A decade of action on poverty

Where did the 2010s go? Whoosh, just like that, another whole new decade is upon us.

Ten years lie ahead like blank canvases or unfilled journals. 3,653 days that we can shape, use and hopefully enjoy.

We know our priorities as we begin the decade, but only time will tell what new issues, challenges and opportunities arise as we continue trying to loosen poverty’s grip. Before the 2020s gather pace, however, allow us to pause, and briefly look back at some of the work you helped to fund, enable and support in the 2010s. Thank you!

 

2010

We began with a pleasing result from some of our earlier work. The Methodist Church and the Church of Scotland committed to support the Living Wage, helping ensure that people’s incomes are enough for them to live on.

Our ‘Rip-off TV’ action (pictured) persuaded the chief executive of a high-cost lender to sit down with his customers, listen to them, and join them in working for more responsible practices in the sector. Many aspects of our economy exacerbate poverty, charging poor people more for goods and services. We challenge this wherever we can.

2010
2011

Our Close The Gap campaign was launched, and thousands of you got involved, Giving, Acting and Praying to tackle inequality. We focused on fair taxes, fair prices and a fair say.

Working with partners near our own offices, our Salford Apprentice programme supported local people with experience of poverty to become community leaders. Those involved have since launched and spearheaded fascinating and powerful work of their own.

2011
2012

We and Christian Aid took a double-decker Tax Justice Bus around the UK, mobilising people to campaign against tax dodging.

There was more good news on the Living Wage, with support from the General Synod of the Church of England and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

2012
2013

 

We knew hunger was a growing issue in the UK, but it had been hard to quantify. Working with Oxfam, our joint Walking The Breadline research made front-page news as a pioneering and vital look at the full picture. Only by fully understanding such issues can we ensure we tackle the root causes effectively.

That Christmas, our “Britain Isn’t Eating” poster struck a chord across the country and went viral online.

We undertook a fascinating visit to India, which led to the creation of our Self-Reliant Groups project, small groups that can save and invest together, and provide mutual support.

2013
2014

The food focus continued. We began building partnerships among churches, charities, academics and others, to build an alliance that could explain, challenge and ultimately end food poverty. These were the foundations of the End Hunger campaign.

Many church leaders have embraced the campaign, and that year we worked with vicar Keith Hebden (pictured), as he fasted for the whole of Lent to raise awareness of the crisis.

2014
2015

We worked with the Joint Public Issues team on the Rethink Benefit Sanctions campaign. Sanctioning, which often tipped people into destitution, has since reduced and has been proven to be damaging.

Our Real Benefits Street project provided a true and balanced alternative to the sensationalist TV coverage, persuading one TV producer to meet our participants and listen to their concerns about stigma and inaccuracy.

We listened to churches around the UK, so their visions of what makes a Good Society could influence our planning.

2015
2016

We worked with the National Union of Journalists to produce new reporting guidelines, launched the End Hunger UK campaign, and launched our Church on The Margins work, exploring the challenge by Pope Francis and others to build a ‘poor church that is for the poor’.

2016
2017

Having researched ways for communities to tackle the Poverty Premium in their neighbourhood, we launched the Your Local Pantry network nationally. Pantries alleviate poverty by reducing shopping bills, allowing other essential costs to be met. Research has shown they are having a fantastic social, economic and health impact.

Our Voices From The Margins project, putting people with experience of poverty at the forefront of social and political conversations, was launched. More than 120 people have contributed so far.

2017
2018

We exposed the scale of cuts to localised crisis support in England. When people are swept into poverty, there must be lifelines to reach for, but most have been removed or neglected.

We launched our Scripture from the Margins Bible studies, helping churches and church-goers to think more deeply about, and respond more effectively to, poverty and injustice.

2018
2019

Our Food Power programme shifted the narrative around food and poverty, and helped strengthen local campaigning. Young people we worked with in Lancashire appeared on national TV and spoke truth to power, when they met politicians and took part in the national Children’s Future Food Inquiry.

Hundreds of people embraced a week of action in October, calling on the Government to Act Now To End UK Hunger.

2019

Thank you for all your support. What will the 2020s bring? Watch this space…

A decade of action on poverty

Reflecting on the first two years of Food Power

A Good Society? We failed

A Good Society? We failed

An open letter to Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, from Church Action on Poverty supporter Liz Delafield.

Cast your mind back to 2015. Churches together in Britain and Ireland had asked churches to  discuss with their local communities the question ‘What makes a good society?’ From these discussions they produced the 2020 vision. The expectation that the churches, other religious bodies and community organisations would work together with our elected representatives to build a good society in which all could thrive. It was where we aspired to be by the year 2020.  

This is what it said:

  • All citizens have access to enough income to enable them to live with dignity, either through paid work or through a properly functioning welfare safety net.
  • Reasonably priced homes where people can flourish are available for everyone who needs them and there is a reliable safety net for all homeless people.
  • All children and young people are enabled to live fulfilling flourishing lives, their contributions are valued, and they are enabled to grow and achieve their potential.
  • An economy that is in service to every person irrespective of their wealth or the market value of their labour; including robust action to clamp down on tax dodging.
  • UK greenhouse gas emissions are falling rapidly, and the Government has helped to secure a global climate deal that limits global temperature rises to 2 degrees.

This was not meant to be an exhaustive list. For example, the local conversation that I was involved in wanted to add ‘There is a thriving NHS which meets the needs of all.’

So with only just over a month until 2020, and another general election looming, this seems a good time to take stock. How did we do?

Quite simply, we failed. We did not build a good society – or even make steps towards it. If anything, we have moved further from our vision.

The implementation of Universal Credit and PIP assessment has led to greater hardship for many vulnerable people. An increasing number of people rely on food banks to get by. Homelessness is still evident in our communities. Most school budgets have been cut in real terms, reducing children’s and young people’s’ opportunities to thrive and achieve their potential. Cuts in local government have made youth services almost non existent in some areas. Young people’s mental health is an increasing concern. Tax dodging is still prevalent. As extinction rebellion campaigners remind us, the climate is in crisis and we have been far too slow to respond.

We failed – big time.

So what did we do with our vision? Did we hold it up as a beacon? Did we shout from our pulpits and to our communities “Look, this what we said. What are we doing about it?” No, we didn’t. We filed it away as yesterday’s news, a sound bite for the 2015 election.

Building the Good Society, or what Christians call the Kingdom of God, is not a short-term project. Neither is it only for politicians. It is a long term task that involves us all.

The General Election will take place during Advent. This is traditionally a time of waiting and preparation. But what are we waiting for? Not for a political leader, but for a vulnerable refugee child. A child who reminds us that leadership is about love and service. This is the way to a good society.

Let us remain faithful to our vision. No matter what happens in the election, let’s keep holding our politicians and churches to account. None of the people standing in this election is our saviour. We simply need to decide who would best love and serve with us as we strive towards a good society.  The road is long, and sometimes difficult, but as the advent and Christmas stories reminded us, Christ walks with us. 


​This post first appeared on Liz Delafield’s blog.

Scripture from the Margins: Bible bookmark

Scripture from the Margins: Untold Stories

A decade of action on poverty

Reflecting on the first two years of Food Power

Annual review 2018-19

A Good Society? We failed

Speaking Truth to Power: reflections from our North East gathering

What does it mean to be a church on the margins?

Edgelands

Why End UK Hunger?

Communities unite to say: Act now to end UK hunger

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

A decade of action on poverty

Reflecting on the first two years of Food Power

A Good Society? We failed

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Did any of us ever expect the re-emergence of hunger as a social reality in twenty-first century Britain?   

Emma’s story of life in food poverty in Cambridge is typical of many:  

“I am a single mum of three and have used food banks three times since November 2017. It felt really awful to be in that position; I went from a £30,000-a-year job in HR to ending up there in six months. Following my husband and I separating, he left me with a lot of debt and I couldn’t sustain living costs and childcare on my own so I had to give up my job and claim income support.

It’s really hard to go to the food bank when you are used to doing your own shopping and supporting yourself. The volunteers were really good and didn’t judge but I still got upset, and they were comforting. At the time, I hadn’t realised you’re limited to how many time you can use food banks per year and I found that concept quite bizarre. It’s there to help people when they are in need but you can’t dictate when and how many times they will be in need – everyone’s circumstances are different.”

Every story of food poverty is different, but every story is one story too many.  Yet with up to eight million households experiencing some level of ‘household food insecurity’, this is the painful truth for far too many people in communities the length and breadth of the UK. 

As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have painstakingly documented, we are now living in a decade of destitution, of squeezed incomes, rising living costs, and households trapped with rising levels of debt and little or no savings to fall back on, and in many cases literally nothing left in the cupboard.  This leaves families with little resilience against even the smallest shocks to their income.

According to research by the Social Market Foundation, four in ten individuals with a household income of £10,000 or less reported that groceries were a strain on finances. A quarter of individuals said that healthy and nutritious food was unaffordable in the UK.  One in ten said that they had cut back on their own level of food consumption so that others in their family (such as children) can eat.

However, food poverty in the UK is not fundamentally an issue of a shortage of food, but a shortage of income.  This fact has been extensively researched and documented in recent years, in various reports including from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Food Poverty/Feeding Britain and most recently the Childrens’ Future Food Inquiry which reported in April.

The good news is that literally thousands of local faith and community groups have stepped up to the plate in recent years, not just through the estimated 2,000 food banks across the UK, but a huge array of other community food projects, community cafes, growing schemes, social supermarkets and the like.  On the one hand this demonstrates the immense power of local groups to act for the common good, but on the other it highlights the increasing inability (or unwillingness) of the state to ensure access to the basic necessities of life.

This poses a key challenge for charities and local communities: Are we willing to accept that we can’t solve the problem of food poverty and hunger on our own? 

It is clear that End Hunger UK’s vision of a UK in which everyone has access to good food and no one needs to go to bed hungry can only be realised if Government also steps up to the plate.  Only central Government has the power to mobilise the resources, policies and legislative power to end UK hunger. 

The good news is that in signing up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the UK Government has already committed to achieving zero hunger in the UK by 2030.  But to deliver on this goal will require Government to develop a clear roadmap, coordinating the efforts of multiple Government departments, local councils, faith and community groups and many others. 

The End Hunger UK campaign is therefore calling on the UK Government – and all political parties – to affirm their commitment to the goal of ending UK hunger by 2030 – and to developing a concrete plan to halve the numbers of people in household food insecurity by 2025 as a stepping stone towards this goal.  Most importantly, the plan will need to focus on tackling the underlying factors which are sweeping far too many households into household food insecurity in the first place.

Our task is to build the popular pressure and political will to make the goal of ending hunger in the UK a priority for politicians and parties from across the political spectrum. 

In the sixth wealthiest country on the planet, that should not be too much to ask. 

Niall Cooper is Director of Church Action on Poverty and chair of the End Hunger UK campaign.

Scripture from the Margins: Bible bookmark

Scripture from the Margins: Untold Stories

A decade of action on poverty

Reflecting on the first two years of Food Power

Annual review 2018-19

A Good Society? We failed

Speaking Truth to Power: reflections from our North East gathering

What does it mean to be a church on the margins?

Edgelands

Why End UK Hunger?

Communities unite to say: Act now to end UK hunger

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

A decade of action on poverty

Reflecting on the first two years of Food Power

A Good Society? We failed

Transforming unjust structures: how not to become stuck in the mud

In this guest blog, Naomi Maynard shares some reflections on a workshop organised by our partners at the 'Life on the Breadline' project.

Last month ITV ran a story about Dominic, a father of four from Everton who can be left with £60 a month to feed and clothe his family, living in fear that one day his children will be taken away. This story was picked up by the Liverpool Echo, concerned how Brexit will hit some of our country’s poorest families.

Knowing Dominic personally, I know the ITV feature only told a small segment of his story, and that of his family – but the overall message remains the same: here is a family living on the breadline, riding the roller-coaster of our fluctuating political environment set amongst the backdrop of an evolving welfare landscape. 

Stories such as Dominic’s provoke an emotional reaction – perhaps shock, frustration, anger, sorrow, embarrassment, grief, guilt. We may also feel overwhelmed, unsure how to react: how can we change the structures and systems that seem to have dug their roots wide and deep into our society, trapping many of those we know and care about in poverty?

Our feet get stuck in the mud – overwhelmed to the point of inaction.

Last week, at a workshop hosted by academic project Life on the Breadline, I met Stef Benstead  – a trustee of Church Action on Poverty. In 2012, having just started postdoctoral studies, Stef was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type 3, Postural Tachycardia Syndrome and fibromyalgia – meaning she is often exhausted and in pain. No longer able to carry on her studies, Stef was left in a precarious position – navigating our complex and, as she was to discover, our deeply flawed, welfare landscape.

But Stef did not let her feet get stuck in the mud.

She collaborated, campaigned, wrote and researched. She identified, lobbied, listened and argued. Stef – who tells the story of how austerity has impacted disabled people in her soon-to-be-published book Second Class Citizens – turned her emotions and experiences into actions to transform unjust structures and systems.

Speaking to a collective of academics and practitioners, Stef, alongside Church Action on Poverty’s Director Niall Cooper, encouraged us all to do the same – offering us this advice on where to start:

  1. Identify – do not try and change the whole system at once. As we heard earlier in the workshop, poverty is like an octopus (slippery and difficult to tackle all at once). Start by identifying one change that needs to be made.
  2. Gather – Bring together others who can also see a need for this change. Do more than identify problems, suggest solutions. Whilst none of your group may come with a fully formed solution – as you listen and reflect together, there may be many partially formed solutions in the room, which can be joined together.
  3. Frame – Think about who needs to hear what you want to say – how can you frame your arguments in ways that they will hear? Use language they will be able to engage with. For Stef this meant framing her arguments in ways her friends with a different political outlook could connect with.  
  4. Be brave – make your case both far and wide, and near and targeted. Invite local and national politicians to your meetings – they may be able to open doors for you beyond what you may foresee.

We can do more than wallow in our shock, frustration, anger, sorrow, embarrassment, grief, guilt… we do not have to be stuck in the mud.

Click here to listen to all the talks from the Transforming Structural Injustice workshop.

Dr Naomi Maynard is the Lead Project Development Worker at Together Liverpool  – as part of this role she is the network coordinator of Feeding Liverpool. This post first appeared on the Feeding Liverpool blog.

Church Action on Poverty is a partner in ‘Life on the Breadline’, a research project exploring Christian responses to austerity.

Scripture from the Margins: Bible bookmark

Scripture from the Margins: Untold Stories

A decade of action on poverty

Reflecting on the first two years of Food Power

Annual review 2018-19

A Good Society? We failed

Speaking Truth to Power: reflections from our North East gathering

What does it mean to be a church on the margins?

Edgelands

Why End UK Hunger?

Communities unite to say: Act now to end UK hunger

A decade of action on poverty

Reflecting on the first two years of Food Power

A Good Society? We failed

Dear Mr Johnson: Here’s how we can end poverty and hunger

With love and determination now, the UK can end food poverty

Our director Niall Cooper sets out how the Government can make sure the UK ends hunger - and why it must. ​

ON a recent visit to a community food project, a colleague and I got into conversation with one of the volunteers.

In her most difficult moments, this place had been her lifeline. Now, she was recycling that kindness and warmth, welcoming people in and providing a listening ear, a cup of tea and vital relief.

Such stories are not rare. We should be consistently appalled and agitated by the scale of food poverty in the UK, but the compassion that prompts many recipients of food to return as volunteers reflects the prevailing goodness in our society.

It is no surprise that those who have experienced great difficulty want to help others, but the desire for justice runs deeper than that. We see that in the generous donations made to so many food banks, and in the stop-gap projects that provide meals for families in the holidays. It’s clear: nobody is comfortable with people going hungry in this country.

Sticking plaster solutions, however, are unsustainable and inadequate. We must channel the public’s compassion and look to the greater challenge, of tackling the underlying causes of food poverty.

What does this mean in real terms? It means coming together and making a shared and unrelenting commitment to ending hunger in the UK. And it means calling for boldness and determination from our new Prime Minister.

National leaders have seen and embraced the vision of a country free from hunger. In 2015, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, pledged to end hunger in the UK by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.

To reach this goal requires action now, because the crisis is immediate and severe. In 2018/19, food banks run by the Trussell Trust, the country’s largest operator, distributed 1.6 million three-day food parcels, including 89,841 in Yorkshire. During last year’s summer holidays, the need in this region increased by 14.49 per cent – and these figures are only the tip of the iceberg. 

Researchers from The Food Foundation estimate that the number of people in food poverty in the UK is 17 times higher than the number accessing Trussell food banks. Unaffiliated community projects and independent food banks are also meeting need every day, and recent research in York reaffirmed that many people are simply put off visiting a food bank by personal pride and a fear of stigma. 

All of this can change. Poverty, and the hunger it brings, are not inevitable. There is absolutely no reason why there should be hunger in this country, nor any reason whatsoever why we cannot end it. Our economic and political systems have been designed by human hands and they can be redesigned but we need Government leadership and vision.

Specifically, we need a commitment to halving food insecurity by 2025, as a stepping stone to ending hunger by 2030. It will be for successive Governments to lead on the detail but we know some of the principal issues that must be addressed early: we need to safeguard childhood nutrition all year round; we need the return of effective financial assistance that people can access in times of crisis; we need a Government that will truly listen to those at the sharp end of poverty in the UK; and we need a benefits system that does not push anyone into food poverty or destitution.

What that last point means, in practice, is that benefits must provide an income that allows people to live and that the system must be fit for purpose. Therefore, we must end the five week wait for initial Universal Credit payments, a design flaw in the policy that is causing hardship. 

Compassion, coupled with ambition and resolve, is what the country needs in abundance right now.

A food bank we work closely with in Parson Cross, Sheffield, says it has come close to breaking point since Universal Credit was rolled out in the city last year. They now spend £652 a month to keep the shelves stocked, up from £379 previously. In York, meanwhile, one parent told researchers: “Universal Credit has wrecked us. We have just gone on it and I have been told me and my five-year-old will have to go at least seven weeks with no income at all.”

It simply isn’t right that this is the reality for some of our most vulnerable citizens. We cannot be happy with an economy that leaves millions at the mercy of insecure and low-paid work, rising living and housing costs, and a benefits system that leaves many people unable to keep their heads above water. Hard pressed families trying to keep children adequately fed this summer deserve better.

Visit any food bank, community café or breakfast club and you will be struck by the love and neighbourliness that underpins the work. Such compassion, coupled with ambition and resolve, is what the country needs in abundance right now. Let this be an invitation to Mr Johnson and his Government, as he seeks to unite the country. Come and listen to those who are going without food, and resolve to end hunger in the UK

 

This article was first written for The Yorkshire Post, and was published in print and online on July 31, 2019.

Scripture from the Margins: Bible bookmark

Scripture from the Margins: Untold Stories

A decade of action on poverty

Reflecting on the first two years of Food Power

Annual review 2018-19

A Good Society? We failed

Speaking Truth to Power: reflections from our North East gathering

What does it mean to be a church on the margins?

Edgelands

Why End UK Hunger?

Communities unite to say: Act now to end UK hunger

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Father Bill Rooke RIP

A decade of action on poverty

Reflecting on the first two years of Food Power

A Good Society? We failed

Tackling funeral poverty

Quaker Social Action’s funeral advice service, Down to Earth, has helped its 4,000th client amidst significant funeral industry developments, says QSA’s Peter Christmas.

Recently Quaker Social Action’s (QSA’s) Down to Earth service, which provides free one-to-one advice and support for people struggling with funeral costs when planning a loved one’s funeral, passed a milestone of 4,000 clients helped.  What started in 2010 as a local volunteer-based project has grown into a highly specialised staff-led service with national reach, helping people across the UK to plan an affordable and meaningful funeral. 

Many clients contact the Down to Earth team feeling overwhelmed when trying to deal with funeral costs.  We help people to understand their options, prioritise what’s most important to them, save money against initial quotations, and raise money (where eligible) from state benefits and charitable/benevolent funds.

“The undertaker wanted a payment in advance, but I didn’t have enough.  The hospital was telling me to hurry up because I couldn’t leave my husband in the mortuary.  I felt like I was going mad.”

Down to Earth client

The context is that since 2004, average funeral prices have risen 122%, and the average cost now sits at £4,271 (SunLife, 2018).  According to SunLife’s research, one in eight families face notable financial problems when trying to find the money for a funeral.  The Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) has found as part of its ongoing investigation into the funeral industry that prices have risen at twice the inflation rate over the last 14 years, and that “the scale of these price rises does not currently appear to be justified by cost increases or quality improvements”.

Remember that many people are unable to plan for the price of a funeral (their own, or a loved one’s) well in advance of death:  many people die unexpectedly, at a young age, and/or in traumatic circumstances.  Whilst the government has promised to introduce a Children’s Funeral Fund for England (in line with Wales) so that parents grieving the loss of a child under the age of 18 will no longer have to meet cremation or burial fees, the above statistics indicate a much wider problem with the affordability of funerals.

This is why QSA is continuing its work to tackle funeral poverty on a strategic level, alongside helping individuals and families through the Down to Earth service.  The CMA’s in-depth investigation, the funeral industry’s own emerging initiative to improve standards for customers, government proposals to regulate pre-paid funeral plans through the Financial Conduct Authority, and Scotland’s moves towards regulating the funeral industry north of the border, all provide momentum and opportunities to effect change.  For example please see our recent submissions to the CMA and to the Work and Pensions Committee’s enquiry into support for the bereaved.

Over the next three years, building on our successful Fair Funerals campaign (2014-18) and working with other member organisations of the Funeral Poverty Alliance (including Church Action on Poverty), Down to Earth is seeking to influence the industry and government to help bring about:

  • Greater funeral price transparency and lower average prices
  • Improved funeral-related state benefits, and regulation of the funeral industry
  • Improved access to affordable municipal schemes and (where needed) public health funerals.

QSA would be delighted to add more organisations to the 50-strong Funeral Poverty Alliance – please see here for how to join.

Scripture from the Margins: Bible bookmark

Scripture from the Margins: Untold Stories

A decade of action on poverty

Reflecting on the first two years of Food Power

Annual review 2018-19

A Good Society? We failed

Speaking Truth to Power: reflections from our North East gathering

What does it mean to be a church on the margins?

Edgelands

A decade of action on poverty

Reflecting on the first two years of Food Power

A Good Society? We failed

We are stronger together

Sarah McLoughlin of Nesta explains why they are funding and supporting Church Action on Poverty's Self-Reliant Groups (SRG) programme.

Poverty destroys lives and communities and we have to find a way to eradicate it for good. The SRG movement is one of the most exciting, asset-based programmes that has emerged in the community development sector in the past few years and has the potential to radically improve the lives of many more people and move them from a life of poverty to a life full of possibilities.

The state of poverty in the UK

Over the past decade, the ongoing effects of the financial crisis, radical cuts to public services, benefits reform and the rise in low-paid and unstable work, have left many people unable to cope. There have been multiple reports recently demonstrating a dramatic increase in poverty, including recent statistics from the DWP which highlight the particular impact of stagnating household incomes. Projections by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggest that 5.2 million children will be living in poverty by 2020-21. To be really clear on that last statistic, that’s potentially 37% of all children living in one of the wealthiest countries in modern times, that could be going hungry, living in unsafe and unstable homes, and without adequate clothing. Are we going to let this happen?

What is poverty?

Poverty is generally understood to describe someone who is unable to meet their day-to-day needs. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), who lead on a lot of the work in the UK to reduce poverty, describe poverty as “when a person’s resources are well below their minimum needs, including the need to take part in society.” In 2008, JRF published the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) – the benchmark of minimum needs based on what goods and services members of the public think are required for an adequate standard of living. This includes three levels of poverty, all demonstrating the every increasing impacts of poverty on those affected. Where income falls below the MIS, getting by is possible but under pressure and families find it difficult to manage unexpected costs and events. As income lowers, families fall substantially short of a decent standard of living which can lead to destitution, where families can’t afford to eat, keep clean or stay dry and warm.

The causes of poverty are complex and multi-layered, often involving systems and services which are slow to change. While there is a rising voice within communities and public services to change those systems and redesign the welfare state, with much of the public sector in a state of crisis and the government and political landscape mired by ongoing challenges, it’s doubtful that any systematic improvements will have an immediate, direct effect on those individuals facing the stresses of living in poverty on a day to day basis.

Unsurprisingly, frustrations over the lack of control many people feel they have over their own circumstances can lead to feelings of despondency for those facing the impacts of poverty. However, through my own work and commitment to this field, I have come across many examples of solutions out there that put people in the driving seat of improving their own lives and taking back some of the control that has been taken away by a patriarchal system focused on doing to, not doing with.

A potential solution

One exciting approach that provides the potential for people to help themselves out of poverty is a Self-Reliant Group (SRG).

SRGs are small groups of people (4 to 10) who come from a shared economic and/or social background to support each other and develop friendships. They meet regularly and agree to start saving, rotating leadership and responsibility, learning together and sharing skills. Many of them start a small business which, in time, will help them earn an income to support themselves and their families.

The regular meeting of the group develops a sense of purpose and ownership among members from the onset. Members can rely on each other and are encouraged to offer peer support and development opportunities, further enhancing a shared responsibility and accountability within the group. Through the SRG way of working, group members believe that helping themselves, each other and together creating opportunities for change and enterprise in their local communities, is the best way forward.

The SRG model is well tested – having foundations in the Self Help Group (SHG) movement in India which was founded in the 1970s, and is now a national movement where it is transforming rural and urban communities with thousands of active groups. The Times of India recently highlighted that

“The Social capital of SHGs could be an asset for solving various social issues in India e.g. gender based discrimination, dowry system, casteism etc.”

The SRG movement in the UK was sparked by a Church of Scotland initiative called Passage from India (now WEvolution) in 2011 when 13 women from across the UK visited established SHGs in India. The SHG model was then adapted to the UK, becoming SRGs. Over the last 5 years there has been some exciting growth of the SRG model throughout Scotland, and with partners in England, Wales and elsewhere (helped in part by funding from Nesta and DCMS). There are now 90 emerging and operational SRGs UK wide. The success of this growing movement has led to an interest in the way SRGs can be supported to address a range of social and economic issues.

Among the established SRGs there are some inspiring examples of people improving the economic circumstances of themselves and their communities such as:

  • Trishy Gannon has started No. 26 – a high-end crafts and arts store on a high street in Gourock, Scotland.
  • Karen Stevens has started her own Miss Fix It handywoman business.
  • One of the SRGs in Wales recently worked in partnership with Cardiff Metropolitan University to produce 40 groundbreaking products designed for people living with dementia. The products were sent for extended trials prior to full manufacturing and the SRG members worked with the design team from the university and used their recently learnt sewing skills. This could be the start of small-scale, locally-based manufacturing through the Welsh groups – a completely innovative approach with SRGs at the forefront.

In addition to these examples, WEvolution have also established their own group of SRG members who are challenging the benefits system head-on, called the Stand Proud Forum. The Stand Proud Form – a collective of SRG members – have started putting their agenda of change and action together. Part of this will include mobilising similar collectives across other regions and partnerships, launching a campaign and interacting with policymakers around a ‘tiny but powerful change’ around SRGs and self-employment.

The main SRG partners in the UK are:

  • WEvolution, a Scottish charity based in Glasgow who have pioneered the SRG approach in the UK and promote a way of working alongside communities that is based on trust, self-governance and collective endeavour towards entrepreneurship
  • Purple Shoots, a microfinance charity who have set up a series of SRGs in Wales and the South West of England
  • Church Action on Poverty, a charity dedicated to tackling the root causes of poverty who are currently expanding their work to create new SRGs in the Greater Manchester area.
  • Trust Leeds, a micro-finance enterprise based in Leeds which works – and walks – alongside people helping them to change their lives by building financial independence, confidence and self-reliance
  • Tannahill Community Centre, Scotland,  working in Ferguslie Park community – designated as the most deprived community in Scotland.
  • Bethany Christian Trust, based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

On the potential benefits of the SRGs, Niall Cooper, Director at Church Action on Poverty said:

“I would emphasise at least as strongly the fact that SRGs improve people’s social circumstances as well as economic ones. In sustainable livelihood terms, SRGs boost peoples own personal assets of self-confidence, capacity and agency, and significantly increase social assets/capital through the common bond of the SRG and the sense of being part of a wider movement. In anti-poverty terms, this can be hugely empowering and transformative.”


This article originally appeared on Nesta’s blog.

Church Action on Poverty’s work on Self-Reliant Groups is supported by a grant from Nesta.

Scripture from the Margins: Bible bookmark

Scripture from the Margins: Untold Stories

A decade of action on poverty

Reflecting on the first two years of Food Power

Annual review 2018-19

A Good Society? We failed

Speaking Truth to Power: reflections from our North East gathering

What does it mean to be a church on the margins?

Edgelands

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Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield 11th annual Pilgrimage, 12 October 2019

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A decade of action on poverty

Reflecting on the first two years of Food Power

A Good Society? We failed

Sweet charity

Read or watch the 2019 David Goodbourn Lecture, delivered at the Centre for Theology and Justice by Revd Professor Michael Taylor in April 2019.

Michael spoke on the theme ‘Sweet Charity’, discussing charity in relation to justice and, when it comes to Christian charities including churches, the primary importance of what might be called the ‘kingdom frontier’ where Christians engage with others in fashioning a new social order. He highlights a very real disconnect between theology and justice, faith and action.

He had some encouraging things to say about Church Action on Poverty’s vision and work:
Church Action on Poverty takes a far more welcome approach in relation to how it handles its faith, how it works with people and how it looks for more radical change signalled by its determination to end hunger in this country and loosen the grip of poverty. Supposing you do so however, by fixing the benefit system or so-called `Universal Credit`, Church Action on Poverty will be well aware that you still leave questions about adequate economic and social reform hanging in the air.
You can watch the lecture below, or click here to download the text.

Scripture from the Margins: Bible bookmark

Scripture from the Margins: Untold Stories

A decade of action on poverty

Reflecting on the first two years of Food Power

Annual review 2018-19

A Good Society? We failed

A decade of action on poverty

Reflecting on the first two years of Food Power

A Good Society? We failed

A faith that does justice

Why is it so important to put our faith into action? Hear some thoughts from our worship and theology collective.

In May, our ‘collective’ – a group of theologians and writers who help Church Action on Poverty produce materials for churches – gathered in Salford.

We spent a fruitful and inspiring 24 hours reflecting on the faith and values that drive our work, and planning some exciting new materials for our supporters to use.

We asked two members of the collective to share their thoughts on the connection between faith and justice. (The video features Marie Pattison, Director of Katherine House retreat centre in Salford, and Revd Chris Howson, chaplain of Sunderland University.)

Scripture from the Margins: Bible bookmark

Scripture from the Margins: Untold Stories

A decade of action on poverty

Reflecting on the first two years of Food Power

Reflecting on the first two years of Food Power

Speaking Truth to Power: reflections from our North East gathering

What does it mean to be a church on the margins?