

A fair assessment of our benefits system would likely reveal that it does not generally meet the cost of living, and that it is too detached from the people it is meant to support. Payments undoubtedly need to be increased and reviewed annually to ensure they keep pace with living costs. 

More fundamentally, the DWP needs to change the way it works, to ensure the system is designed in conjunction with people who have used the system. Groups such as Poverty2Solutions and the APLE collective (Addressing Poverty Through Lived Experience) have shown how systems and services can be enhanced when people work together. We can’t hope to narrow inequalities in the UK if the primary support system is sub-standard.

3 - Address the UK's underlying power imbalances

There is a more fundamental reassessment that we all need to take part in, which is to address the underlying power inequalities in our society. Only if we do that will other inequalities ever be resolved.

There are inequalities in the UK, around gender, race, region, class and sexuality. Each of these linked injustices harm individuals and hurt society as a whole. Inequality violates people’s dignity and curtails their opportunities, meaning countless dreams and possibilities go unrealised, meaning the whole society always falls short of what it could be and do.

None of these inequalities is new. They may even feel entrenched, but they are not inevitable and they can be addressed. 

All of them stem from an unjust distribution of power, which allows inequalities to perpetuate. We need to break the cycle by truly challenging where power lies and why, by speaking up loudly against systems that allow injustice and inequality to continue, and promoting work that redistributes power.

Initiatives such as participatory budgeting and Poverty Truth Commissions have shown what can happen when communities are entrusted with decisions, and when people meet as equals to find solutions. Such work needs to be supported, encouraged and accelerated if we are to make lasting changes to inequality.

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?

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

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Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

Wayne Green from Hear My Story in Worthing

“We all want a better world. We have the money, we have the expertise, we have the technologies. It’s just political will.”

Wayne Green from Hear My Story in Worthing

Those are the words of Wayne Green (pictured above) who has been striving to improve society for more than 25 years. 

He was first moved to act by his own experience of eviction, poverty and injustice, but he has gone on to take part in many powerful campaigns locally and nationally. 

And he keeps going still today.

Wayne is the June feature in Church Action on Poverty’s Dignity, Agency, Power calendar. We asked him to talk about some of the work he has been involved in, but also to outline his own path to campaigning, his inspiration to keep going, and the lessons he would share with younger campaigners seeking to make society better.

Wayne: why I started campaigning

I got involved because I had two young children. At that time, I had been made unemployed as a young man, my wife had just given birth and we were renting a flat in Worthing and when the baby was three months old we were evicted.

I was shocked because I came from a middle class background and I had never experienced anything like this before. Here I was with my wife and three-month-old baby with no work, nowhere to go, nowhere to live and I was shocked.

I put my baby in a cardboard box, wrapped up in a woollen cot sheet and we went in the back of a garage van at 9 o’clock at night and drove for 12 hours to Cornwall to live with my mother in law.

I was really angry. I was told at local authority ‘sorry, can’t help you’. That was it. I thought ‘oh my gosh, what do I do?!’

Later we moved back and ended up in Shoreham an as we moved in to this new flat we managed to rent. 

This woman over the road saw us and almost adopted us. Jocelyn Underwood. She was an inspiration to me and a guiding light to me on the issue of social exclusion and poverty and the work of the church, and justice and peace, and also the issues of good local people and what can be achieved.

She basically said to me: you can do anything, and always challenge the system. She was very inspirational and she brought together a group of church goers at our local church. St Mary de Haura.

She was so giving as well but above all her connections were unbelievable within justice and peace groups locally and the church and she was eloquent, she could out-talk any politician.

Some of the reports Wayne has contributed to

Starting to speak up

I spoke at the first National Poverty Hearing. That was quite an interesting and really giant move, not just for myself but local society and national society. I think that’s something that did change society very deeply.

We started a group called Adur: Local People National Voice and we put together our first ever poverty hearing in the local area and we attracted 300 local people. Our local MP didn’t turn up but other local politicians did and Church Action on Poverty came down and gave us full support.

It was interesting to turn the dynamics round. Here we were, a group of six of us on a panel who were in poverty, unemployed, speaking to our local decision makers and local population, and that was new.

At the Hearing, Wayne described poverty as “a battle of invisibility and being blamed for society’s problems.”

That’s how I felt it and that’s how I still see it. It’s exactly what’s happening today. The experience of being part of a poverty hearing, going up and speaking to 600 leaders was quite frightening but the process leading up to it was quite empowering. It broke a lot of barriers. Being poor in the south is still going without food, as you would in the north. There’s a lot of similarities that broke down barriers.

We had a really good core group of people around us who would nurture us as well. and we found that was good and gave us access to a huge amount of people you’d never believe, like politicians, church leaders. I used to pinch myself, saying ‘Am I meeting these people, are they actually listening to me? You couldn’t believe it in some sense. We call it imposter syndrome now.

The Houses of Parliament

What happened next?

Wayne helped to organise a further local poverty hearing in Worthing, and after some persuading Sir Peter Bottomley MP attended.

He came to the meeting but I think it shocked him, the level of interest at that meeting.

The National Poverty Hearing itself, to my mind, unified the conscience of the country. It pricked the conscience and said ‘here we are’. We were opposite the House of Lords, the Houses of Parliament and we were saying ‘come over and speak to us’. Unfortunately, the leaders of the parties didn’t come but other politicians did. I remember in the afternoon a massive argument started in Parliament and I thought ‘at last, we’re having a proper debate’, which was good. It was quite empowering.

Next up was the Future Of Work report, which influenced the thinking of many politicians, including Gordon Brown when he was the incoming Labour chancellor in the 1990s.

I have a copy of that report here and I still read it today and that was very, very interesting to get involved in. You actually felt you had something really to say and people were prepared to listen and we were part of this policy group that went across the nation and brought people together and we covered everything you cover today. I was just reading the issue of flexibility. Flexibility for who? This was 20 years ago and there’s a woman in this report and she talks about flexibility with no contracts. 20 years ago!

Networks of support are vital

Those with first-hand experience through Church Action on Poverty were encouraged to meet once a month or once a quarter, and put our findings together of our experiences of policy. And we covered all the areas of the benefit system, the welfare system, we covered all the areas of work, housing, tax, food, living, but most importantly how society sees you at the local level and national level.

That’s where I said what I still say today: poverty is a battle of invisibility. It’s not being seen and if those in power do see you, they will see you but not let you join in on the actual policies themselves.

Speaking truth to power

Speaking “truth to power” and having agency as an actor can be difficult and can be very challenging. But at the same time, you are speaking to human beings, and human beings do have the capacity to change.

My experience over the 25 years is if I was to put all those reports together, you would see there have been some dynamic changes, such as understanding of mental health issues, understanding the importance of policy, but what we are actually seeing is a harsher world to live in if you are poor.

For example, Hear My Story is working towards a Poverty Truth Commission. You’re seeing community trying to do more themselves, but we had quite a lot of resistance that I was quite shocked about.

What has kept you going?

If I go back into my personal life… I was adopted, I also have Black African-Caribbean ancestors who were slaves. I think there’s a genetic resistance in me; I want to see a better world. I care about the world.

I’m not a truly religious Sunday person, but I believe all faiths have a golden thread running through them and I believe it is possible to change society and one must keep going on this issue.

I also get inspiration from other people. Young people give me more inspiration today. How is it that I see so many older people saying ‘ohh, what’s to be done in the world?’ and you’ve got young people ride up saying, ‘I’ve had enough’.

Church towers in York
Wayne has worked with the church over the years and says it is a fundamental pillar of change

What do you see as the church's role?

Jesus was a radical. He was on the outside and he saw change. Not only that, if you look at other issues of the church, its roots are deeper than politics in the community. I find the church an area that does actually listen to you. If you talk to a local vicar, you’ll probably find they’re very academic people, quite willing to listen. 

I’ve been critical of the church, saying it’s become too middle class and feels too safe, and won’t want to go on the radical side of life but it’s slowly having to because of our morals and ethics. For me the church is a fundamental pillar for change.

Lastly Wayne... what do you say to newer campaigners?

First and foremost, your experience is proof that you exist. Secondly, you are equal to anyone else and your knowledge is probably more than the person you talk to who wants to know. Thirdly, I’d say to young people, don’t ever give up on a cause, because that’s what they want you to do, to walk away. Don’t. Be a thorn in their side. Rock that boat. Be a troublemaker! Troublemakers help change.

Believe in yourself. The experience you have is unique to you. Poverty is a battle of invisibility and you must be seen. Demand to be seen. And don’t ask for the lowest. Why should we ask for the lowest? We want the best out of our society. And everyone should have the best.

Why do I work with Church Action on Poverty after all these years? What I have benefited from is seeing change within systems and structures that others don’t see.

The support mechanisms are very important as well. People do care and having that sisterhood or brotherhood matters. You’re all different but have all experienced the pain, the hurt, the disillusionment, the exclusion of being outside society. But also, if you work hard all together, change can occur. It has to.

“We all want a better world. We have the money, we have the expertise, we have the technologies. It’s just political will.”

Listen to the podcast:

Other 2021 calendar stories:
Dignity, Agency and Power

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?

Wayne’s story: Why I (and you) must refuse to be invisible

SPARK newsletter, summer 2021

Building Dignity, Agency and Power Together

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