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A pen drawning of Portobello Beach in Edinburgh, by Don from Leith Pantry

Pantry member Don tells us how he and Your Local Pantry helped him have helped each another

A pen drawning of Portobello Beach in Edinburgh, by Don from Leith Pantry

Your Local Pantries are making an amazing difference to people’s lives, in all four nations of the UK.

From Portadown to Portsmouth, Edinburgh to Ebbw Vale, Pantries are bringing people together around food and helping people forge friendships and freedom, to live more full lives.

Pantries are about so much more than food.

We were delighted recently to chat to Donald, a member at Leith Pantry in Edinburgh and a talented artist.

Some of his pictures are now on display in the Pantry, for members and volunteers to enjoy.

A pen drawning of the church that houses Leith Pantry, by Pantry member Don

Donald, who is 66 and recently retired, says:

“I’ve been painting and drawing my whole life. I worked in graphic design at first, then in advertising, in Edinburgh then London then Amsterdam.

“Unfortunately, throughout my life, I have had mental health issues based on my childhood. I have suffered depression really badly.

“About six years ago, I was staying in Holland got really depressed and ended up homeless. I ended up back in Edinburgh and needing to use the food bank. And then they told me about the Pantry.

“I joined just as it was opening a year or so ago, and it was really nice. I go every week. The free vegetables and fruit is great. I’m on a limited income, so I was buying processed food as it’s cheaper, but it’s not as good for you.

“Since joining, I’ve been feeling a bit better and I have been off my medication for the first time in six years.

“It’s improved my diet and I have finally been getting good treatment from the NHS.

“A big part of that improvement has been thanks to Leith Pantry.

“I wanted to give something back, and what I do best is drawing and painting. So I brought a picture in one day and the manager Ann liked it, and now there are five or six on the walls – some of scenes in Leith and Edinburgh, and one of the church where the Pantry is. 

A bright painting of Leith Links, by Don from Leith Pantry

“The Pantry contributed to me feeling better and being able to do my art again, and that in turn helps my mood further.

“I went to the food bank first, but at the Pantry you have choice, which is important. You can choose what you want.

“You also get the good social contacts. It’s well run and they’re always very cheery and I look forward to it every week.”

83% of Your Local Pantry members say membership has been good for their mental health
A blue bunting flag with the Coop and Your Local Pantry logos
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Niall Cooper's headshot, alongside the Yorkshire Post and Let's End Poverty logos.

This year is a chance to reassert what we want for the country. The huge majority of us want to end poverty… Niall Cooper says: Let’s make ourselves heard!

This week, I have had the privilege of speaking with community activists and advocates from across the country.

Colleagues and I have been in workshops and conversations with people from all over England – from York and Halifax in Yorkshire, to Lewes and Epsom in the south, to Liverpool and Manchester across the Pennines.

A signpost pointing forward to "Hope" in large letters, with "despair" in smaller text pointing the opposite way

I’ve been struck time and again by their compassion for their communities, but above all by their hope for change.

In this General Election year, there is hope that the voices that have long been drowned out might be heard and heeded, and that change can start happening.

Might this be the year when politicians take seriously the cost of living scandal that has caused millions more people to be pushed into poverty across the UK? 

More than that, might it be the year when they recapture ambition and make ending UK poverty a real priority? 

And might it be the year when politicians of all parties remember the UK’s international commitments, and renew our efforts to at least halve global poverty by 2030?

I believe it can, and the good news is we can all play our part. I’m buoyed by that knowledge, and by the powerful pockets of belief and resolve that I see in so many communities.

Politicians don't lead - they follow

A 'polling station' sign

Over the coming months, thousands of General Election candidates will be seeking votes, and should be asking us what we want. 

The theologian Jim Wallis jokes that you can always spot a politician walking down the street, because they have their finger in the air, to test which way the wind is blowing.

There is truth in that. The American activist and congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says the same: “People think of elected office as being a leadership position, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s a position of following, because oftentimes it’s only when things are made politically expedient, or politically inconvenient to disagree with, that you actually start seeing this movement happen.”

Let's channel the public compassion

If that’s the case, then our challenge is to change the prevailing political winds, to harness and articulate the public will so clearly and powerfully that it becomes irresistible.

The exciting thing about that is that we are all powerful. We can all play a part – whether by sending a postcard, email or handwritten letter to our MPs or prospective MPs, mobilising the groups we belong to, or seeking out the positive, hope-filled conversations, rather than being drawn into divisive rhetoric.

A weather vane in the shape of a sailing ship

Movements always change the wind

Popular movements throughout history have always changed the wind. Countless small actions – gutsy gusts by individual people – have combined into powerful storms that swept away injustices and allowed brighter days to dawn. We saw progress that way in the civil rights movement in the last century, and in campaigns for marriage equality in this country in recent years.

Many conversations in the election season will focus only on individual policy proposals. Indeed, there are some excellent campaigns calling for very specific changes, such as the Everyday Essentials campaign backed by Joseph Rowntree Foundation and The Trussell Trust.

9 in 10 Brits want more to be done to tackle poverty

But if we don’t speak up about what we truly want as a society, about our long-term national aspirations, then politicians will keep delaying action on tackling poverty.

Both main parties have said they won’t commit to more public investment in the short-term. If we shrug our shoulders, then our politicians will keep prioritising easier, shorter-term actions that may deal temporarily with some symptoms of poverty, but never tackle it at the root.

That is not what the country wants. None of us is happy seeing our neighbours or fellow citizens struggling in poverty, locked out of the places and opportunities that should belong to us all. Polling has shown deep unease with the level of inequality in the UK.  Almost nine in ten Brits want more to be done to tackle poverty.

Poverty: an outrage and a scandal

Poverty is an outrage, and it is a consequence of political choices and inactions. Powerful politicians have overlooked poverty’s root causes for far too long. They have allowed this current cost of living scandal to harm countless lives. And around the world, poverty prevents millions of individuals and communities from fulfilling their potential.

The good news is that as we start 2024, a growing number of people and organisations across the country are coming together as part of Let’s End Poverty, a broad campaign that seeks to ensure ending poverty is an issue for whoever is elected in the coming General Election. 

Anyone aspiring to represent us needs to make tackling poverty a priority. In line with our existing commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, this should include setting out clear plans to eradicate extreme poverty and reduce overall poverty by at least half, in both the UK and globally by 2030. 

We have the power!

The public will is there. Let’s now harness that as the wind in the sails of change.

We have the power to create this change, especially in an election year. 

What might happen if every church or organisation that has spent the past few years supporting foodbanks and other projects to meet the immediate needs in our communities began speaking up? 

What might happen if every candidate on the campaign trail was repeatedly questioned about where poverty stood on their list of priorities?

What might happen if every candidate received 100, 200, even 500 postcards from potential voters, saying: “I want to end poverty and I want you to make it a priority.”

  • We would start to see, and be, the winds of change. 
  • We would change what the political parties saw as priorities. 
  • We would start to shift how much prominence the next Government gave to tackling poverty. 
  • And we would change the country for the better. 

Let’s find out!

A version of this article is published in The Yorkshire Post on 26th January 2024. 

Niall Cooper is chief executive of Church Action on Poverty.

 

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Are we close to seeing a landmark legal change?

For the past few years, growing numbers of people and groups have been calling for a legal change in the UK, which could make a huge difference to the way big decisions are made.

Section 1 of the Equality Act says public authorities should consider how their policies and key decisions will increase or decrease inequalities. This is called the ‘socioeconomic duty’ – but it has never been enacted nationally, so councils and Government departments are not yet bound by it.

Change may be imminent – but it’s vital that it is done properly.

A lengthy campaign

Poverty2Solutions, a coalition of grassroots groups and academic expertise, launched its campaign on the issue in 2019, and has helped develop a good practice guide for councils. 

It has called on successive Governments to “do your duty for equality” by making the duty legal.

The group calls for: 

  • Enactment of the socioeconomic duty under section 1 of the Equality Act.
  • Safeguarding the intention of the duty by ensuring guidance on best practice implementation and monitoring is developed in partnership with people who have lived experience of socio-economic disadvantage.

Poverty2Solutions says: “We are determined to break through outdated policy development approaches by using participatory methods that prioritise people at the core.”

Potential for change

Labour has indicated it will enact the duty if it wins the next Election.

Poverty2Solutions says: “We welcome the commitments in the Labour Party’s policy handbook to ‘enact the socioeconomic duty under section 1 of the Equality Act’ and embrace the positive development that would create a legal imperative for public authorities to pay ‘due regard’ to the desirability of reducing the inequalities caused by socio-economic disadvantage and poverty in their policy making and budgetary decisions.

“This would help to drive forward better policies and services and ultimately create a fairer society. 

“Simply passing the duty into law, however, will not in itself lead to better policy-making and fairer outcomes. This would simply be the first step in a longer and more ambitious journey.

“We believe that in order to ensure the duty has the transformative approach intended by the spirit of the law, it is crucial that guidance on best practice implementation and monitoring is developed in partnership with people who have lived experience of socio-economic disadvantage.”

Meaningful change, not box-ticking

The group says the duty should lead to meaningful changes in approach, rather than “tick-box exercises”, and says partnership work on developing the duty should include some key principles: 

  • Recognising that the knowledge about how best to enact the duty is held in communities who have lived experience of socio-economic disadvantage.
  • Understanding that meaningful involvement is not about gathering a thousand stories, but about understanding the collective experience, truthfully represented.
  • Accepting that real success comes when there is a bringing together of different types of expertise (lived experience and other expertise such as statistical analysis or policy knowledge) through collaboration and co-production. 

Poverty2Solutions is stepping up its work on this issue this year. To contact the group or find out more, visit www.poverty2solutions.org/

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

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Senior leaders from churches and charities have called on politicians to take urgent action on rising poverty in the UK and around the world.

In a joint statement released today (Friday 5 January 2024), senior Christian leaders – including the General Secretary of Churches Together in England, President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference and senior leaders of development agencies Christian Aid, CAFOD and Tearfund – have said “the human cost of failing to take action now is too big and too damaging to ignore”.

The statement goes on to say poverty is “a consequence of political choices and priorities”, and with a General Election on the horizon, “this year must mark the beginning of the end for poverty”. 

Signatories are calling on political leaders to set out clear plans to eradicate extreme poverty and halve overall poverty by 2030, in the UK and globally. 

Church Action on Povetry is among the signatories. Patrick Watt, CEO of Christian Aid and another signatory, said:

“For millions of people this new year has been marked by poverty and desperation. Regardless of the causes of poverty, and whether it’s hitting people internationally or in the UK, the effects are strikingly similar. Partners and churches describe its crushing effect on people’s dignity and life chances, and its damage to the social fabric. The choices we make collectively about how to tackle poverty, both domestically and internationally, matter. As we approach a General Election, we’re hearing far too little from political parties about their ambition to end poverty, and build the common good. We must not let another year slip by while poverty rises. That’s why we’re coming together at this moment, to call for urgent action to address the causes of poverty, here and around the world.”

The statement is a clear demonstration of solidarity between agencies and churches working to tackle poverty globally and in the UK. 

Revd Gill Newton, President of the Methodist Conference, said:

“Poverty around the world may look different in its material and social consequences. But what remains the same is the indignity, fear and isolation it causes for individuals, families and communities, wherever they are. As Christians, our commitment to tackle poverty alongside our global neighbours or within our local communities here in the UK is not in competition – we’re not prepared to pit one against the other in a game of political or economic tactics. Our political leaders must not be either. We need to see more ambition, commitment and practical action to tackle poverty wherever it exists as we approach the next General Election.”

In the statement, the churches and charities also signal their intention to work together throughout 2024 to mobilise church members to “put poverty on the agenda through practical action, prophetic words and courageous campaigning.” 

As part of this, Christian Aid, the Trussell Trust, Church Action on Poverty and the Joint Public Issues Team of the Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Churches have released Act on Poverty – a six-week resource for church groups to explore the impacts of poverty around the world and in the UK and take action ahead of the General Election. Designed for use during Lent or later in 2024, the resource brings campaigners from the UK and global contexts into dialogue about the differences and similarities between their visions for an end to poverty where they are.

Bishop Mike Royal, General Secretary of Churches Together in England, said:

“We want to see action on poverty now, and political leaders need to know our ambition for change. I encourage church communities to come together and share with election candidates why tackling poverty should be a priority.”

And Stef Benstead, a trustee of Church Action on Poverty who contributed to the Act on Poverty resource, said:

“We know that it is politically possible to end poverty in any society. God told his people that if they followed the laws he gave them for running their country, there would be no poor people among them. That was a time without major technological advancement, yet it was still held to be possible for everyone to have a stable home and sufficient means to access food, clothing, other essentials, and social participation. According to the prophets, poverty occurred because there was injustice and a failure by the leaders of the country to enact policies that guaranteed a minimum living standard for everyone. Christians across the UK and the world should have the confidence to call on our leaders, in the name of God, to act now to end poverty.”

Charities and groups focusing on rising poverty in the UK are supporting the new Let’s End Poverty movement, aimed at bringing together a diverse movement of people calling on political leaders to end poverty in the UK for good.

The full statement

We believe that poverty is a scandal, the root causes of which have been neglected by our political leaders in the UK Parliament for too long. As this new year begins, the cost of living scandal is clearly not over for the poorest people in the UK. Around the world, poverty holds too many individuals and communities back from fulfilling their potential.

But we know that poverty is not inevitable – it’s a consequence of political choices and priorities. With a General Election on the horizon, we call on our political leaders to make tackling poverty a priority. In line with our existing commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, this should include setting out clear plans to eradicate extreme poverty and reduce overall poverty by at least half, in both the UK and globally by 2030. 

Whilst our work to tackle poverty in the UK and around the world takes different forms, we are united in our belief that the human cost of failing to take action now is too big and too damaging to ignore. This year must mark the beginning of the end for poverty. 

Inspired by our faith, we believe in a future where everyone has an equal share in the world’s resources. Where everyone has enough to eat. Where all of us are able to wake up in the morning with hope, opportunities and options for living a fulfilling life. 

This year, our Churches and Christian charities are committed to putting poverty on the agenda through practical action, prophetic words and courageous campaigning. Our elected politicians need to take responsibility too. Now is the time for action. 

Signed by: 

Christine Allen, Executive Director of CAFOD
Bishop John Arnold, Bishop of Salford
Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty 
Revd Lynn Green, General Secretary, The Baptist Union of Great Britain
Nigel Harris, CEO of Tearfund
Revd Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson, Moderator of General Assembly, United Reformed Church
Emma Jackson, Public Life and Social Justice Group Convener, The Church of Scotland
Revd Gill Newton and Kerry Scarlett, President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference 
Kate Nightingale, Deputy CEO, St Vincent de Paul Society
Commissioners Jenine and Paul Main, Territorial Leaders, The Salvation Army UK and Ireland
Stewart McCulloch, Chief Executive of Christians Against Poverty UK
Paul Parker, Recording Clerk, Quakers in Britain
Bishop Mike Royal, General Secretary, Churches Together in England
Right Revd Mary Stallard, Bishop of Llandaff
Most Revd Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness, and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.
Patrick Watt, CEO, Christian Aid

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