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SPARK newsletter summer 2024

Click on the right to download the summer 2024 issue of our newsletter for supporters of Church Action on Poverty.

SPARK newsletter winter 2023-24

Act On Poverty – a Lent programme about tackling UK and global poverty

SPARK newsletter autumn 2023

Building hopes and dreams in Bootle

"What drives me is people and community. I am passionate about equality and want to see that here in Linacre ward."

Jo Seddon at St Leonard's in Bootle
Jo outside St Leonard's Youth and Community Centre in Bootle

All over the UK, tenacious and compassionate people are helping make change happen in their communities. This blog takes us to Bootle, near Liverpool, where there are big challenges but bright ideas.

Jo has a dream – but it’s not for herself. It’s for her community, the residents she sees every day, and for the children of the future.

Her dream is that local youngsters will dream big, and start to have bolder, brighter hopes.

A recent survey of local people here in Linacre Ward, Bootle, commissioned by local social landlords, found that young people’s ambitions were notably more local and pragmatic than elsewhere.

St Leonard's Youth and Community Centre in Bootle

An over-riding vision of hope

“It was quite clear that the aspirations here were about local issues and safety,” says Jo.

“It wasn’t about people wanting to be astronauts or to go traveling, like in other places. People’s aspirations were to have a warm house or a clean safe park. 

“The vision overriding all of this is hope. In ten years, I would like local kids to have very different answers when asked their aspirations for their life.” 

What happens at St Leonard's

Jo is helping to drive that transformation, by linking up with other like-minded hopers and changers. She joined a recent Speaking Truth To Power training session and is now working to build local people power in Bootle, towards a better future. 

Jo is a community development worker at St Leonard’s Youth and Community Centre in Bootle, which provides wide-ranging support and friendship to local people.

She leads weekly groups including a craft hub, local weekly guided walks, a women’s space group and a men’s space group (growing numbers of local men are struggling with living and mental health).

11 people in a line on a path, among some trees
Members of the St Leonard's walking group in Derby Park, Bootle

Jo also promotes regular cookery courses at St Leonard’s, a weekly community lunch and helps support people to access an in-house benefits advisor and onward referrals. St Leonard’s operates a weekly foodbank and Your Local Pantry and also offers over-55’s activities. 

She also supports lots of people who present at St Leonard’s in crisis and helps them access the most appropriate services or support.

This could include people in fuel or food crisis, debt, housing or health issues. Jo also recruits volunteers (people who have previously accessed St Leonard’s for help) to help support the range of activities on offer.

"We don't want to do something new if it doesn't empower people"

“We regularly hear of the challenges pre and post pandemic, in the local community; inadequate housing, debts and money difficulties, unemployment, and issues around basic public services. 

“People tell us they feel undervalued and ignored by local provider services and regularly speak about their frustrations with regard to their local environment; refuse collection, fly tipping, pest control and street cleansing. 

“People have unaddressed environmental issues outside their front doors and are struggling financially. We had one woman here saying she felt like she was feeding the meters more than the children. 

“I was born and brought up in Waterloo, so a near neighbour of Bootle. I can walk a short distance from here and be in a really wealthy area where rich footballers live, but here there is real poverty. Sefton is strange like that – a single street can separate wealth and poverty.

“What we really want to do came out of the Pantry, and us wanting to do Speaking Truth To Power. We want a community forum where people can come and offload if they need to, but we want to do it in particular way and place that then has the task of trying to address these challenges.

“Last year local registered social landlords commissioned a consultation of ‘The Poet’s Streets’ around here (streets named after poets). A lot of people were bringing different challenges, but not talking about what they themselves might be able to do, or finding confidence and power within themselves to address challenges or difficulties.

“We don’t want to do something new if it doesn’t empower people. I want people to have the resources, and to take things on.

“The men’s space and women’s space and craft group have generated friendships and power that have evolved beyond what we do here. It has spread way beyond St Leonard’s. So now if someone is ill or in hospital or low, then other people have provided support mechanisms that have grown out of the groups here.”

Gathering ideas & power together

About a dozen people, sitting in a circle in a training room, with a projector screen at the front.
A Speaking Truth To Power training day in Manchester in January 2024.

The Speaking Truth to Power programme aims to support people in low-income neighbourhoods to jointly harness local insight, expertise and resolve, to tackle challenges and injustices together.

In August, emerging leaders gathered in Manchester to learn new approaches, and share ideas, and Jo was among them.

She began working in the voluntary sector in the early 80’s working for different charities locally, regionally and nationally, mainly in the areas of mental health and social inclusion. Jo then chose to come back to her home patch.

She says: “What drives me is people and community. I am passionate about equality and want to see that here in Linacre ward where local residents can have something more to hope and aspire to.

“I like working in the community. It’s a privilege. Everything we do is a real privilege. We are involved in people’s lives every day and people trust us to disclose some uncomfortable and challenging things, and it’s a privilege. We are making a difference every day, helping give people hope. 

“I don’t know if the phrase ‘Truth To Power’ will resonate with people here, so we are trying to come up with the right name.

“But I’ve spoken to a lot of people here and in the food bank and asked if they would like to be involved, and the answer was an overwhelming yes. It might look at neighbourhood litter or crime or domestic issues or rats but we want to take it a step further, so our work is enabling people to move forward and address things.”

About 12 people in a group, with Liverpool Anglican Cathedral in the background
A group from St Leonard's outside Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral

Bootle 10 years from now...

“Ten years from now, I would like to see a real financially healthy, viable Linacre ward, where there are prospects for young families and children. We talk to a lot of families and in the “cradle to career” surveys we talked a lot about prospects for young children, how they can get a good schooling and a journey to a career.

“The majority of people here are unemployed. I would like to see people with young children being given the right support earlier on, with access to schools and nursery services, and access to community mental health services. Mental health is a big challenge here.

“I would like people to have the power to challenge things, to be able to challenge the powers that be, whether that’s social housing providers, private landlords, the council etc.

“I would like to see a healthier, vibrant Linacre ward, where people are happy to live.” 

A sermon for Church Action on Poverty Sunday

Stories that challenge: Emma’s road to church

Sheffield voices: We need higher incomes and more for young people

Cost of living scandal: 7 truly useful church responses

Stories that challenge: Alan & Ben

7 ways a Your Local Pantry could help YOUR community in 2024

Artist Don: How Leith Pantry has helped ease my depression

Are we set for a landmark legal change on inequality?

SPARK newsletter winter 2023-24

Let’s say what we truly want society to look like – Let’s End Poverty

Charity and church leaders call for urgent action on rising poverty in the UK and around the world

New Year’s Honour for inspiring campaigner Penny

Meet our five new trustees

Feeding Britain & YLP: Raising dignity, hope & choice with households

Parkas, walking boots, and action for change: Sheffield’s urban poverty pilgrimage

Dreamers Who Do: North East event for Church Action on Poverty Sunday 2024

Autumn Statement: Stef & Church Action on Poverty’s response

Act On Poverty – a Lent programme about tackling UK and global poverty

How 11 people spoke truth to power in Sussex

Obituary: Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ

A posed group photo for the Neighbourhood Voices event at YMCA North Staffordshire in Stoke

Stoke voices: We want opportunity and hope

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

Merseyside Pantries reach big milestone

Transforming the Jericho Road

Dreams & Realities: welcome to an incredible exhibition

Learn the story of Dreams & Realities, and the stories behind it

A powerful new art exhibition has been launched, telling the stories and aspirations of people in poverty.

Dreams & Realities is on display at St Mary’s Church in Sheffield, and will then go on tour as part of the Let’s End Poverty campaign.

Dreams & Realities of people's lives

Stephen Martin, a local artist, has painted acrylic portraits of nine people living in poverty in Sheffield, including himself.

Each picture shows the person, something that depicts their economic reality, and something that represents the dreams and ambitions they would pursue if they were not held back by poverty and unjust systems.

The project has been coordinated by Yo Tozer-Loft, who runs a community choir at St Mary’s, with support from Church Action on Poverty.

Three of the portraits on the wall

Yo says:

“I really hope the paintings show the reality for a lot of people in this country. There are still a lot of people constrained to live on the front line of poverty and I really hope this project shows their humanity by their dreams. All humans have dreams and as humans together we should enable each other’s dreams, and Governments should enable the health and the dreams of the people they govern.”

————

Stephen's story

Stephen’s self-portrait includes a wellbeing journal, which has helped him with his mental health.

The background is black, as the electrical circuits in Stephen’s home blew more than ten years ago, so he has lived without electricity ever since. His income is only £340 a month.

Stephen says:

“Just being on benefits, I feel the pinch come the end of the month. It’s a struggle just to get by day by day, so I hope the message we’re putting over in this exhibition about poverty does have an effect in the General Election campaign and it does become a major issue within the election.”

————

Dreams & Realities: The launch

A shot from upstairs of the choir singing in St Mary's Bramall Lane

The exhibition was launched at St Mary’s in March, at a special celebratory concert, which also included the choir singing Disney songs.

The initial response to the paintings was incredible, with many people deeply moved by the stories, and encouraged to get involved in the Let’s End Poverty campaign.

The people behind the paintings

Wayne stands in front of his portrait
Wayne in front of his portrait at the Dreams & Realities launch.

The stories in the exhibition are deep and diverse.

For instance, Wayne, who is homeless and who supports people hit hard by the cost of living scandal, dreams of empowering others to overcome issues such as racial injustice and homeless.

Liudmyla moved to Sheffield as a refugee from Ukraine, and the school where she had taught was bombed in the war. Her dream is to gain English teaching qualifications so she can resume teaching, but the great uncertainty around the war and her right to stay in England are represented in the painting by a crystal ball.

  • More detail on all the individual stories is included in the exhibition.
  • Dreams & Realities will be on display at St Mary’s Church, Bramall Lane, Sheffield, until the end of April. See the church website for opening hours.
  • The exhibition will then tour nationally in support of the Let’s End Poverty campaign. 

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

This outrageous, counter-productive Budget marginalises people with least

A sermon for Church Action on Poverty Sunday

Stories that challenge: Emma’s road to church

Sheffield voices: We need higher incomes and more for young people

Cost of living scandal: 7 truly useful church responses

Stories that challenge: Alan & Ben

7 ways a Your Local Pantry could help YOUR community in 2024

Artist Don: How Leith Pantry has helped ease my depression

Are we set for a landmark legal change on inequality?

SPARK newsletter winter 2023-24

Let’s say what we truly want society to look like – Let’s End Poverty

A posed group photo for the Neighbourhood Voices event at YMCA North Staffordshire in Stoke

Stoke voices: We want opportunity and hope

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

Merseyside Pantries reach big milestone

Transforming the Jericho Road

This outrageous, counter-productive Budget marginalises people with least

This is Church Action on Poverty’s statement on the 2024 Budget. It includes the views of our expert advisors with direct current experience of poverty.

Church Action on Poverty's logo, alongside the Houses of Parliament

The 2024 Budget further punishes and marginalises people on the lowest incomes, and is outrageous and counter-productive.

That’s the message from social justice campaigners with Church Action on Poverty.

Recent Budgets have rarely provided adequate support or good news for people on low incomes, despite polling showing that 88% of the British public think more should be done to tackle poverty.

Further cuts to public services will harm communities and people who are most likely to need public systems such as health services, libraries, social housing, public transport, and children’s and youth centres.

Calculations by Church Action on Poverty indicate a two-parent family on £60,000 a year will be about £3,100 better off a year as a result of the Budget and Autumn statement, including cuts to National Insurance and the increases to child benefit given only to higher income households, whereas the childcare assistant or teaching assistant charged with looking after their children on a starting salary of £14.500 will be a grand total of £80 better off. 

How can this be right? 

And someone unable to work due to disability or caring responsibilities will not be better off by a single penny. How can this be right?

Our advisers, all of whom have direct current experience of poverty, have called for a more just tax system, action to fix the UK’s broken housing system; and investment in a long-term future for everyone rather than short-term tweaks.

A headshot of Stef Benstead ,with a quote: "When they are spending money, it should be to help poorer people, not funding tax cuts for richer people."

Stef Benstead said:

“I would want them to be increasing taxes on the wealthiest people so they can fund social care and health care properly. When they are spending money, it should be to help poorer people, not funding tax cuts for richer people.

“The Chancellor’s supporters say countries with low taxes grow fastest, but that’s only in the short term, because you then have a bust. IMF research has shown that the more equal countries grow fastest in the long term because they do not have that bust afterwards.

“We need to look at what makes for steady long-term growth. The answer is to reduce inequality. Data shows we could be much more equal – more equal than Scandinavian countries – and still improve growth. We need to look at what makes for long-term growth, and the way to do that is taxing the very richest, because they currently take too much for themselves.

“It’s not a matter of punishing wealth, but of deterring rich people from over-paying themselves excessively while their staff are struggling on low pay.”

Tracy Porter said:

“We need to commit to meaningful co-production policies with people who have experienced the impact of previous policies.

“I would also like to see more done to increase digital inclusion. So many people have not got the same access, and that means their opportunities are limited, whereas if they had equal access then people could achieve more.

“It affects young people at school and also older people, who maybe are told to use technology to do tasks and send things. It’s not just about having the technology, but also knowing how to use it.

“It is estimated that it costs around £120,000 to raise a child to the age of 18. £120,000 is a lot of money for any household, but if you find yourself unfortunate enough to be at the bottom of the economic scale it becomes even more difficult to provide the basic essentials for that child to flourish.

“A lot of families, in reality, have very few choices. Some families have a disability, learning difficulty or mental health issue, some have to cope with all of these things as well as raising a child to the best of their abilities.

“Without fair access, children can quickly fall behind and the gap between what they and their peers can achieve grows ever wider. Enter the cost of living crisis and the cracks that were already there, become chasms that are swallowing families up.”

A headshot of Wayne Green, with the quote: "We need to act on housing, instead of MPs seeking to water down policies like evictions laws."

Wayne Green said:

“A wealth tax is needed. We need an asset tax. Once you earn more than £250,000 you pay less tax as you can afford to invest in assets and shares. If you had something like a 3 percentage point tax increase on offshore wealth, it could pay for so much – it could pay much of our national debt off.

“The very wealthiest people have millions or billions. There is an imbalance – we should be taxing the super rich and investing in this country long-term.”

“We need a better form of community tax. It does not work properly. And we need to act on housing, instead of MPs seeking to water down policies like eviction laws.”

Wayne had said he would be worried about the ending of the Household Support Fund, which he had said would be outrageous. In the Budget, it was extended by only six months.

A headshot of Mary Passeri with a quote reading: "I think the rich are going to keep on getting richer, but if you are on a low income it disproportionately badly affects you."

Mary Passeri said:

“I think the rich are going to keep on getting richer, but if you are on a low income it disproportionately badly affects you.”

Alisha Barton said:

“I think it will make no positive difference to me, and cutting National Insurance inherently means a cut to public services.”

Sydnie Corley said:

“What needs to really change is the difference in income when you try to get back into work, or into more work. I am part time and if I go over the income thresholds, I lose everything else suddenly.”

Contributors to this article are member of Church Action on Poverty’s Speaking Truth To Power programe.

  • Stef Benstead is advisor on disability and social security, and also the author of Second Class Citizens: The Treatment of Disabled People in Austerity Britain.
  • Tracy Porter is a trustee and digital inclusion advisor.
  • Wayne Green is advisor on unemployment, social security and policy.

Stories that challenge: Sarah and Rosie’s health

Dreams & Realities: welcome to an incredible exhibition

Building hopes and dreams in Bootle

This outrageous, counter-productive Budget marginalises people with least

A sermon for Church Action on Poverty Sunday

Stories that challenge: Emma’s road to church

Sheffield voices: We need higher incomes and more for young people

Cost of living scandal: 7 truly useful church responses

Stories that challenge: Alan & Ben

7 ways a Your Local Pantry could help YOUR community in 2024

Artist Don: How Leith Pantry has helped ease my depression

Are we set for a landmark legal change on inequality?

SPARK newsletter winter 2023-24

Let’s say what we truly want society to look like – Let’s End Poverty

Charity and church leaders call for urgent action on rising poverty in the UK and around the world

New Year’s Honour for inspiring campaigner Penny

A posed group photo for the Neighbourhood Voices event at YMCA North Staffordshire in Stoke

Stoke voices: We want opportunity and hope

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

Merseyside Pantries reach big milestone

Transforming the Jericho Road

Sheffield voices: We need higher incomes and more for young people

Welcome to the first of our new Neighbourhood Voices stories, featuring people in north Sheffield.

Mt Tabor Methodist Church in Sheffield, with a "Neighbourhood Voices" logo superimposed.

We’re at Parson Cross in Sheffield, on a Tuesday morning.

Mt Tabor Methodist Church opens its doors to the community most days of the week, providing food, friendship and warmth.

Tuesday in particular is a food-focused day. There’s a social cafe, a light lunch, and an evening meal, and people who need some bits and bobs to take away can do so.

Regulars and volunteers know the community inside out, and know what has changed – and what needs to change. 

A notice board with various pieces of art and food-related notices

Meet Bryan...

“I have been coming here for 12 years. I like coming here because I know people, and everyone is all right with you here, and you can have a chat and a drink and a bite to eat.

“I do the community allotment as well on Wednesdays. We grow lots of veg, and share it out and what’s left we bring here. I enjoy the allotment group, because you can see from when you’ve planted the seeds right til it grows, and then harvesting.

“It’s a great feeling. You feel achievement. It’s a real wonder. I just love growing stuff. I had my own allotment, but it was too much on my own, so I joined the community allotment. I keep myself to myself, apart from with the people here, and I go to a homeless project once a week, because I have been homeless, and I have a chat and a drink and a game of pool there. 

Can you tell us about Parson Cross? What’s good, what’s not so good? What does it need?

“Parson Cross needs a youth club for young people to go to. When I was younger, we had youth clubs, and when you left school if you didn’t have a job there were youth training schemes (YTS), and they were fantastic. They ought to bring things like that back, we need more support for young people.

“I want people in the election to give young people a bit of a helping hand, help them get on.”

How have things changed in the past year or so?

 

“When I do a bit of shopping, everything has gone up, hasn’t it? Just… everything. I got my cost of living payment today, and I am trying to save it for as long as I can. 

“I wouldn’t say I live “on the breadline” but I’m on benefits, and I have to make it stretch as far as I can. It’s harder and harder.

 

“We need more work here. More jobs for people. There are not enough jobs, not enough secure jobs or YTSs or apprenticeships for people. It’s a vicious cycle, with a lack of opportunities, so people struggle more.”

Bryan is not alone in coming in for community as well as for the food. One of the volunteers says: “A lot of people come here looking for company. People enjoy coming here. With the meal in the evening, there are some people who need the meal and some who are financially able to support themselves but who really cherish having a meal with other people.”

Many projects cite the importance of such community. Food is sometimes what first brings people in, but it’s the sense of community that encourages people to stay. In 2023, LIFE in York interviewed dozens of people at the city’s many food projects, and found connection was one of the most valued features. Similarly, 74% of Your Local Pantry members say they feel more connected to their community, and 66% have made new friends.

I want people to show who they really are, and to make things better

Another regular at Parson Cross tells us:

“The food here is very good, but it’s also about community. I’ve been coming here since last March; I live about 20 minutes away. One of the others here introduced me to it. I come for the sandwiches and sometimes the bits of food to take away.

“Before I came here, I was on my own all the time and it’s not nice being on your own all the time. I was not eating at all because I have had problems with drinking, but this has helped me cut down.

“This is one of the best things in this community. There are a few other places like this as well, that help with loneliness and isolation.

“Parson Cross has changed a lot in my time – half for the better, half not. There is a lot of crime to sort out.

“In the election, I just want people to show who they really are and to make things better.”

Meet Jean...

“I come here on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I come to talk to people and it puts me on the right track, listening to this lot! It stops me thinking things that I don’t want to. 

“I have been coming for a few years, maybe five years. I was born and bred in Nottingham and my late husband Mel was from Huddersfield, but we lived in Sheffield so it was only an hour from each family. I’ve lived in Sheffield 27 years now. 

“Sometimes I’m a bit down and feel the whole world has gone to pieces, but I come in for company and to talk to people, and I help out sometimes. I sometimes come in for the art or craft as well. And a few of them play music which is good. A couple of us go to the Wise Old Owls meetings at Hillsborough once a month as well, but we pay for that.

“The first time I came here I only stayed ten minutes, but I started coming back. 

“Sheffield has its good points. It’s got a lot of places you can go for food and shopping, and it’s got the speedway, and the market is good. But it has problems too. It’s been getting harder with prices. Budgeting is harder and harder. Everything is up, and I am diabetic and have to have certain things. It’s hard.

“This place is different to others. It’s a food hub. Some places, you have to put your name down or have a referral to get food, but not here.”

The wider neighbourhood

The activities at Mt Tabor are coordinated by Parson Cross Initiative, a charity supported by the church. Nick Waterfield is pioneer minister. Here’s what he says:

Jonathan Buckley lives in the neighbourhood and is one of the charity’s trustees. 

A headshot of Jonathan Buckley

He says: “There have been issues of poverty here for 80 to 90 years. The local primary school has 60% of children on pupil premium, and the other 40% are not wealthy either. There have been new estates built, but two thirds of people are on the breadline. A lot of people here feel that to succeed means to move away, and that takes the money elsewhere.

“Increasing Universal Credit and other benefit levels would help. A lot of voluntary service stuff is hard to maintain because there are fewer volunteers than maybe 30 or 40 years ago. There was a Boys Brigade here, but it shut due to a lack of volunteers. There has been Scouts, but not much else for kids. 

“For us, there is a faith motivation to act, and also wanting better for the kids. There are good news stories. People do not hear those as often, but it’s about hearing and sharing good news stories.

“There are kids here achieving great grades and doing well, but it’s so much easier for people to share negative stories. We should share the good news stories with each other.

“What I cherish here is the community, like people coming here this morning, or coming to the art group. In some ways, people’s lives do not change much, but by coming here week on week, we see the community getting stronger. 

“For instance we’re doing two allotment sessions a week instead of one now, and more people are coming. And a local group of staff have said they want to do a coffee morning for us. And art students at a local school did their exhibition here. We see a lot of good community stuff.” 

What issues do you want to hear being discussed in the election campaign?

“We need realistic support for people who need it. There should be a basic minimum and they shouldn’t keep cutting. They should maybe expand the trial of Universal Basic Income. They should do less scaremongering and focus on positives. It would give people more dignity and more spending money. 

“Here, people spend money locally, so it would improve the local economy and support jobs. It would improve people’s livelihoods and the neighbourhood.

“The low benefit levels are a big issue for people around here. Reaching a realistic level of income is important for people. We need to see an uplift in benefit levels, and support the real Living Wage.

“I think young people need more investment in youth services focusing on places like this. In wealthier areas, people can afford to go to classes or clubs, but we need more investment in universal services for people who need it.

“So much has been cut for young people. Life needs to be more than English, maths and science. There are not enough funding for wider stuff. 

“There is a need to focus more on enabling people who are creative or sporting to pursue those, rather than pushing everything into English, maths and science. There are so many kids who struggle in a formal school setting, but in a different class or a smaller setting or a one-to-one session, they fly. So we need more investment for young people. 

“There is a financial cost but if we invest in schools and young people now, it reduces having to address issues and pay for other services down the line. Equip people now.”

Pushed into hardship by rising prices and inadequate support

Over lunch, four women are waiting to pick up some food. Here’s a snapshot of their conversation:

“This is my third week here. Everything is about just, managing, with everything going up, and the cost of living. I am on my own now, and because I’m on a meter I have noticed my bills have jumped again since January. It’s gone up a lot. That has taken away food money, just for trying to keep warm.

“And that’s not having it warm all the time – I am sitting just in my kitchen, the one warm room.”

“Nobody should have to live in the cold like that.”

“I spoke to my gas company about keeping warm, because I’m asthmatic, and if it’s cold I start coughing. They said there were food banks I should go to for support! And food banks are running out of stuff.

“I’m paying £210 a month for gas and electric from the same company. 

“Food banks are good and it’s good to meet people, but they have to rely on donations.” 

“I feel so sorry for people with children. When you have not got money for food, what do you do? - You cannot give a child fish fingers every day. The cost of living is up and prices are not coming down."

“I was given my notice of my job ending last October. I went through a consultation, and I was made redundant. So I went to ask how to go about claiming benefits.

“I’d never claimed benefits before and went in to ask. They said my redundancy pay was income, so I wouldn’t be eligible. When that ran out, I went back again and they said I had been given mis-information the first time, so I could put in a backdated claim. But then I was rejected because they said I should have formally applied in the October!

“Now, I owe thousands and thousands of pounds to people. We are robbing Peter to pay Paul, and then robbing Paul again to pay Peter. 

“Places like this go some way to helping, but we shouldn’t have to be reliant on charity for food.

“The cost of food is going up, benefits are effectively goin down, people are losing their jobs, and everyone is falling and having to rely on things like this, because they cannot afford to live.

“What we need is for people to be able to afford food. It’s good that people support charity, but we shouldn’t be in this crisis and having to rely on it. We should be able to live in the economy.

“Even at the supermarkets, you are rationed – they say you can only buy so many of their own brand items, and if you have a big household, it’s impossible sometimes.”

Could you host a Neighbourhood Voices conversation in 2024? Find the toolkit here:

Are we set for a landmark legal change on inequality?

SPARK newsletter winter 2023-24

Let’s say what we truly want society to look like – Let’s End Poverty

Charity and church leaders call for urgent action on rising poverty in the UK and around the world

New Year’s Honour for inspiring campaigner Penny

Meet our five new trustees

Feeding Britain & YLP: Raising dignity, hope & choice with households

Parkas, walking boots, and action for change: Sheffield’s urban poverty pilgrimage

Dreamers Who Do: North East event for Church Action on Poverty Sunday 2024

Autumn Statement: Stef & Church Action on Poverty’s response

Act On Poverty – a Lent programme about tackling UK and global poverty

How 11 people spoke truth to power in Sussex

Obituary: Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ

Annual review 2022-23

Ashleigh: “I think we will become known for making a change”

North East churches & community gather to tackle poverty together

There’s huge public desire to end poverty – will politicians now act?

What is Let’s End Poverty – and how can you get involved?

Our partner APLE is looking for new trustees

Nottingham’s first Your Local Pantry opens

SPARK newsletter autumn 2023

Urban Poverty Pilgrimage: Towards a Theological Practice

MPs praise the Pantry approach – but they must do so much more

“We can make a change. That’s why we’re here.”

How YOUR church can build community & save people £21 a week

Annual review 2021-22

Speaking Truth to Power: A Reflection on the Dignity for All Conference 

A posed group photo for the Neighbourhood Voices event at YMCA North Staffordshire in Stoke

Stoke voices: We want opportunity and hope

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

Merseyside Pantries reach big milestone

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Let’s say what we truly want society to look like – Let’s End Poverty

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 set for a landmark legal change on inequality?

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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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.”

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Charity and church leaders call for urgent action on rising poverty in the UK and around the world

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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Meet our five new trustees

Five new trustees have joined the council of management of Church Action on Poverty, bringing fresh skills, insights, ideas and dedication to the organisation.

A still from a hand-drawn video, showing people crossing a bridge, holding a banner that says "Tackling root causes of poverty"

All five were elected at our recent 2023 AGM. This blog gives you a quick introduction, and outlines their and other trustees’ role.

The new trustees are:

Rich Jones from Greater Manchester

Rich is a multi-award winning social entrepreneur who brings with him 20 years of extensive experience in the voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise sector.

Rich has experience on the frontline, in leadership and in infrastructure consultancy within the charity sector.

Revd Amanda Mallen from Walsall

Amanda says: “I am from an impoverished background and have personal experience of financial poverty, and the emotional and mental poverty that goes along with it.

“I want to make a difference and try to do so in my own small way, engaging on a wider scale can only be a good thing. I feel I have come a long way and have something to say and something to offer those who are journeying through too.”

Ashleigh May from Halifax and Barking & Dagenham

Ashleigh says: “I have lived experience of poverty, and am very passionate to challenge all forms of oppression. I have over nine years of campaigning experience. I help to amplify the voices of the Black and Minority Ethnicity communities.”

Ashleigh lived in Barking & Dagenham but was relocated to Halifax, as the local council had been unable to rehouse her.

She co-runs an organisation called Mums On A Mission, which supports families and helps to strengthen community action, working in East London and West Yorkshire.

Ashleigh is part of Church Action on Poverty’s Speaking Truth To Power programme and recently told her story more fully here.

Martin Stringer from Kidderminster

Martin says: “Having undertaken five years of church-related community work in Manchester in  the 1990s, I spent over thirty years in highereducation, including leadership roles in the University of Birmingham and Swansea University. I have continued to research and work in inner-urban areas and am currently a consultant in higher education.”

Tracy Porter from Stoke

Tracy says: “I’ve known poverty for most of my life, in many of its ever changing forms, and the obstacles and barriers that poverty creates. 

“As I and my children got older, I started to look at what I could do to change how and why things are done. I signed so many petitions that were just rejected and had no effect whatsoever, few actually made any difference, and the difference was very small!  

“I had all but given up, when I found Expert Citizens, whom connected me with; The APLE Collective, Thrive Teesside, Church Action on Poverty, Christians Against Poverty, and All The Small Things. 

“The work I have been doing with these organisations have all been on variations of the same theme, as they have all been about different aspects of poverty. 

“I have also worked with various universities around the same themes, and at present am, working with Cardiff University’s Policy Team with The APLE Collective, we have been developing a workshop to gather data about reducing stigma. We have also organised and been invited to All-Party Parliamentary Groups, and we have been a part of research for health inequalities in data with The Ada Lovelace Foundation as peer researchers.”

Tracy is also part of the Speaking Truth To Power programme, and says: “It has been great to be involved with so many like minded, passionate and driven people, and I believe that together we can make meaningful change that will have a huge positive impact.”

What our trustees do

Church Action on Poverty’s trustees sit on the council of management, to oversee the governance of the charity. 

The council and management have worked over recent years to increase the number of trustees who have first-hand insights of UK poverty, and almost half of our trustees now do.

All of our work is rooted in the knowledge that no social issue can be fixed without the leadership and wisdom of people with direct experience of it. Our politics, media, business sectors and charity sectors would all be more informed and more effective if they were more accessible for people of all incomes and backgrounds, and Church Action on Poverty is pleased to be making progress in this way.

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