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For 14 years Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield has embarked on an Urban Poverty Pilgrimage.

Essentially, about 30 or so of its members – often dressed in parkas and wearing walking boots – turn out to tread the streets of Sheffield. On their journey, they visit food banks and other church-based poverty alleviation initiatives, to learn more about their work and how best they can help to promote and support it in their church communities and wider afield. Consequently, there is often a practical focus to the talks that they get to listen to, and to the discussions that follow.

This year, they have produced a summary paper on what they discovered. Click below to download the report.

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You are invited to join us in Walker Parish Church, Duncan Street, Newcastle NE6 3BS on Sunday 11 February 2024 at 3.30pm.

  •  Hear how local young people are dreaming of a better Walker, a better world – and are doing their bit to make their dreams real
  • Have we a dream – for our families, our communities, our region? How can we start to make those dreams real?
  • What keeps us going? What inspires us?
  • Let’s celebrate our dreams –sharing cake baked by the young people- gaining strength for action as we go out!

Event supported by: Kids Kabin, Walker Parish Church, Monkchester Community Centre, John Boste Youth Centre, MINE, Church Action on Poverty North East

Merseyside Pantries reach big milestone

Transforming the Jericho Road

Partner focus: Meet Community One Stop in Edinburgh

Thank you Pat! 40 years of compassionate action

6 people holding cut-out numbers, reading 150,000

Merseyside Pantries reach big milestone

Transforming the Jericho Road

A photo of two volunteers in Your Local Pantry aprons, beside a photo of two members shopping

Partner focus: Meet Community One Stop in Edinburgh

Church Action on Poverty and our partners are launching a course on practical activism ahead of a much-anticipated General Election.

Almost 1,000 churches have signed up already to a new course entitled Act on Poverty, aimed at encouraging people to put their faith into action in the run-up to a General Election.

We’re proud to have joined forces on the initiative with international development agency Christian Aid and other partner organisations – including the Baptist Union, Methodist Church, United Reformed Church,  and the Trussell Trust.

Over six weeks, those taking part will find out more about the reality of poverty both in their communities and around the world, through activities designed to inspire them to take actions such as engaging with MPs.

The series of resource packs contain guidance for short Bible studies; recordings of conversations with activists; questions and prompts for group discussions; videos about taking practical action; and a guide to steps churches can take to advocate for change.

Christian Aid Campaigns and Activism Officer Katrine Musgrave explained: “We have hope for a world where there is justice for all and we believe our relationships and communities can be restored and transformed. With a General Election approaching, we have an opportunity to unite our churches with a compelling message for our next Government: it is time to act on poverty. We hope churches around the country will sign up to Act on Poverty and we look forward to seeing the results of their actions.”

Chief Executive of Church Action on Poverty, Niall Cooper, said: “Working in partnership is a core principle of Church Action on Poverty, and this course demonstrates the power of people coming together in faith. Every prayer, every gift, every action helps transform lives and I look forward to
seeing church communities taking part in this initiative and putting into practice what they have discovered to tackle the injustice of poverty and its effects, both locally and globally.”

Church leaders around the country are supporting the initiative.
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said: “Poverty is not a new problem and its effects are widespread, impacting people’s lives and futures. We see it in our neighbourhoods and we see it in vulnerable communities around the world.”

Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, added:  “Loving our neighbours means living out our faith on a local and global scale. This course offers valuable resources to help us make a difference by speaking out and engaging decision-makers.”

And Revd Gill Newton, President of the Methodist Conference, said: “If as a church or a small group within a church, you are wondering what to do next in your stand against injustice or in your endeavours to play your part by being a justice-seeking church, why not take a look at the Act For Poverty resource? This inspired new resource created by JPIT (Joint Public Issues Team of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church), in partnership with Christian Aid and others, provides a wonderful opportunity for both learning together and being stirred into action as the General Election draws closer.  We serve a God of justice – this resource can help
us all to use our voices and our votes to help make tackling poverty a priority.”

Church Action on Poverty encourages churches to follow the Act on Poverty programme during Lent, as a way of following up on Church Action on Poverty Sunday. We are running the course online for anyone unable to run it in their own church.

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6 people holding cut-out numbers, reading 150,000

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A photo of two volunteers in Your Local Pantry aprons, beside a photo of two members shopping

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Powerful and amazing things happen when people who want change come together.

We’ve seen that time and time again… and we’ve been reminded of that truth once more, thanks to a fantastic new project in Sussex.

We know the cost of living scandal continues to harm our lowest-income communities, and in recent months, a group of residents of Lewes, East Sussex, have been coming together to see what they can do.

They’ve been discussing the impact on their lives, and looking at what changes could be made, in a project called Feeling the Pinch! Have Your Say. The work was coordinated by Lewes District Food Partnership (LDFP), and you can read the group’s report here.

This blog looks at the impact it had for people involved, and then some of the practicalities of how it operated.

We’ll hear directly from three people: Ruby, who helped set the group up, and two people who took part: Claire, and another participant who would prefer not to be named. We hope the blog will help other groups or communities minded to do similar work, and also do justice to the powerful work in Lewes.

Some of the issues highlighted during the Feeling The Pinch project

What happened?

Over two months, 11 local residents with experience of financial struggle met fortnightly for workshops. They jointly explored challenges they faced and ways they had found to survive. They then moved on to identify the systemic problems underlying their experiences, and to develop recommendations for change.

The project culminated in an ‘Inequality Truth Hearing’ bringing the panelists together with representatives from local councils, the voluntary and statutory sectors.

The result was a fascinating and powerful discussion, with lots of lively, respectful interaction and generation of ideas for practical next steps.

Let’s hear from participants: What was the appeal for you in taking part? How did it go? What did people talk about ,and what did you get from it?

Participant 1:

“I have really enjoyed it, getting to know other people and knowing you are not the only one in this situation.

“When more people talk about it, it means you can talk more openly. The shame is not there. It makes the community less isolated. We’ve met people we might not meet in everyday life, and I’ve enjoyed that. 

“In Lewes, there are quite a lot of rich people but also hidden poor people. It’s nice to know you are not the only one.

“A common theme for a lot of people was that we were all carers. Being a carer for someone seems to be a significant reason for being in poverty, because you cannot earn.

“With the final session we had – It made them seem more human, the people in authority.”

Claire:

“I had picked up a leaflet at food bank, and was determined to attend and find out more, because I had had it up to my eyeballs with not being able to express how all this felt. 

“Being able to talk about it is part of the solution. I did not tell many people in my friendship group that I was going to a food bank, but when I was doing the workshops I started telling people I attended a food bank and I was doing these workshops.

“It’s given me a lot to talk about and think about. People are surprised when their own circle is being affected. Nobody was expecting a solution, but we keep the conversation going. 

“I found I was more relaxed with people experiencing the same issues. We were just all human beings, and didn’t have to keep explaining everything. 

“For the final session, everybody that could come, came. We were very determined to finish this project, and there were wonderful people to meet and speak to. When the participants spoke, we came across as the authorities of our own lives, with our own opinions. It was a much better atmosphere. We did not have a bunch of professionals telling us what to think, or say, or do. I felt like an equal. People are usually either amazed about you, or speak down to you. The conversation has to change.

“I do not want it to finish here. We are speaking to more people interested in how it was set up.

“More and more, I feel like I am the community. I am this country. The people I meet; we are ‘the country’. There are not special people who are ‘the country’, but we are not hearing enough from so many people. We need to look down the telescope, because it’s my country, it’s my Lewes, it’s my life.

Issues raised during the project

What happens next?

Ruby:

“We want to continue doing this work and expand it so we can allow it to become a natural part of how the council interacts with residents: authentic engagement, not just putting out requests for feedback – regular spaces for people to come together. We are engaging with the council and are fortunate that they want to see that embedded.

“Communities are suffering from the rising cost of living. Groups sprung up in covid and it was quite neighbourly, but with the cost of living it’s much more closed.”

Ruby, from Lewes Food District Partnership

What advice would you give to other groups looking to do work like this?

Ruby:

“Be okay about not having the time or resources you might want. Things like Poverty Truth Commissions can be long projects with hundreds of thousands of pounds. We felt a bit overwhelmed, but we would say ‘go for it’. 

“Make sure you talk to someone experienced around the ethics of it. We had Jane and sought advice. Don’t be overwhelmed and don’t think you have to do a huge thing. We prioritised having a clear, ethical guideline, and we are hoping to create a toolkit that other groups could use. If one project has done something really good, pass it on. 

“We made sure it wasn’t a case of “tell me all the shocking things that have happened in your life”. It was very strength-based. It’s about what we bring to the table.

“We didn’t want to put anyone on the spot, so it felt very natural – just a group of people sharing their thoughts and experiences. There was no feeling that people had to prove why they were there. It’s all about being human beings, around the table, and building connections.”

Claire:

“I’m quite big on the ethics. There was an ethical framework. Also, we always had a proper lunch – and we were paid. Our time is as valuable as anyone else’s, and there’s a dignity and respect in that.

“Also there was nothing attached to it like faith or religion, or what you used to be. We were all together. There was nothing attached to what we had to do.”

Participant 1:

“Because I was brought up very poor, and there was a lot of shame, I just do not want other people to be like that, spending their whole lives in shame. Just take the shame away. I want to be involved because I really feel quite passionate about it. I just want to keep going. I want other people to be able to make their own communities and feel they’re not on their own.”

Background

Lewes District Food Partnership  coordinated the project on behalf of the Emergency Food Network, which brings together different emergency and community food support projects across the district. Responding to network concerns about the lack of opportunity for ordinary people to share their experiences of financial hardship, the partnership successfully applied for a ‘participatory processes grant’ from national partners Sustainable Food Places which made the Feeling the Pinch project possible.
Lewes District Food Partnership work to connect communities and organisations to build better food systems for everyone. They are committed to including seldom heard voices in their movement to make Good Food for All a reality in Lewes District.

Ruby says: 

This work grew as an idea from the Emergency Food Network of foodbanks, community spaces and other projects that linked people with affordable or free food.

“People felt we were doing this work, but people were not being heard or asked their opinions. And it came from people saying they would like to see people’s stories amplified. We were fed up hearing people talk ‘on behalf’ of other people, especially politicians, and we were fed up hearing the same narratives around budgeting. 

“Recruitment was a lot of me going out to talk to people and projects. I went to social groups and coffee mornings aimed at reducing isolation and various key community food projects. I work directly with a Lewes food bank so could talk to people directly here as well. 

“The first session was getting to know each other and who lives in our household and what our situations were. 

“We had four sessions together then a final truth hearing. The four sessions looked at who we are, what matters to us, what needs to change and what we would like to say to politicians locally. For the final session, 25 community participants came along, with councillors, community groups, housing officers and more. That was a good day.”

Next steps

Through the success of the Feeling the Pinch project, organisers have secured funding to expand the project as part of a collaboration that brings together local and national food justice and support charities, networks and local authorities. The new ‘Pinch Points’ project, due to start in May, will host multiple, place-based work-shops that feed into a district-wide panel of experts by experience.

The Feeling the Pinch project is already having an impact in Lewes District. Responding to the project, Lewes District Council have committed to increasing opportunities for meaningful participation, recognising the expertise of residents with lived experience and moving towards more transparent, compassionate interactions with residents. They are currently working on a cost-of-living action plan that places Feeling the Pinch recommendations at its core.

Different types of organisations are also recognising the value of including resident experiences and recommendations in their work. For example, organisers are working with developers Human Nature and the Food Foundation on a Health and Food Strategy for a new housing development in Lewes.

Organisers hope to widen this influence through creative communications, for example, displaying the exhibition materials in public places.

Church Action on Poverty’s role

Church Action on Poverty launched the Speaking Truth To Power programme in 2022, supporting people with first-hand experience of poverty to become more effective advocates for change. Participants share skills and ideas with one another, and identify issues and possible actions together.

There’s a national panel and also local groups in Liverpool and Southwark, and we’ve been keen to support the roll-out elsewhere. So, when LDFP expressed interest in doing a like-minded piece of work, we were delighted. A couple of members of Church Action on Poverty’s staff team have provided some practical guidance at points during the process.

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We remember a Jesuit who was committed to hearing the cry of the poor.

Everyone at Church Action on Poverty was saddened to learn of the death in September 2023 of Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ.

During his time as provincial of the Jesuits in Britain, Campbell-Johnston was actively involved in Church Action on Poverty’s work. Most notably, he spoke at the launch of our declaration ‘Hearing the Cry of the Poor’, at Westminster Abbey in December 1989. 

That declaration committed Church Action on Poverty to “seek a new social order founded upon that vision and possibility of human wholeness which is contained in the Christian message and which speaks to all human experience”. Writing before the launch to Paul Goggins, Church Action on Poverty’s National Coordinator at the time, Fr Campbell-Johnston said:

“Six Jesuits in El Salvador died because they were working for justice and peace. Their death is a clear invitation to Christians in other countries to follow their example. When I too was working in El Salvador, the people would often say to me: ‘When you go back to your own country tell them that we here are poor and need help for food, clothes, educational equipment, etc. But more important, we would like the Christians in your country to know and understand why we are fighting for peace and justice. Most important of all, we would like to know that they themselves are committed to peace and justice in their own country. For then we would be truly brothers and sisters in Christ.’ This seems to me to be a clear invitation to become committed to justice issues in our own society here in the UK as an essential dimension of our service of the faith.”

Paul Goggins reported that at the launch, Fr Campbell-Johnston was challenged to admit that the declaration was effectively a Labour Party manifesto. “He replied that he would be delighted if the Labour party wanted to use it, equally he would be happy if Mrs Thatcher wanted to.”

Michael Campbell-Johnston (centre) at the launch of our declaration

Fr Campbell-Johnston also supported other Church Action on Poverty initiatives, for example playing a leading role in Christian opposition to the Poll Tax. He said, “I am concerned that this legislation does not reflect the principles of justice which should inform our society. I would urge members of all political parties to pay careful attention to the possible implications of this proposed legislation.”

Opposing the Poll Tax

Tackling UK poverty was just one of the ways Fr Cambell-Johnston stood up against poverty and oppression. Among may other things, he helped to found the Jesuit Refugee Service, and ran camps for displaced people during the civil war in El Salvador. Click here to read a full obituary.

Merseyside Pantries reach big milestone

Transforming the Jericho Road

Partner focus: Meet Community One Stop in Edinburgh

Thank you Pat! 40 years of compassionate action

Halifax voices: on housing, hope and scandalous costs

The UK doesn’t want demonising rhetoric – it wants to end poverty

Sheffield Civic Breakfast: leaders told about mounting pressures of poverty

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Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield: annual report 2023-24

SPARK newsletter summer 2024

Church on the Margins reports

Church Action on Poverty North East annual report 2022-24

6 people holding cut-out numbers, reading 150,000

Merseyside Pantries reach big milestone

Transforming the Jericho Road

A photo of two volunteers in Your Local Pantry aprons, beside a photo of two members shopping

Partner focus: Meet Community One Stop in Edinburgh

Church Action on Poverty's logo, beside a headshot of Stef Benstead

This is Church Action on Poverty's response to the 2023 Autumn Statement, from campaigner, researcher and writer Stef Benstead.

Stef is a trustee for Church Action on Poverty, author of Second Class Citizens: The Treatment of Disabled People in Austerity Britain, and a member of Manchester Poverty Truth Commission.

Church Action on Poverty's logo, beside a headshot of Stef Benstead

The Government has yet again come up with policy ideas that don’t match the reality of benefit recipients’ lives. Some of what they say sounds good until you realise what the actual issues are. Some of it only sounds good if you think that the right way to help people is to punish them into doing what you want.

A lot of it is very frustrating to anyone who has read the Government’s own research, because their policies tend to be the opposite of what their research says.

Aerial view of Houses of Parliament

Government needs to learn the realities of Universal Credit

The Government is saying it will kick people off all support, if they are on an open-ended sanction for six months and don’t get any money for housing or other issues in their Universal Credit. In their head, I imagine they are thinking of young adults living with their parents, and these young adults are just not bothering to look for work. 

Actually a lot of these young people may already not be claiming benefits at all! Instead the people the Government are talking about could be people who are living in temporary accommodation, B&Bs, hostels, refuges, or sheltered or supported accommodation. They might be sick or disabled, but not have this recognised by Universal Credit because they’re not deemed ill or disabled enough. They might have shared caring duties, but again not have it recognised by Universal Credit because the other carer is claiming those duties on their benefits.

Precisely because their extra challenges aren’t recognised by Universal Credit, these people can be some of our most vulnerable. And now the Government is saying it wants to make these people’s lives even harder by kicking them off benefits completely, just because the challenges of their lives make it difficult for them to do anything and everything a work coach might decide to impose on them.

A screenshot of the Universal Credit website

Government has responsibilities

The Government wants to force people to take unpaid work placements at private companies. The Government tried this ten years ago, and it went down really badly. The public objected to the idea that private companies should profit off forced labour in this way, and that jobseekers should be forced to take low-skill, entry-level activity instead of doing meaningful activity like volunteering. It is crazy that the Government is trying to reintroduce such a bad idea.

The whole ethos of Government ought to be about building an economy with enough jobs and where jobs are decent, and where we look after people rather than making people’s lives as poor and miserable as possible in the belief that this will somehow create enough jobs, and the right sorts of jobs, in the right places. Government likes to talk about rights and responsibilities – let’s talk about the Government’s responsibility to make sure there is a decent standard of living for everyone.

Government should value volunteering

For people seeking work, I’d love to see a Government that valued and prioritised volunteering. One option would be for the Government to treat every hour of volunteering as two hours’ of jobsearch when it comes to applying conditions to jobseekers. This would recognise that people want to work and want to make a meaningful contribution to their community and society. It would recognise that actually, doing 35 hours of jobsearch every week for weeks on end is pretty meaningless and de-skilling, and helps no-one. 

Valuing volunteering would benefit communities, by having useful activity carried out that otherwise doesn’t get done. It would benefit jobseekers, by giving them meaning and purpose in their life, and allowing them to practice skills that could actually lead to a decent job. The Government should be actively pursuing ways to enable jobseekers to engage in voluntary activity like that. It should be the key stream of the job-related support that they offer. 

For people who are too sick or disabled to be able to support themselves through paid work, it is more than time that the Government recognised that we actually exist. It is so frustrating to see the Government complain that we aren’t forced to look for work, when all of the Government’s own research shows that people who are less sick still really struggle to get and maintain paid work. 

A volunteer taking potatoes from a sack in a community pantry

We need the freedom to manage our lives

The Government complains that we’ve been abandoned, when actually the freedom to manage our lives in accordance with our health needs – and not in accordance with the demands of a paid job – is so important.

The Government should be declaring that it wants to enable sick and disabled people to live a fulfilled life, and that it will support us in whatever activity we can engage in – voluntary work; community or religious participation; taking part in family life – and that it will ensure we can access timely, quality healthcare. This does not mean more CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy).

A challenge to Christians and churches

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

To Christians, I want to say that God is very clear that He expects leaders to look out for the people they lead. Ezekiel 34 is a whole chapter condemning selfish shepherds and fat sheep for abusing the weak, sick, and injured and for acting harshly and brutally. God frequently pulls leaders up for not acting to ensure justice and the wellbeing of the poor. Government should be looking out for people in society who are struggling and making sure people in power are not exploiting others.

The society that God set up for his people was one that made sure people always had access to a home and a means to live. God used laws around debt, interest, employment, and Jubilee to ensure that everyone was provided for.

The principle is a society making sure everyone has a stable home to live in and a means of income, through work or other financial support. These are principles that Christians should be calling for and pressing Government to provide. Governments have failed to do this for decades and this is a matter of justice. Churches should be challenging Governments when they fail.

Merseyside Pantries reach big milestone

Transforming the Jericho Road

Partner focus: Meet Community One Stop in Edinburgh

Thank you Pat! 40 years of compassionate action

Halifax voices: on housing, hope and scandalous costs

The UK doesn’t want demonising rhetoric – it wants to end poverty

Sheffield Civic Breakfast: leaders told about mounting pressures of poverty

Artists perform for change in Manchester

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield: annual report 2023-24

SPARK newsletter summer 2024

Church on the Margins reports

Church Action on Poverty North East annual report 2022-24

Stories that challenge: Sarah and Rosie’s health

Dreams & Realities: welcome to an incredible exhibition

Building hopes and dreams in Bootle

6 people holding cut-out numbers, reading 150,000

Merseyside Pantries reach big milestone

Transforming the Jericho Road

A photo of two volunteers in Your Local Pantry aprons, beside a photo of two members shopping

Partner focus: Meet Community One Stop in Edinburgh