Church leaders from 6 denominations and people with experience of poverty in North East England met, to work together to tackle poverty in the region.
Church Action on Poverty North East, Thrive Teesside and the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, co-hosted a roundtable event for 35 people at All Saints Church, Newton Hall, Durham, on October 11th.
Led by voices of experience
The agenda had been led by people with experience of poverty, and speakers included people with six particular perspectives of poverty.
6 perspectives of poverty in North East England
- Davey, from Gateshead, had prepared an account about sanctions, which was read on his behalf. It told how an unnecessary sanction had led to him losing his housing benefit, and therefore being evicted while still grieving for a family tragedy.
- Sue from Gateshead told of the particular challenges facing carers, and the huge backlog of people waiting to be assessed for support. She also talked of sanctioning, saying: “People get sanctioned for any reason, sometimes if people could not get online to see a message from the DWP.”
- Lesley from Jarrow relayed stories from a debt support programme, which is helping local people address more than £360,000 of debt collectively.
- Richard from Upper Teesdale talked about the invisible poverty in rural areas, exacerbated by people being pushed to use online services, when rural internet is often inadequate.
- Graham and Sharon from Easington Colliery told of the challenges in ex-mining areas, and the lack of support services. Graham said: “A lot of people feel abandoned.”
- Julie from Thriving Women in Stockton on Tees read from a collaborative poem, which asked: “Whose narrative is being heard?”
Church leaders to work together
Others talked about the loss of face-to-face support, and of the remaining support being stretched to its limit, and David Burns from the Salvation Army talked about the need to uphold people’s dignity, and to accompany them rather than giving hand-outs.
Attendees were encouraged to support community events during the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, and a follow-up meeting has been arranged, to begin agreeing practical next steps.
Church can hold politicians to account
The meeting was chaired by Bishop Paul, and church attendees included representatives from the Catholic Church, Church of England, Methodist Church, Salvation Army, the Society of Friends, and the United Reformed Church.
Bishop Paul said he would relay the discussions to northern church leaders at a meeting next month, and also to people involved in the national Poverty Strategy Commission.
He said North East Churches Acting Together would also continue to invest in finding collective solutions. He said he and the Bishop of Jarrow would put a church representative forward for Hartlepool Poverty Truth Commission.
He said local and national government, and businesses, must work together to improve conditions for the lowest 15-20 per cent economically, and echoed the Let’s End Poverty campaign in saying all parties must be pushed to say what they will do to tackle poverty.
Comments from attendees
Bishop Paul said afterwards: “As always it was very good to hear the reality of poverty from those living with it.
“To be able to have a significant number of church leaders listening in to the stories, and hearing from others working alongside those facing the challenges of the social security system, the inadequacies of provision for those with significant mental health issues, and the lack of support for carers, raises many questions that we need to face as a society.
“The journey to seek to really end endemic poverty is not a simple or easy one but it is one to which all of us gathered together are committed.”
The Rt Revd Stephen Wright, Bishop for the Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, said: “I’m very grateful for the invitation for the meeting of Challenging Poverty Together in the North East. Our Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle is committed to working alongside our Christian sisters and brothers, people of all faiths and none in accompanying those who face needs and struggle in life.
“Our Lord always invites us to see our society and our political decisions through the eyes of the poor. As Christians, we are called to be advocates for their needs and to support them as best we can. I was very inspired to hear of all the ministry taking place across the North East and I am so grateful for all the volunteers who work across the region to support our brothers and sisters.”
The Revd Richard Andrew, Chair of the Darlington Methodist District said: “It was a powerful and challenging experience to share with others as we listened to those living in poverty. I was particularly moved by these words, ‘The world does not see my face.’
“If we really believe that we see the face of Jesus in the face of the poor then as North East churches we need to stand up and be counted in solidarity with them.”
Bernadette Askins, from Church Action on Poverty North East, said: “Listening to the voices of people from our North East communities who live daily with poverty was a very powerful experience. I feel very hopeful that by working together we can make a real difference.”
Corrina Eastwood, Community Organiser for Thrive Teesside, said: “The commitment and the desire to tackle poverty and inequality was evident from all who attended. By uniting and sharing our insight and knowledge we will continue to work together to create change. The collective poem from thriving women was a powerful expression of voices unbroken, along with others who shared their lived realities – it gave a face and feelings behind the statistics.”
This article is by the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, for Challenge Poverty Week.
What do you want for and from your society?
That might sound like a very grand or heavy question for a blog post like this, but it’s one we should all pause to ponder from time to time.
What do we really want our society and community to look like?
What might we collectively want to change or redesign?
Whose voices are being ignored, for instance?
Nothing in our society is fixed or inevitable. We should all believe change is possible, albeit sometimes difficult. And we should amplify the voices of people who are being denied justice and a fair say.
How on earth are people on low incomes coping?
I was struck recently by some notable research from the Living Wage Foundation, looking at the impact of the cost of living emergency on low-paid workers. In a poll of 2,000 people, researchers found that hardship remains far higher than before the current economic crisis. I often think, on checking out in the supermarket and seeing the bill for modest amounts of food, how on earth people on low incomes are coping currently.
- half of low-paid workers are worse off than a year ago
- 39% had regularly skipped meals for financial reasons
- the same proportion had fallen behind with bills
- a third had been unable to afford to heat their homes.
- over a quarter had fallen behind on rent or mortgage payments
- over a fifth had turned to payday loans just to cover essential costs.
These numbers are galling.
There are 3.5 million low-paid workers in the UK, and beneath the headline statistics are millions of human stories: men, women, children, parents, grandparents, friends and neighbours – our fellow citizens, whose lives have been hindered and made harder, and by circumstances entirely beyond their control.
We all want dignity - for ourselves and our neighbours
There are severe financial, health and emotional consequences across our community when people’s incomes are squeezed like this, but there is also a huge threat to our shared human dignity.
For all our differences across society, there is one common aspiration – we all want to live with dignity, and to be able to participate fully and freely in our communities.
And we all want that dignity, not just for ourselves but for each other. It is not so long ago that millions of us joined the collective mutual aid effort during the pandemic, because we are intrinsically unhappy seeing our neighbours going without.
In our communities, when one of us suffers, we all do. Polling earlier this year showed that almost nine in 10 UK adults says more should be done to tackle poverty in this country. There’s an overwhelming appetite for change, and it’s time for the country’s politicians to heed that call.
The dignity of people on low incomes is consistently threatened. Sometimes by powerful employers who don’t pay people enough to live on. Sometimes by politicians who choose to keep benefits debilitatingly low. Sometimes by unequally distributed care that isn’t sufficient for everyone. And sometimes by entrenched power structures that exclude people who know first-hand what life in deep hardship is like.
This isn’t right, but it can change. This week is Challenge Poverty Week in England and Wales, a week in which hundreds of people speak up about solutions that are working well at local level, and which could be emulated more widely.
You might hear about Poverty Truth Commissions, which bring people together at town or city level, merging people’s myriad of expertise and insights – crucially, paying as much heed to the voices of residents as professionals. There have been successful ones already in Leeds, and a York one is ongoing, bringing together the people who make key decisions and the people who are most impacted by them.
Let's End Poverty
Also this week, many churches and community groups have been holding local discussions around the new Let’s End Poverty campaign.
It is possible to change the direction of poverty trends. This is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and we know we have the resources and the expertise required. We also know that there is great public desire. But do we have the political will?
Each day I pray that we may all be given our daily bread. This must mean each of us getting what is sufficient. Not just some of us. And so many, getting an awful lot more.
Let’s speak up, not just this week but frequently, for what we want our society to look like. Let’s celebrate the work of the unsung people and organisations that make our communities tick, but let’s also call on our politicians to be ambitious for our lowest-income neighbours, and to deliver policies and plans that ensure the dignity of everyone.
Let’s speak up for a future where everyone has enough to live on. Where everyone has enough to eat. Where everyone is able to wake up each day unhindered by income in the pursuit of their ambitions, and equipped to participate fully in our society.
That’s what I want from society, and this Challenge Poverty Week, let’s listen to people with first-hand experience of poverty, whose ideas and insights are essential to building that better future more quickly.
What drives activists and activism? For Ashleigh, it is a combination of love, hope, and a passion for equality and justice.
Ashleigh has experienced powerlessness, homelessness, the criminal justice system and poverty. But her experiences have also shown her that change is possible, and achievable.
She now strives to make that happen, through the Moms On A Mission group she co-runs, and through work with others, in Yorkshire and London.
Here, Ashleigh tells her story of speaking truth to power.
Ashleigh: "I did not realise I had power... but that changed"
“I would definitely like to see more equality. That is what pushed me on in the beginning, and wanting to see people being able to reclaim their power and implement change.
“I did not realise I had power within me to make a difference in a big society, but that changed. The Young Women’s Trust played a big part in that. I was born in and lived in London and went past Westminster many times but never felt valued or welcome to be in those spaces.
“Then I went to an All Party Parliamentary Group meeting in about 2017, and to participate in that conversation was powerful. The Young Women’s Trust brought me power, and then I started Moms On A Mission, because the YWT works with people up to age 30, and I wanted to be able to help more people.
“My work with Moms On A Mission is to empower communities and build resilience and confidence so people can overcome the challenges of poverty, breaking the generational curse of poverty.
Ashleigh: "If we aspired to do everything with love, the world would not operate as it does now"
“I am a born again Christian. I grew up in a Christian background but started to stray from the church, and started being involved in some crime and alcohol, being a rebellious teenager, but in situations I went through I saw God’s hand. Every trial or tribulation I came through, such as going to prison, homelessness and being sectioned under the mental health act, made me feel stronger and ignited a flame.
“For me, love is at the centre of everything. If we aspired to do everything with love, the world would not operate as it does now.
Ashleigh: short-term needs and long-term hope
“It’s hard to balance a long term vision with what needs to happen now. You can get distracted from the main goal but I feel everything we do is directed to the long vision. I was relocated by my council from London to Halifax because there are not enough houses in London – that was not part of my plan but we now have work to do in Halifax and things have turned around.
“I did not see how I could keep running the Moms work down in Barking & Dagenham, with me in Halifax. I felt in the wilderness and wondered what my purpose was, but God was with me and he has sent people who need help to be. There were not many groups here focusing on BAME communities and the issues we faced, but now we are doing that.
Ashleigh: speaking up in Parliament
“I have a lot of hope for Speaking Truth To Power. I definitely hope we will have more opportunities for young people to meet politicians, and I would like us to help have the poverty rate decline and have some policy change. I want to see a significant reduction in poverty in the UK.
“So many issues we see now are impacting on mental health. The cost of living, the cost of food – people wondering how they can cope on a daily basis? Where we live in Calderdale has a high suicide rate and people are struggling.
“One of the big issues I care about is the need for more support for families with children with special educational needs or disabilities (SENDs). Moms On A Mission is a big advocate on this, because it relates to issues we have experienced ourselves.
“We need more support and the pandemic has made it worse, impacting on more children and creating a backlog for support. Parents want to go to work, but when your child has additional needs or is getting excluded and there isn’t the support, then it’s hard. People get labelled as “challenging children” but there just isn’t the proper support.
“So in October, Moms On A Mission and other groups went to Parliament and spoke to MPs, and tell them what support is needed. We want to raise awareness that there have been so many families with SENDs but not diagnosed – you get adults who end up in prison because conditions were not diagnosed when they were young and they were never supported and end up in difficulties.
“We see also, especially in our BAME communities, that there is sometimes a reluctance and a sense that it’s forbidden to say a child has extra needs. So we want to bring up how the authorities can approach families before situations get out of hand.
“NHS services need improving and there seems to be a reluctance from GPs to put referrals through. There was already a big waiting list, and covid made it worse. The country needs to be funding the support that is needed for families.
“Another thing we are doing is working in our community in Halifax, to promote everything we are doing and to encourage more people to get involved and become community organisers. We are looking at power and who has it, and at collective power, and to talk about what we’re doing to speak truth to power, and we held a community brunch in Challenge Poverty Week.”
Ashleigh: I am very hopeful
“I’m very hopeful, with the generation we have today.
“When I was growing up, I did not see as many people speaking up as are speaking up now. I feel a lot of people really do want to make a difference now, but a lot of people still don’t know how to get started. So having groups like the Speaking Truth To Power panel is really important. I feel we have a really good group here with different perspectives and experiences, and I’m hearing a lot from different individuals. I think we will become known for making a change, and people should be the change you want to see.”
Niall Cooper outlines the new Let’s End Poverty campaign, and how you can get involved.
If you are passionate about tackling poverty in the UK I’ve got good news for you: The overwhelming majority of the UK population agrees.
We know that’s what people care about, from firsthand experience. At Church Action on Poverty, we consistently walk with and listen to people with direct experience of poverty and who want change.
People like Gemma, who tells us: “Everyone has a right to live a certain standard of living. There shouldn’t be such a gap between rich and poor.”
And people like Stef, who recognises that: “We tend to have professionals who make decisions, then people who are affected, and there’s a lack of power. In general, the more money you have the more power you have and that doesn’t generally lead to a country that works for everybody.”
Let's End Poverty for everyone
I too want to live in a UK in which no one has to go to bed hungry and everyone has access to good food.
But beyond that, I want everyone in the UK to have the opportunities that many of us take for granted – to enjoy life in all its fullness. To achieve this we must end the scourge of poverty in what is still one of the wealthiest nations on the planet.
The Covid-19 pandemic shone a spotlight on the growing gap between rich and poor, and the cost of living crisis has widened this still further, as millions have been swept further into poverty and destitution.
You too will have your own reasons for wanting to see an end to poverty in the UK. Most people do.
Let's End Poverty together
An overwhelming majority of our neighbours think the UK’s rich-poor gap is too high.
Earlier this year, 88% of respondents in a YouGov poll said more should be done to tackle poverty in the UK. That’s almost nine in every ten people, a remarkable level of consensus, at a time when public opinion is divided on so many other issues.
Yet while the public will for action is vast and clear, national political leadership is sorely wanting. Politicians have ignored the issue of poverty for far too long.
Let's End Poverty - and let's demand action
Politicians who fail to acknowledge the need for urgent action to tackle poverty are increasingly out of step with public opinion. Anyone aspiring to be in Government should be making this a priority. Ending poverty in the UK should be a key election issue.
That’s why we’re delighted this autumn to be part of launching Let’s End Poverty.
Let's End Poverty - and let's demand action
Let’s End Poverty is bringing together a diverse movement of people who want the UK to be a place where poverty can’t keep anyone down. It’s a campaign that brings together people and communities who have either lived in poverty or witnessed its effects and who want change.
Let’s End Poverty stands for a future where poverty no longer keeps anyone down. Where everyone has enough to eat, has a good quality of life and is supported through hard times, and where places like food banks and clothes banks no longer need to be a fixture in our communities. A future where children talking about their hopes and dreams all have the same opportunity to pursue and realise those dreams.
Let's End Poverty - and be heard
The message of Let’s End Poverty is that it’s up to us to make our voices heard. It’s up to us to turn public support for action to tackle poverty into political pressure for the next Government to make this a key priority. We have to work with others to build a powerful movement that politicians of all parties can no longer ignore.
The overwhelming public will is there. Now let’s demand political resolve and a willingness to act.
Come join the winning side.
Let’s end poverty together.
Could you be a trustee for APLE (Addressing Poverty with Lived Experience)?
We’re pleased to share this invitation from the APLE Collective (who work in partnership with Church Action on Poverty on projects like this year’s ‘Dignity For All’ conference):
This is an exciting opportunity in inclusive governance. APLE is a national collective of individuals and organisations with lived experience of poverty. Our aim is to create a sustainable, grassroots network across the UK to raise awareness of poverty, challenge the stigma surrounding it and contributing to its eradication. As a network we promote the voices of those with lived experience of poverty and we work collaboratively with others to influence change.
Our Partners: Good Things Foundation, Ada Lovelace Institute, Trussell Trust, APPG Poverty. APPG Data Poverty
- Over the past six months we have been preparing APLE members with lived experience of poverty to become APLE trustees. We are looking for people new to APLE to join them. We welcome expressions of interest from individuals who are able to make a real contribution to the APLE Collective through their skills and experience. We are particularly keen to hear from people who have:
- a strong background in fundraising/income generation;
- policy development.
We are looking for people who are:
- Committed to our vision, mission, and values.
- Able to dedicate the necessary time and effort to carry out the trustee responsibility effectively (1 day per month)
- Through your knowledge, experience and expertise be able to support the guidance relating to operational needs and future financial sustainability of the Collective.
- Values-driven and lead by example.
- A strong team player who can work with other trustees to make decisions collectively to advance the best interests of the APLE Collective.
- Informed – has some understanding of governance and the legal duties of a charity.
If you would like any further information or would like an expression of interest form, please contact Tracey Herrington or visit the APLE Collective website.
The closing date for this position is 30 October 2023.