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A guest blog on the cost of living crisis by Dr Naomi Maynard of Feeding Liverpool and Natalie Davies.

April Fool’s Day, our kids were late back from their school trip. A blessing really, giving me time to stop and listen. Natalie’s been a good friend for over three years, since we were pregnant at the same time with our littlest children and I was new to Everton. Where we live doesn’t have the best statistics, we have the highest Index of Multiple Deprivation score for the city, are one of England’s top ten most economically deprived food deserts, and have significantly more than the national average of children, by reception age, who are obese. New research has also identified our constituency as the least able to withstand the rising cost of living in the UK.  But for us it is home, an area with amazing community, a beautiful view of the city and teachers who champion our kids.

The cost of living with the Poverty Premium

“Over six months of trying and still nothing,” Natalie exclaims. She has been trying to switch from her pre-payment energy meter to a direct debit energy deal, but none of the major suppliers will have her. “It’s exhausting, they just say ‘we have no-one in your area to do this’ or ‘phone again in a few months’, I want a smart meter and to be on a direct debit. I know this will save me money but what can I do?

“I couldn’t even take up Martin Lewis’ advice to top up our meter as much as we could before the price changes came in at the start of April. I didn’t have anything spare that week to put on, and even if I did my supplier said they’d recoup their losses next time I topped up! What a joke!”

In charity and academic speak, what Natalie is experiencing is called the Poverty Premium – when lower-income households are paying more for essential goods or services because the best deals aren’t available to them. This means the impact of price rises aren’t experienced evenly across all pay brackets, unfairly putting significant, avoidable additional pressure on lower-income households trying to keep their heads above water.

Natalie works part-time for the NHS as a cleaner, bringing home just £9.20 a hour. This, coupled with her Universal Credit entitlement, goes quickly once she has paid for rent, council tax, energy, transport to work, food and clothes for her two children. She also is working towards a degree part-time. For Natalie the end of the £20 per week Universal Credit uplift in October signalled the end of ‘Funky Fruit Fridays’ where she’d take the kids to the supermarket after school to pick fresh fruits to try over the weekend. She’s worried about the energy prices going up and what it’ll mean she has to cut back on.  Her household budget, like those of so many others, simply doesn’t have many more places it can be cut.

Real solutions to the soaring cost of living

As we chat, my grand phrases about how we can ‘redesign this man-made economy’  and need to ‘ensure those in power know the reality on the ground’ suddenly feel hollow: change just isn’t coming fast enough. Yes, the Chancellor announced additional funds for our council to distribute through the Household Support Fund, and we have the excellent Liverpool Citizens Support Scheme and many charities around who will support households during this crisis. But will this be enough? Is this really the solution? Our lower-income households need better wages, a stronger safety net and fair access to the very best deals.

The school bus pulled in, and we were onto the next thing: playtime, dinner, bed. As we parted Natalie threw out the challenge “So, when do we riot?”  Frustration, hopelessness, injustice, outrage spilling out in five short words, spoken with smile.

Be part of a movement that’s reclaiming dignity, agency and power

“When do we riot?” The impact of the cost of living crisis

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The compassion in these neighbourhood pantries is fantastic!

Making the Economy work for Everyone

SPARK newsletter summer 2022

Cost of living crisis: 6 useful church responses

In this guest blog, Natalie Williams of Jubilee+ shares some of the ideas from her new book.

When I was a little kid, we lived on the 16th floor in a block of council flats in a notoriously deprived part of town. If anyone had told me back then that I’d one day be leading a national charity and writing and speaking about poverty and class in the UK, I wouldn’t have laughed, but I wouldn’t have got it. It’s not that I wouldn’t have believed it was possible, I just wouldn’t have understood why I’d want to do that.

I grew up in a working-class family in Hastings, a deprived town on the southeast coast, which a national newspaper once called “Hell-on-Sea”. (Don’t believe everything you read – it’s actually very nice.) At various points in my childhood, we were in relative poverty. I didn’t really understand poverty or class as an issue until I became a Christian when I was 15.

One of the first things that changed was my aspirations. I didn’t realise until I came to faith in Jesus that I’d had a very narrow view of how my life would pan out. Suddenly I was learning about the Bible, and worship, and church, but also that I was made in the image of God and my life is actually about things a lot bigger than me.

Some of the first barriers God broke down in my life were to do with possibilities. I found myself with new hopes and dreams. I also found that I didn’t really fit in with most of the people around me: I became a Christian in a majority middle-class church and quickly realised there were huge cultural differences between us to do with our values and habits connected with things like money, hospitality, communication. Even the things that motivate us seemed to be at odds.

Class is still an issue in churches across the UK today. Across denominations and groups, most of our churches are very middle-class. This matters because most people in the nation still identify themselves as working-class – 60 per cent, a statistic that hasn’t changed for 40 years. That’s why Paul Brown and I wrote Invisible Divides: Class, culture, and barriers to belonging in the Church (published by SPCK last month). We hope that by shining a spotlight on some of the differences between us, we can find greater unity across classes in the church.

In my work for Jubilee+, a Christian charity that equips churches in the UK to change the lives of those in poverty in their communities, we’ve observed over the last decade or so how energetically churches have risen to the increasing needs around us. Food banks, debt centres, night shelters, befriending activities – projects have multiplied and many people have been helped at their time of crisis.

But often, when people have come through projects into church, they find that most people there aren’t like them. As friendly and welcoming as the church members may be, if you notice a lot of differences between you and the majority, it’s hard to feel you belong. Paul and I hope that in some small way, our new book might help to bridge some of the ‘invisible divides’, so that instead of trying to become like the people around us, we can all help each other to become more and more like Jesus.

Be part of a movement that’s reclaiming dignity, agency and power

“When do we riot?” The impact of the cost of living crisis

Invisible Divides

The compassion in these neighbourhood pantries is fantastic!

Making the Economy work for Everyone

SPARK newsletter summer 2022

Cost of living crisis: 6 useful church responses

The report from a 2021 project of Church Action on Poverty North East

‘Making the Economy work for Everyone’ was the topic of an event at St Vincent’s SVP Centre in Newcastle on 25 September 2021. 30 representatives of communities from across the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) area gathered with six members of the Authority’s Inclusive Economy Board and their officers to explore the barriers and pathways to participating in and benefiting from the economy. They were joined by another 30+ people from the churches, voluntary sector and communities with an interest in making the economy work for our most disadvantaged communities.

The primary aim of the event was to ensure that key people in the Inclusive Economy Board hear and take on board the voices and experience of the people they aim to include, as they develop their policies and programmes.
This was an initiative of Church Action on Poverty North East. They were taking the opportunity of Bishop Christine Hardman, of the Church of England Diocese of Newcastle, chairing the NTCA Inclusive Economy Board, to create a space where the voices of some of the people furthest from benefiting from the economy could make their voices heard. Those representing the communities on the day stood for many more who had been involved in different ways over the course of a year, which had been dominated
by Covid, and they represented the experiences of many people in their communities.

Making the Economy work for Everyone

Support for the Right To Food campaign is growing

What is the Right To Food?

SPARK newsletter winter 2021–22

Click on the right to download the summer 2022 issue of SPARK, our newsletter for supporters of Church Action on Poverty.

Inside Your Local Pantry in Peckham.

Throughout 2022, we are telling the stories from the Dignity, Agency, Power calendar. May’s page features Your Local Pantry, so we caught up with James Henderson, who became network development coordinator for Your Local Pantry at the end of last year.

James Henderson with pantry volunteers
James Henderson, second right, with volunteers at Hitchin Pantry

Hi James… Can you start by telling us how the Pantry network is doing?

It’s going really well. We were delighted to  recently launch the first Pantry in Northern Ireland, which means we now have Pantries in all four nations of the UK, and we are still getting lots of interest.

We’ve also recently had our second Pantry open in Portsmouth, and other new ones opening in Leicester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Sandwell, St Helen’s, Peterborough, Epsom and Sefton. We are on 68 pantries now, and it’s been really exciting to see the growth and development, and knowing what a difference Pantries are making to communities.

What do you think is driving that growth?

It feels like Pantries are a really current solution to the whole set of circumstances we are seeing just now. People are being squeezed from all sides, particularly with the cost of living. We all want to people and communities to have as much dignity as possible, and they are seeing that the Pantry model works.

Something we are developing, and really keen to further develop, is the idea of the Pantry as a wider community hub, providing what members want beyond just shopping. Can other people and services come in to give the Pantries even more value?

James, you've been in post for almost 6 months now. How are you finding it?

I am really loving it! It’s a really dynamic team to work with, and we work well together, with a nice mix of skills. I really enjoy getting out and visiting Pantries. It’s one thing reading or hearing about things, but to go and meet members and volunteers and coordinators is fantastic.

I love hearing stories from members about the impact Pantries are having on their lives, whether that’s helping them save for something important to them, or easing the difficult choices people are having to make, or meeting new people.

I love seeing the compassion of volunteers and coordinators, and seeing how much they really do care for the members. Pantries are really embedded in communities, and when you go in there is such a buzz, such a nice atmosphere. It’s lovely to see.

People reading this might want to get involved, or support Pantries. What can people do?

There are a few things people can do. If people want to join a Pantry, you can find your nearest one on the website. If there’s not one where you live, and you want to start one, there’s a Q&A on the website too, or you can email us for information. 

Pantries are all hosted by local organisations, such as community centres, charities, churches or councils, so you might want to find a local organisation that you think could be a host.

If you want to support the network, the Friends Of Your Local Pantry scheme is a great way to get involved. This enables you to support your nearest pantry and others in the network.

Also, just spreading the word is useful, and if you are a Christian then keep praying for the members, volunteers and coordinators. Half of the Pantries are linked to churches, and I know those 

Pantry teams really appreciate people’s prayers. Some members are in very difficult situations and volunteers are increasing hours, and some Pantries have waiting lists because there is so much demand, so all support is appreciated. 

Lastly, do follow us on social media. It’s a lovely way to see what different Pantries are doing, and to hear from volunteers and members and coordinators all over the country.

Be part of a movement that’s reclaiming dignity, agency and power

“When do we riot?” The impact of the cost of living crisis

Invisible Divides

The compassion in these neighbourhood pantries is fantastic!

Making the Economy work for Everyone

SPARK newsletter summer 2022

Cost of living crisis: 6 useful church responses

What is the Right To Food?

Hope story: a united stand against hunger

Vacancy: Speaking Truth to Power Development Coordinator