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62% want action on income inequality. So, what do we do?

We look at three ways the UK can begin building the society it wants by tackling inequality.

How do we make sure everyone is included in the UK’s pandemic recovery?

How do we ensure the injustices and inequalities exposed and exacerbated by covid are not made worse still when the country gets going again?

There has been much talk of roadmaps in the past few months, but let’s also talk about destinations. Where do we want to go as a country – and how to get there? We can’t have a recovery where some speed off down the road, while others are left behind on the hard shoulder. We need to address inequality.

And, before we set off, we need to make sure all the systems we rely on are roadworthy.

Where do we want to go?

Covid has caused us to reassess our priorities as a country. We have been reminded of the importance of community, the value of neighbours, and the extent to which we all rely on one another.

There are signs also that many of us want to see a more just society, with less inequality. Polling data has shown that 62% of us think the Government should take measures to reduce differences in income levels, while only 12% disagree.

What might action look like? 

There is much work to be done in the UK to narrow the many gaps between those of us who are economically privileged and those of us who are not. This blog looks at just three potential steps: one simple and immediate policy decision, one medium term strategy, and one profound long-term change, all of which would help to reduce inequality.

1 - Protect Universal Credit

43% of Universal Credit claimants experienced food insecurity

Millions more people have been receiving Universal Credit in the past year, as a result of the economic upheaval caused by covid. It is not a great system. The security it provides is flimsy and volatile, and frequently insufficient.

Data released this year showed that people on Universal Credit were eight times as likely as the national average to be food insecure.

Universal Credit should be increased, but instead the Government is planning a cut. It intends to reduce weekly payments by £20 a year from the autumn, which would reduce many struggling people’s incomes by £1,000 a year. That would increase inequality rather than reducing it. We should all be included in the post-covid recovery, but that won’t happen if the Government leaves people without enough fuel in the tank. 

The public want the Government to reduce income inequalities. It should start by abandoning this cut, and keeping the Universal Credit lifeline.

2 - Carry out an MOT on the benefits system

Protecting Universal Credit is a vital first step, but we need to go further. The benefit system needs to be made roadworthy. Just like other vital public services, it needs to be invested in and kept up to date, so it is fit for purpose when needed.

A fair assessment of our benefits system would likely reveal that it does not generally meet the cost of living, and that it is too detached from the people it is meant to support. Payments undoubtedly need to be increased and reviewed annually to ensure they keep pace with living costs. 

More fundamentally, the DWP needs to change the way it works, to ensure the system is designed in conjunction with people who have used the system. Groups such as Poverty2Solutions and the APLE collective (Addressing Poverty Through Lived Experience) have shown how systems and services can be enhanced when people work together. We can’t hope to narrow inequalities in the UK if the primary support system is sub-standard.

3 - Address the UK's underlying power imbalances

There is a more fundamental reassessment that we all need to take part in, which is to address the underlying power inequalities in our society. Only if we do that will other inequalities ever be resolved.

There are inequalities in the UK, around gender, race, region, class and sexuality. Each of these linked injustices harm individuals and hurt society as a whole. Inequality violates people’s dignity and curtails their opportunities, meaning countless dreams and possibilities go unrealised, meaning the whole society always falls short of what it could be and do.

None of these inequalities is new. They may even feel entrenched, but they are not inevitable and they can be addressed. 

All of them stem from an unjust distribution of power, which allows inequalities to perpetuate. We need to break the cycle by truly challenging where power lies and why, by speaking up loudly against systems that allow injustice and inequality to continue, and promoting work that redistributes power.

Initiatives such as participatory budgeting and Poverty Truth Commissions have shown what can happen when communities are entrusted with decisions, and when people meet as equals to find solutions. Such work needs to be supported, encouraged and accelerated if we are to make lasting changes to inequality.

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Seeking food justice in York

Jayne and Shaun’s story: creativity, self-reliance and truth

Sign the Anti-Poverty Charter!

The story of a Cornish food and community revolution

“You are worthy. Don’t ever give up.”

How can policy-makers and churches work together to tackle UK poverty?

How have Christians responded to poverty during austerity?

Reset The Debt in Parliament

Watch the Food Power story

How we can use poetry to accelerate social change

Activism, struggle and superpowers

Sheffield Pilgrimage: pandemic boosts community spirit, but leaves physical and mental scars

Filmmaker Brody Salmon, who has produced powerful films about poverty in his community

How grassroots films change views of poverty

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Wayne’s story: Why I (and you) must refuse to be invisible

“We all want a better world. We have the money, we have the expertise, we have the technologies. It’s just political will.”

Wayne Green from Hear My Story in Worthing

Those are the words of Wayne Green (pictured above) who has been striving to improve society for more than 25 years. 

He was first moved to act by his own experience of eviction, poverty and injustice, but he has gone on to take part in many powerful campaigns locally and nationally. 

And he keeps going still today.

Wayne is the June feature in Church Action on Poverty’s Dignity, Agency, Power calendar. We asked him to talk about some of the work he has been involved in, but also to outline his own path to campaigning, his inspiration to keep going, and the lessons he would share with younger campaigners seeking to make society better.

Wayne: why I started campaigning

I got involved because I had two young children. At that time, I had been made unemployed as a young man, my wife had just given birth and we were renting a flat in Worthing and when the baby was three months old we were evicted.

I was shocked because I came from a middle class background and I had never experienced anything like this before. Here I was with my wife and three-month-old baby with no work, nowhere to go, nowhere to live and I was shocked.

I put my baby in a cardboard box, wrapped up in a woollen cot sheet and we went in the back of a garage van at 9 o’clock at night and drove for 12 hours to Cornwall to live with my mother in law.

I was really angry. I was told at local authority ‘sorry, can’t help you’. That was it. I thought ‘oh my gosh, what do I do?!’

Later we moved back and ended up in Shoreham an as we moved in to this new flat we managed to rent. 

This woman over the road saw us and almost adopted us. Jocelyn Underwood. She was an inspiration to me and a guiding light to me on the issue of social exclusion and poverty and the work of the church, and justice and peace, and also the issues of good local people and what can be achieved.

She basically said to me: you can do anything, and always challenge the system. She was very inspirational and she brought together a group of church goers at our local church. St Mary de Haura.

She was so giving as well but above all her connections were unbelievable within justice and peace groups locally and the church and she was eloquent, she could out-talk any politician.

Some of the reports Wayne has contributed to

Starting to speak up

I spoke at the first National Poverty Hearing. That was quite an interesting and really giant move, not just for myself but local society and national society. I think that’s something that did change society very deeply.

We started a group called Adur: Local People National Voice and we put together our first ever poverty hearing in the local area and we attracted 300 local people. Our local MP didn’t turn up but other local politicians did and Church Action on Poverty came down and gave us full support.

It was interesting to turn the dynamics round. Here we were, a group of six of us on a panel who were in poverty, unemployed, speaking to our local decision makers and local population, and that was new.

At the Hearing, Wayne described poverty as “a battle of invisibility and being blamed for society’s problems.”

That’s how I felt it and that’s how I still see it. It’s exactly what’s happening today. The experience of being part of a poverty hearing, going up and speaking to 600 leaders was quite frightening but the process leading up to it was quite empowering. It broke a lot of barriers. Being poor in the south is still going without food, as you would in the north. There’s a lot of similarities that broke down barriers.

We had a really good core group of people around us who would nurture us as well. and we found that was good and gave us access to a huge amount of people you’d never believe, like politicians, church leaders. I used to pinch myself, saying ‘Am I meeting these people, are they actually listening to me? You couldn’t believe it in some sense. We call it imposter syndrome now.

The Houses of Parliament

What happened next?

Wayne helped to organise a further local poverty hearing in Worthing, and after some persuading Sir Peter Bottomley MP attended.

He came to the meeting but I think it shocked him, the level of interest at that meeting.

The National Poverty Hearing itself, to my mind, unified the conscience of the country. It pricked the conscience and said ‘here we are’. We were opposite the House of Lords, the Houses of Parliament and we were saying ‘come over and speak to us’. Unfortunately, the leaders of the parties didn’t come but other politicians did. I remember in the afternoon a massive argument started in Parliament and I thought ‘at last, we’re having a proper debate’, which was good. It was quite empowering.

Next up was the Future Of Work report, which influenced the thinking of many politicians, including Gordon Brown when he was the incoming Labour chancellor in the 1990s.

I have a copy of that report here and I still read it today and that was very, very interesting to get involved in. You actually felt you had something really to say and people were prepared to listen and we were part of this policy group that went across the nation and brought people together and we covered everything you cover today. I was just reading the issue of flexibility. Flexibility for who? This was 20 years ago and there’s a woman in this report and she talks about flexibility with no contracts. 20 years ago!

Networks of support are vital

Those with first-hand experience through Church Action on Poverty were encouraged to meet once a month or once a quarter, and put our findings together of our experiences of policy. And we covered all the areas of the benefit system, the welfare system, we covered all the areas of work, housing, tax, food, living, but most importantly how society sees you at the local level and national level.

That’s where I said what I still say today: poverty is a battle of invisibility. It’s not being seen and if those in power do see you, they will see you but not let you join in on the actual policies themselves.

Speaking truth to power

Speaking “truth to power” and having agency as an actor can be difficult and can be very challenging. But at the same time, you are speaking to human beings, and human beings do have the capacity to change.

My experience over the 25 years is if I was to put all those reports together, you would see there have been some dynamic changes, such as understanding of mental health issues, understanding the importance of policy, but what we are actually seeing is a harsher world to live in if you are poor.

For example, Hear My Story is working towards a Poverty Truth Commission. You’re seeing community trying to do more themselves, but we had quite a lot of resistance that I was quite shocked about.

What has kept you going?

If I go back into my personal life… I was adopted, I also have Black African-Caribbean ancestors who were slaves. I think there’s a genetic resistance in me; I want to see a better world. I care about the world.

I’m not a truly religious Sunday person, but I believe all faiths have a golden thread running through them and I believe it is possible to change society and one must keep going on this issue.

I also get inspiration from other people. Young people give me more inspiration today. How is it that I see so many older people saying ‘ohh, what’s to be done in the world?’ and you’ve got young people ride up saying, ‘I’ve had enough’.

Church towers in York
Wayne has worked with the church over the years and says it is a fundamental pillar of change

What do you see as the church's role?

Jesus was a radical. He was on the outside and he saw change. Not only that, if you look at other issues of the church, its roots are deeper than politics in the community. I find the church an area that does actually listen to you. If you talk to a local vicar, you’ll probably find they’re very academic people, quite willing to listen. 

I’ve been critical of the church, saying it’s become too middle class and feels too safe, and won’t want to go on the radical side of life but it’s slowly having to because of our morals and ethics. For me the church is a fundamental pillar for change.

Lastly Wayne... what do you say to newer campaigners?

First and foremost, your experience is proof that you exist. Secondly, you are equal to anyone else and your knowledge is probably more than the person you talk to who wants to know. Thirdly, I’d say to young people, don’t ever give up on a cause, because that’s what they want you to do, to walk away. Don’t. Be a thorn in their side. Rock that boat. Be a troublemaker! Troublemakers help change.

Believe in yourself. The experience you have is unique to you. Poverty is a battle of invisibility and you must be seen. Demand to be seen. And don’t ask for the lowest. Why should we ask for the lowest? We want the best out of our society. And everyone should have the best.

Why do I work with Church Action on Poverty after all these years? What I have benefited from is seeing change within systems and structures that others don’t see.

The support mechanisms are very important as well. People do care and having that sisterhood or brotherhood matters. You’re all different but have all experienced the pain, the hurt, the disillusionment, the exclusion of being outside society. But also, if you work hard all together, change can occur. It has to.

“We all want a better world. We have the money, we have the expertise, we have the technologies. It’s just political will.”

Listen to the podcast:

Other 2021 calendar stories:
Dignity, Agency and Power

Why does digital exclusion matter?

62% want action on income inequality. So, what do we do?

Wayne’s story: Why I (and you) must refuse to be invisible

SPARK newsletter, summer 2021

Building Dignity, Agency and Power Together

What I’ve learnt as an anti-poverty activist

Sheffield Church Action on Poverty Update, May 2021

Listening…

How should we talk about poverty in the 2020s?

What’s the best way to reduce the stigma of food poverty?

Food insecurity: now we have the data, it’s time to act

Hold the moment

Why did I write Second Class Citizens and what can we learn?

David Goodbourn Lecture 2021 – register now

A week that changed everything….

‘Life on the Breadline’ announces their End of Project Conference, 24-25th June 2021

Look up child

The Final Push

Sheffield Church Action on Poverty Update, March 2021

International Women’s Day – Sheroes

How do you build dignity & power with people new to the UK?

Right-wing and Left-wing Christian Approaches to Poverty

Speaking of poverty, differently

7 ways a Your Local Pantry could help YOUR neighbourhood

2021 stories: how friends are striking a chord for justice and unity

Annual review 2019–20

Sheffield Pilgrimage: pandemic boosts community spirit, but leaves physical and mental scars

Filmmaker Brody Salmon, who has produced powerful films about poverty in his community

How grassroots films change views of poverty

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

What I’ve learnt as an anti-poverty activist

When dozens of people are talking at once, how can you make yourself heard?

When you speak to people in positions of great power, how do you retain your own?

Penny Walters outside Byker Community Association

In this month’s Dignity, Agency, Power story, Penny Walters from Newcastle addresses these questions.

In this blog, Penny talks about her own experiences of campaigning for food justice. She also shares some of the lessons she has learnt along the way. And she recaps on what it is she’s hoping to achieve.

Penny Walters outside Byker Community Association

What do we mean by agency?

Put simply, agency is the essential autonomy and ability of each individual to say and do what they believe in, and to do what it is they want to do.

Social justice movements are made up of countless people, with different experiences and perspectives. Activists, supporters, charities, professionals, politicians and more all come together at times – and often all have a view on what should be done.

At Church Action on Poverty, we believe people with personal experience of poverty should be heard above all others. We have always worked closely with people, and we always aspire to ensure campaigns and media work are led and directed by people who have lived the issues.

Penny Walters at Byker Community Association

Penny's work

In the past few years, Penny has been one of the people with whom we have worked most closely.

She and her daughter Heather have been part of the Food Power Newcastle group. They’ve been interviewed on Channel 4 News. They’ve spoken to MPs and a committee of the House of Lords. They’ve travelled to America to share their insights with international organisations. And they’ve frequently spoken up about the challenges in their community, with a view to making things better – and all while volunteering in local food projects as well.

In a previous blog in 2019, Penny said: “When we went to the End Hunger UK conference in 2018, we just expected to turn up for the conference and talk to some people, and that would be it. I did not expect all the things it would lead to but it has been very exciting and I am pleased with what we have achieved, and certainly there is more yet to come.”

Penny, Cath and Heather are interviewed for Channel 4 News.
Penny, Heather and Cath are interviewed by in 2018 by Channel 4 News, at the End Hunger UK conference

5 tips for aspiring activists

Two years on, Penny shares a few tips she has learnt from campaigning, which others might find useful:

  1. “Speak up. Shout loudest. It’s the only way to be heard. People in power don’t always want to listen, or they are used to listening to each other, or they have their own ideas. You need to make yourself heard. I’ve always had views but for a long time I did not voice them. Now I do.”
  2. “Have someone fight your corner. It can be difficult or daunting doing a lot of things. If you have someone who stands up with you, it makes all the difference. So for instance, Ben at Church Action on Poverty is very good at doing that when he’s working on anything with me. People working with charities should make sure there’s someone they can count on.”
  3. “Don’t think you can’t do it. Inside you sometimes feel daunted, but if you know deep down you can do something, then do it, and you’ll be glad you did. You can do this if you have the will and support. But, at the same time…
  4. Do what you want to do. Make sure you say no if something doesn’t feel right, and make sure you can genuinely give your ideas, so you’re not just going along with what other people are saying.”
  5. Take it step by step. The first thing I did was go to an End Hunger conference and do a TV interview, and from there a lot of other things have happened. Do what you are able to do now, and then you can do a bit more and a bit more.”
Penny Walters at Byker Community Association

How Penny got started

Penny and Heather became involved in Food Power through the Byker Community Trust, a housing association in their neighbourhood, when they worked together on a community survey. They met other campaigners at the 2018 End Hunger UK conference and stepped up their efforts.

Penny says the Food Power experience has been powerful for her personally, and says she is now motivated to speak for those who are rarely heard by the country’s decision makers.

2021 stories: Dignity, Agency, Power

The May page of the 2021 Dignity, Agency, Power calendar

This blog is the latest in our Dignity, Agency, Power series. Each story relates to the photo on that month’s page of our 2021 calendar. All photos on this page are by Madeleine Penfold. See other stories below.

The story of a Cornish food and community revolution

“You are worthy. Don’t ever give up.”

How can policy-makers and churches work together to tackle UK poverty?

How have Christians responded to poverty during austerity?

Reset The Debt in Parliament

Watch the Food Power story

How we can use poetry to accelerate social change

Activism, struggle and superpowers

Why does digital exclusion matter?

62% want action on income inequality. So, what do we do?

Wayne’s story: Why I (and you) must refuse to be invisible

SPARK newsletter, summer 2021

Building Dignity, Agency and Power Together

What I’ve learnt as an anti-poverty activist

Sheffield Church Action on Poverty Update, May 2021

Listening…

How should we talk about poverty in the 2020s?

What’s the best way to reduce the stigma of food poverty?

Sheffield Pilgrimage: pandemic boosts community spirit, but leaves physical and mental scars

Filmmaker Brody Salmon, who has produced powerful films about poverty in his community

How grassroots films change views of poverty

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

What’s the best way to reduce the stigma of food poverty?

How do we safeguard food access without compromising on dignity?

Your Local Pantry, through its rapid growth, is showing an answer to that question.

Charities and community groups have wrestled with the issue for years. But the pantry network has been a beacon of hope in the past year.

58 photos: Scroll through the images of Peckham Pantry, by Madeleine Penfold.

In a compassionate society, everyone should have access to a choice of good food, free from anxiety and stigma. Achieving that, however, has often proven difficult.

We need Government action to ensure all household incomes cover living costs. But while we press for that, we also need dignified projects here and now, to loosen poverty’s grip.

The Your Local Pantry approach is proving particularly effective. Peckham Pantry features on the April page of the 2021 Dignity, Agency, Power calendar, and in the photos on this page. It is, however, part of a much larger network. In the past year, the number of such shops in the UK has risen from 14 to 43, supporting more than 9,000 adults and almost 14,000 children.

Inside Your Local Pantry in Peckham.
A volunteer at Your Local Pantry in Peckham

How does the pantry model work?

The model is simple. Anyone who lives in a neighbourhood served by a Your Local Pantry can join.

Members pay a small weekly subscription of a few pounds, and in return they can choose around £20 to £25 a week of groceries from the wide and varied stock. It’s a shop in all but name, but members can save nearly £1,000 a year compared to supermarket prices. Stock is supplied through the food redistribution charity FareShare and local suppliers in each area.

The team at Your Local Pantry in Peckham

How do pantries differ from food banks and other projects?

There are several differences. Firstly, and most profoundly, pantries maintain people’s dignity.

Pantries do not hand out food to strangers at moments of severe personal crisis. They create and strengthen communities that work together to reduce the risk of crisis ever happening.

They are bustling, upbeat food clubs that people enjoy all year round. They are places where relationships and communities grow, and there are many resultant benefits:

  • People save on their shopping, freeing up money for other essentials or leisure activities
  • Members make new friends
  • Diet improves
  • People’s physical and mental health improve
  • Many members said that, during lockdowns in particular, the pantries were a vital lifeline and reassurance.

How we picture poverty

The photos in this article were captured by photographer Madeleine Penfold, who teamed up with Church Action on Poverty last autumn as part of our work to improve the way poverty is represented.

She visited the Peckham Pantry, run by Pecan. There, in the midst of the pandemic, members were cherishing the chance to see one another from a safe distance, access their food without anxiety or stigma, and keep their relationships and community going in difficult times.

Supplies at Your Local Pantry in Peckham
Members outside Your Local Pantry in Peckham

Peckham members were among those to contribute to the recent Your Local Pantry impact report, along with members from around England, Scotland and Wales. 

What pantry members say:

“Being a Pantry member has made a dramatic difference to my financial situation. As a single parent, things can be extremely tight. The Pantry provides plenty to enable me to prepare meals and snacks. And the staff are a bonus! It’s taken a burden from my shoulders.”
Another told us she had gone on to do a cooking course through the Pantry, and said: “I learned how to make a few meals I have never tried before such as a new spicy rice full of veg and flavour and mixed bean tortilla that are now firm favourites in my house.”
“In the first stages of the lockdown, I don’t think I could have coped without the Pantry. I didn’t have time to queue at the shop after work and the few times I attempted it, the shelves were bare. The Pantry guys delivered our bags and some cheer each week.”
“It brings it all back to the community and feels like we are shopping local. I prefer this to shopping at a supermarket.”
“Being a member has allowed my family to save money and buy more fresh meat that is halal, as they are Muslim and find it difficult to afford halal meat.”
A team member at Your Local Pantry in Peckham

Why are so many pantries opening?

Pantries have proliferated for a couple of main reasons. 

Firstly, because organisations have seen and want to emulate the difference they make.  And secondly, because we’ve all been reminded in this pandemic of the importance of community and mutual support. 

Local neighbourhoods can and should be at the forefront of developing pandemic responses that can work and last. Setting up a dynamic, inclusive, community-focused project like a pantry is the perfect way to start.

What does the future hold?

Councils, school trusts, churches, a GP surgery and numerous grassroots groups have embraced the approach, aided and inspired by one another. 

As the network grows, pantries can continue to build dignity, choice and hope for thousands more people. And, we will be well on the way to having a better, stronger society, where nobody is cut adrift or neglected.

Other 2021 calendar stories

Watch the Food Power story

How we can use poetry to accelerate social change

Activism, struggle and superpowers

Why does digital exclusion matter?

62% want action on income inequality. So, what do we do?

Wayne’s story: Why I (and you) must refuse to be invisible

SPARK newsletter, summer 2021

Building Dignity, Agency and Power Together

What I’ve learnt as an anti-poverty activist

Sheffield Church Action on Poverty Update, May 2021

Listening…

How should we talk about poverty in the 2020s?

What’s the best way to reduce the stigma of food poverty?

Food insecurity: now we have the data, it’s time to act

Hold the moment

Why did I write Second Class Citizens and what can we learn?

David Goodbourn Lecture 2021 – register now

A week that changed everything….

‘Life on the Breadline’ announces their End of Project Conference, 24-25th June 2021

Look up child

The Final Push

Sheffield Church Action on Poverty Update, March 2021

International Women’s Day – Sheroes

Sheffield Pilgrimage: pandemic boosts community spirit, but leaves physical and mental scars

Filmmaker Brody Salmon, who has produced powerful films about poverty in his community

How grassroots films change views of poverty

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

How should we talk about poverty in the 2020s?

Ruth Lister's book challenges the UK’s approach to poverty, and highlights the work of several of Church Action on Poverty’s partners.

Baroness Ruth Lister is a member of the House of Lords, the honorary elected president of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), and a Professor of Social Policy at Loughborough University. Poverty links to academic research and anti-poverty campaigners’ views on the concept of poverty. The second edition uses updated research and puts a renewed emphasis on the importance of participatory research, involving ‘experts by experience’. Poverty attempts to widen public understanding of poverty and therefore will not be new to campaigners. Lister’s arguments link heavily with Church Action on Poverty’s strategy of Dignity, Agency, and Power.

In the 2020s, poverty is more salient an issue than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic looms large throughout Poverty. Lister argues that focused definitions of poverty affect political policies but asserts that poverty shouldn’t be “reduced to statistics”. She emphasises that poverty should not only be seen as insecurity but as a “corrosive social relation” that permeates the experiences of those experiencing it. Lister analyses the non-material aspects of poverty and argues passionately for:

  • The need to treat those living-in poverty with dignity and respect
  • The recognition of agency within the experience of poverty
  • The importance of reframing the dominant narrative of poverty in terms of power and citizenship.

Ultimately, Poverty calls for the recognition and respect of the viewpoints of those impacted by poverty and a rethink of the politics of poverty in order to redistribute resources more fairly.

Church Action on Poverty’s work is centred upon the ideas of dignity, agency and power, and the book reinforces the importance of all of these.

Dignity

Lister hypothesises that how poverty is seen and experienced is created by a power dynamic within a society where the majority ‘non-poor’ decides the attitudes towards ‘the poor’. ‘The poor’ are created as ‘the other’ through language and images that “label and stigmatise marginalised social groups, with fundamental implications.” The main one being that they are treated differently to the rest of society. The best example of this is the 2014 Channel 4 show Benefits Street, which was criticised for reinforcing negative stigmas of claiming benefits.

The stigma of poverty causes social shame and leads those in poverty to feel disrespected. Participatory research in the UK and internationally has concluded that those in poverty are fighting to maintain dignity and respect as the experience of poverty takes it from them.

Lister asserts that treating people experiencing poverty with dignity can “increase their self-confidence and sense of agency” arguing for the recognition and representation of those in poverty within wider society and the media. Lister argues later for the importance of participation of those with lived experience in making policy decisions to shift the narrative and allow dignity and respect.

Agency

One of Lister’s main arguments is the importance of recognising the agency of people experiencing poverty, emphasising that they make their own decisions to cope with their circumstances. She claims that the acknowledgment of the agency of people living-in poverty can be another sign of respect. But she emphasises that an important consequence of poverty is the constraints of agency, either through ‘othering’ or a lack of material resources. Lister categorises four different types of agency, from the everyday to the more strategic:

  1. ‘Getting by’ – the struggle to keep going in the face of adversity and insecurity, which is not acknowledged by wider society. Lister stresses how impactful insecurity can be, as it can impact mental and physical health.

2. ‘Getting (back) at’ – the feeling of being trapped in poverty and powerlessness can create anger that can be directed at the state (through benefit fraud) or families and neighbourhoods (through anti-social behaviour). But challenging the narrative doesn’t have to be negative. For example, ATD 4th World’s poetry written by ‘experts by experience’ contains assertions of dignity in the face of indifference/disrespect.

3. ‘Getting out’ – Individuals use their agency to negotiate their way through the structural routes out of poverty, usually employment or education. Lister argues the key to agency, in this case, is raising the aspirations of those who feel powerless.

4. ‘Getting organised’ – ‘othering’ processes can discourage those in poverty from activism, but Lister argues that action often takes place within communities in the form of mutual aid (which has increased during the pandemic). Lister also uses the example of APLE Collective (Addressing Poverty through Lived Experience) and Poverty2Solutions, who address the perceived lack of political action from people in poverty by creating a platform to speak out against political policies.

Lister argues government policies tackling poverty should address societal structures while also helping individuals use their agency to negotiate the pathways open to them. The emphasis of participation of ‘experts by experience’ in research and activism to challenge the ‘othering’ of people in poverty is key to the book.

Power

Lister emphasises the importance of the use of human rights, citizenship, voice, and power as a counter-narrative to characterising people in poverty as the ‘other’. Anti-poverty campaigners use this discourse to link political narratives on poverty to wider concerns about human rights, citizenship, and democracy. Lister argues this is a potentially transformative way of speaking about and mobilising against poverty.

Our understanding of poverty can be enlarged when we frame it in this way, and it supports a focus on dignity and agency. The idea that poverty is a denial of basic human rights implies a moral imperative to tackle it and shifts responsibility to structural causes. Lister argues it is important to promote the discourse of human rights through the political action of those with lived experience of poverty, to reinstate dignity, agency, and power to rearrange the societal structures in their favour.

Social divisions and different experiences of poverty

It is becoming increasingly acknowledged, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, that the impact of poverty and how it is experienced is affected by social divisions such as age, gender, race, disability, social class, religion, and geography. Lister reasons that poverty cannot be effectively tackled until inequality is reduced both locally and internationally. Throughout Poverty, the effects of the social constraints of poverty and the individual agency of those who experience poverty despite these constraints are emphasised.

Women, black and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, those living in deprived areas, children, and the elderly are more likely to experience poverty.

Lister maintains that “policies combating poverty need to address underlying intersecting inequalities and be embedded within broader gender, ‘race’ and disability equality and antidiscrimination strategies”. This view that anti-poverty strategies should tackle intersecting inequalities as a whole is not yet widely acknowledged but should be taken seriously. Here at Church Action on Poverty, we learnt valuable lessons through discussions on some of these themes during Challenge Poverty Week 2020.

Sign reading Look After Each Other

Overall, Poverty maintains the empowerment of people in poverty is needed for them to realise their visions of society that don’t include poverty, which would lead to new ways of thinking about poverty. Lister cites ongoing initiatives from ATD Fourth World and Poverty2Solutions. This book aims to widen the general understanding of poverty to galvanise us all to recognise the importance of including people in poverty. That’s something all of us in the anti-poverty movement recognise the importance of, as we work to ensure that dignity, agency and power are better understood in the context of tacking poverty.

Jessica Waylen is Challenge Week Intern at Church Action on Poverty.

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

“All it needs is people willing to listen”

1,000+ church leaders say: Don’t cut Universal Credit

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

Sheffield Pilgrimage: pandemic boosts community spirit, but leaves physical and mental scars

Filmmaker Brody Salmon, who has produced powerful films about poverty in his community

How grassroots films change views of poverty

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Food insecurity: now we have the data, it’s time to act

Now that we know the extent of food insecurity in the UK, the Government’s obligations are clear.

43% of Universal Credit claimants experienced food insecurity

For the first time, the Government has laid bare the true scale of household food insecurity in the UK.

The Government’s own research conclusively shows that, even prior to the pandemic, one in twelve of all households in the UK were experiencing low or very low levels of food security. 

The data was in the Family Resources Survey 2019/20, published by the Department for Work and Pensions on Thursday 25th March.

Most shockingly, it shows that more than four out of ten (43%) households in receipt of Universal Credit experience high or very high levels of household food insecurity.  This confirms what people who have to rely on Universal Credit to survive have known for a long time: the level of Universal Credit is simply too low. 

It’s worth noting that the survey asked only about people’s experiences in the 30 days before they were interviewed. If people had been asked about the full year, the number of food insecure households would have been far higher still.  

It is an indictment of successive Governments that benefit levels across the board have been allowed to drop to such low levels that we have reached this stage. 

Millions of families face worrying whether their food will run out before they get money to buy more; can’t afford balanced meals; skip meals or are forced to eat less than they should because there isn’t enough money for food.

The data will be invaluable in enabling the UK to better understand poverty and therefore to address it. That we have this new information is thanks to sustained pressure from End Hunger UK campaigners and others in recent years. Much analysis will come, but there are two conclusions that can immediately be drawn:

Firstly, the Government’s own research makes the case for retaining the £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit after September unanswerable. As this new report clearly demonstrates, to fail to do so would plunge countless families further into hunger.

Secondly, now that it is equipped with this data, it is time for Government to come up with a coherent plan for ending household food insecurity in the UK. That means making sure all incomes are adequate to ensure every family has enough food to eat, and that no parent or child needs to go to bed worrying where the next meal will come from.  

Notes from the data

  • Universal Credit is the single highest contributory factor by some considerable way – in driving levels of household food insecurity in the UK [See table 9.7].
  • Over 4 in 10 households in receipt of Universal Credit (43%) experience low or very low food security – over five times the national average of 8% across all households.
  • Over a quarter of households on Universal Credit (26%) are ranked as having ‘very low’ food security – more than six times the national average of 4% for all households.
  • Households in receipt of state benefits in general terms experience far higher levels of household food insecurity than the general population [See table 9.7]
  • One in four households on any income-related benefit experience low or very low levels of food security, including: Income Support (36%); Jobseekers Allowance (37%); Employment Support Allowance (31%).
  • One in four households in receipt of carers allowance and more than one in five households in receipt of personal independence payments are food insecure.
  • Specific groups experiencing particularly high levels of household food insecurity:
    • 31% of working age households living in social housing experience food insecurity compared to just 3% of owner occupiers [See table 9.8]
    • 29% of single parent households [See table 9.2]
    • 25% of households with one or more unemployed adults under state pension age
    • 19% of households with one or more disabled adults under state pension age.
    • 19% of black households, compared to 8% for the general population [See table 9.6]

Niall Cooper says the new data on household food insecurity shows the need to protect the Universal Credit uplift, and must lead to a coherent Government strategy to prevent poverty.

Author: Niall Cooper, director of Church Action on Poverty

26th March 2021

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

Lent course for 2022: Life on the Breadline

Our Cookery Book

Keep the Lifeline – sign our open letter to the Prime Minister

Seeking food justice in York

Jayne and Shaun’s story: creativity, self-reliance and truth

Sign the Anti-Poverty Charter!

The story of a Cornish food and community revolution

“You are worthy. Don’t ever give up.”

How can policy-makers and churches work together to tackle UK poverty?

How have Christians responded to poverty during austerity?

Sheffield Pilgrimage: pandemic boosts community spirit, but leaves physical and mental scars

Filmmaker Brody Salmon, who has produced powerful films about poverty in his community

How grassroots films change views of poverty

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Why did I write Second Class Citizens and what can we learn?

In Second Class Citizens, author Stef Benstead shows how the rights of disabled people have been systematically breached in the UK since 2010.

The videos on this page show Stef Benstead, author of Second Class Citizens.

What does it mean to speak truth to power? What messages need to be told, and who most needs to listen?

These questions are always integral to our thinking and priorities at Church Action on Poverty, and we stand alongside those who have been marginalised.

We work with many inspiring groups and individuals around the country, but one of those leading the way is one of our own trustees, Stef Benstead.

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

An important but under-told story

Stef is the author of Second Class Citizens, which is a devastating critique of the way the UK has treated disabled people in the past ten years.

In it, she charts the development of attitudes and care towards disabled people in the past few centuries. Next, she analyses and deconstructs the policies of the past decade.

The book also contains powerful true stories. In many cases, people have been swept deeper into poverty by a system that ought to be a lifeline.

In 2018, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, delivered a scathing report on the UK’s approach over the past few years. Policies and practices he examined have left millions trapped in poverty by circumstances out of their control

The report generated much discussion, and yet two years earlier, a similar evidence-led report on the UK’s treatment of disabled people went largely unreported.

The opening lines of Second Class Citizens begin with that study. Stef writes:

“In 2016, the United Nations made an extraordinary announcement: that the United Kingdom, a rich and developed country, was violating basic human rights.”

Widely-contrasting views

The Government was dismissive of the UN report and said it was actually a world leader in the field.

Second Class Citizens is a forensic examination of the UN and UK’s opposing claims. Stef finds a catalogue of changes to policies, rules, administration, approach, and political rhetoric. Overwhelmingly, the changes contributed to a steady and steep erosion of disabled people’s rights, opportunities and incomes. In addition, they were all implemented with minimal consultation or discussion with those affected.

In the end, Stef finds the evidence overwhelmingly supports the UN position. By contrast, the Government’s claims and arguments do not stand up under cross examination.

Stef writes: “The post-2010 Governments have caused substantial harm to sick and disabled people’s health, living standards and social inclusion.

“It has done so without any moral or economic justification, and has signally failed to uphold one of governments’ most fundamental reasons to exist: to ensure and improve the access to basic rights of its most vulnerable citizens.

“Sick and disabled people in the UK today are treated as second-class citizens, and until this situation is rectified the UK Government will continue to be violating international law by its ongoing breach of disabled people’s rights.”

There is a better way

Our society should not be like this.

The goal of a modern society, Stef writes, should be that sick and disabled people have access as far as possible to the same choices as everyone else, in terms of where to live, work or study, and what to eat, wear and do.

However, that ideal has become a more distant hope for several reasons. Firstly, the narrowing of criteria for help has locked more people out of the support system. Secondly, the removal of some support systems completely has cut people adrift, and those with greatest needs have endured the greatest cuts. Thirdly, many attempts to improve the system have been flawed, often due to failure to properly consult and listen.

Stef has the genetic connective tissue disorder, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and Postural Tahycardia Syndrome and fibromyalgia. This means she is always exhausted and in pain. She has a 1st from Cambridge but had to leave her PhD at the same university when she became ill. 

It was her own experience that led her into researching disability rights and treatment. Drawing on this experience and research, Second Class Citizens aims to provide a clear and lasting answer to many recurring questions. 

“Speaking truth to power is important when it means MPs listen to someone who they do not normally listen to and hear about issues they do not normally hear about,” says Stef.

“I would hope that would stimulate them to then look more into the issues and learn more about it from another perspective. We need to keep saying what is wrong and we need to have a story of how things can be better.”

Language matters

The book is compelling in its assessment of Government policies, and statutory systems:, and makes clear demonstrations of failure. For instance, people are hamstrung by infuriating errors and flawed systems. Public transport is often inaccessible. Support is frequently unreliable. The flawed benefits system punishes minor or non-existent errors. Letters from the DWP say large-print or Braille options are available… but fail to say so in large print or Braille,. As a result, blind people are often unable to read important correspondence.

Stef also examines the political rhetoric that has sustained many of the injustices and systemic problems. She scrutinises, dissects and finds wanting the narrative of a ‘dependency culture’ that has been adopted by many politicians in modern times.

She concludes:

“It is not simply that there is a lack of evidence, but that the evidence shows a strong commitment to work, even among people who are too ill to work or whose only experience of work is of low-paid, dead end jobs.”

Throughout the book, Stef introduces people with first-hand experience of systems and policies that have made life harder.

Adam, for instance, had a good relationship with his landlord, until Universal Credit swept him into rent arrears. Beth, who has autism and severe anxiety, was in seclusion in hospital not because of her own needs but because the hospital has lacked staff. She spends more than 23 hours a day in one room and has not been outside since early 2018.

Their stories are among dozens that hammer home the impact of the systems Stef examines.

Stef is part of the Spartacus network, a collective of disabled or ill researchers, and also works with the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project. She is also a trustee of Church Action on Poverty.

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

“All it needs is people willing to listen”

1,000+ church leaders say: Don’t cut Universal Credit

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

Sheffield Pilgrimage: pandemic boosts community spirit, but leaves physical and mental scars

Filmmaker Brody Salmon, who has produced powerful films about poverty in his community

How grassroots films change views of poverty

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Look up child

Self-Reliant Groups facilitator Laura Walton focuses on the importance of mindfulness in the last few weeks of lockdown

Mindfulness is all about appreciating the moment and doing what it takes to stay in the moment. We learn to hold back our thoughts and train them to sit and wait while our minds settle and are still. No more thinking of all the things we need to do by this evening. Taking a break from those anxious what ifs about tomorrow or next week, those worries about our children and their children, relatives, neighbours, situations which we just can’t fix. It is about stopping and looking and listening, even smelling, tasting and touching.
 
Whilst walking in the park this week with a friend, I caused her to stop and instructed her to look and stop talking. She has been shielding and working from home very reluctantly. Instead of being swamped by children with their noise and clamouring for attention, she has gazed through her window, sat at a desk,in front of her computer and often in silence for most of the last year. Every week we would walk and she would talk, downloading the week indoors as we passed impromptu illegal gatherings of drummers, football matches with supposedly no spectators, the guy cutting hair under a tree over near the closed tennis courts. When I realised she was going to talk her way straight past a huge bank of early daffodils and late snowdrops I had to redirect her energy and attention to something beautiful, wild, resilient and resistent to the drammatic changes that we have all had to face this last year.She continued breathing but stopped still.
 
Despite the upheavals and U turns in our lives, all those sleeping bulbs needed was time at a certain temperature to activate growth and produce a fine display to capture and hold the frenetic activity of my friend’s mind mid download. And she was still and quiet and smiling.
 
How much more beautiful do the blossom trees look this year? Can we take time in these last few weeks before Boris sets us free again to walk and stop and look. Can we look up? Instead of leaving our footprints on the white blossom petals spilt on the pavement, let’s lift our eyes to those gloriously decorated branches. Our worlds have become so small over the last few months and our horizons merely as far as the nearest loaf of bread and bottle of milk. It’s definitely time to look up and be reminded of the vastness of the sky, the knowledge of who is in control and the opportunities that still lie out there for us

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

“All it needs is people willing to listen”

1,000+ church leaders say: Don’t cut Universal Credit

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

Sheffield Pilgrimage: pandemic boosts community spirit, but leaves physical and mental scars

Filmmaker Brody Salmon, who has produced powerful films about poverty in his community

How grassroots films change views of poverty

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Right-wing and Left-wing Christian Approaches to Poverty

Nick Jowett, a member of Church on Action on Poverty in Sheffield, writes on differing Christian approaches to tackling poverty.

It would be right to assume that all Christians are equally concerned about issues of poverty and inequality in society.

The Bible is full of such concerns. The law of Jubilee in Leviticus 25 is intended to prevent anyone accumulating more and more wealth and property. The prophets inveigh against greed and luxury and the unfair treatment of the poor. Proverbs 14:31 says: ‘Whoever oppresses the poor insults his maker, but he who is generous to the needy honours him.’ In the New Testament Gospels one can quote very many passages in which Jesus shows his preferential concern for the poor and warnings against those who amass wealth. ‘The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,’ says the writer of 1 Timothy (6:10). The church of Acts 4 held all things in common, so that there was no inequality.

So the Bible is very clear that injustice and poverty are a scandal and an offence to God. Those who promote inequality, those who pile up wealth for themselves, those who live in luxury while others suffer and fail to do anything, those who actively cheat the poor – these will have to face the harsh judgement of God. Those who help the poor and suffering people, those who give up their wealth and follow in Jesus’ way, those who sell their property and share it with the community – these will be blessed, because they have sought to bring God’s kingdom into reality

Throughout Christian history, the church has been involved in the promotion of charity towards the poor and vulnerable, following Jesus’ commands, e.g. in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25) or that of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). This has involved both the recommendation of a life of generosity and/or chosen poverty for individual Christians and the organisation of communal charitable activity to help the less fortunate. But the arrival of the modern state, with its economic power and its assumed responsibility for the well-being of its citizens, has opened up new questions which the Bible and Christian traditions may or may not be well equipped to answer.

In the United Kingdom and following upon the consequences of the industrial revolution, it was at the beginning of the 20th century that the state caught up with its responsibility for the nutrition, health, education, employment and housing of its citizens. This gradually removed from the church much of its charitable provision of the same things, pushing church and other charitable activities to a voluntary and more marginal sector. It is clear that charitable provision on its own had been unable to meet the needs of the population.

Following the economic crisis of 2008, Conservative governments have reduced tax-funded community facilities and individual welfare support to a considerable degree, with a renewed hope, not always fulfilled, that private and voluntary provision might fill the gaps.

Christians on the Left are very likely, in addition to Scripture and Christian tradition, to take their point of departure from William Temple’s ‘Christianity and Social Order’ and the creation of the welfare state in the post-war Labour government. By contrast, Conservative Christians may well consider themselves ‘less political’, relying on Bible and Christian tradition alone, but still accepting the necessity of the welfare state, while also being ‘children of Thatcher’ in preferring the freedoms and possibilities of personal/economic initiative in today’s society.

Left-wing Christians will speak a good deal about the kingdom of God, which has both come into being in the ministry of Christ and yet is still to be fulfilled by the end of the age, and they see an important role for humans, and especially Christians, in collaboration with God’s Spirit, in bringing to fruition a just and peaceful earth. But socialist Christians have to face a major challenge: the modern state, with its democratic accountability and economic strength – with power to affect the whole life of its citizens – is very different from the societies in which Christianity appeared and grew: how then can a set of ethical injunctions which grew up in a world where inequality and injustice were either unquestioned or matters for individual responsibility or, at most, for those with power over smaller social groupings, be applied to the modern corporate state?

Their answer would be twofold. Firstly, they would point to the effects of ‘structural sin’, that is the accumulated effect in society of millions of selfish decisions and actions which entrenches huge disparities of wealth and power, rewarding those who come out on top with ever more privileges and insulation from the less fortunate, and at the same time pushing down those whose forebears came from below or lost out in an earlier rat-race, so that they exist in a ghettoised underclass with low paid, boring jobs, poor quality housing and food, education which often does not encourage aspiration, and physical and mental health substantially worse (as measured, for example, by life expectancy) than for better-off echelons of society.

The accumulated genetic outcome of this process is little commented on, but, for those who have been poor for generations, and probably getting poorer, the quality of minds and bodies will almost certainly decline, often to the point at which all efforts to encourage educational progress and feelings of self-worth and initiative may be very difficult or even feel impossible. (I don’t believe they are impossible, but the resources required are well beyond what any political party has shown itself to have the will to provide.)

Our left-leaning Christians will point to the structural sin which has embedded deep chasms of inequality in our society and left a whole section of it almost cut adrift from the rest, people for whose multi-deprivations there are no quick-fix solutions. They will, however, point to the fact that Liberal and Labour governments in the 20th and 21st centuries did make deep inroads into this great divide, with major provisions, through tax and national insurance, of housing, education, the NHS etc, and that Conservative governments have actually accepted the necessity of these provisions. The Left will point out also that Conservative governments have tended to fall back into a ‘freer’ version of society, with many profit-seeking private firms now occupied in social provision, and have allowed processes of division and inequality to become re-embedded.

So state provision is seen by left-leaning Christians as simply a modern method, appropriate to the modern state, of fulfilling God’s command to care for the poor. It’s quite clear that personal or communal charity, valuable though it is, still leaves much of the inequalities and deep unfairness of society untouched, and so, if this is to change, it is only the state that can achieve the heavy lifting that is required. (Many would argue that charity actually confirms and deepens the ‘us and them’ of divided societies: the rich get a nice feeling for handing down just a little of their wealth, but still hold on to most of it; the poor feel humiliated but don’t ever get enough to change their position. Result: nothing changes.)

Secondly, even though modern society is so different from earlier societies, left-wing Christians can point to Biblical justification for state provision. When Jesus was challenged about the payment of tax, he is reported as saying, ‘Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar’. In Romans 13 Paul also recommends that Christians should willingly pay their taxes. The reason Paul gives for this is that the Roman state provided a system of order and justice and security, and that overarching provision was what one’s taxes were helping to fund. The modern state, of course, provides much more than basic law and order, but the principle of taxation to provide a public good is the same, and therefore tax-funded state provision for the poor can be seen as in line with Christian values.

It might even be possible to argue that Jesus feeding five thousand people at one go is an argument for the state providing a Universal Basic Income for its people.

So what will right-wing Christians say in answer to this?

Of course they will accept the Biblical and later Christian teaching about the evils of mere wealth accumulation and the requirement of charity towards the poor and vulnerable. They will, however, place greater emphasis on personal, individual responsibility: those who are at the bottom of the pile need to be encouraged and stimulated to find a way of bettering themselves, without being featherbedded by state hand-outs which may destroy the motivation to improve their lives; those who are better off should be willing to help the less fortunate, both by generosity and by community and charitable involvement.

There are some issues the right-wing Christians need to face. It is possible that their nerve of effort may be somewhat weakened by making too much of Jesus’ dictum that ‘you will always have the poor among you’ (Matthew 26.11; Mark 14.7; John 12.8; and see Deuteronomy 15.11), even if that particular text is less a universal announcement, and more a defence of a woman’s extravagant generosity towards him (‘You complainers will have plenty more opportunities to help the poor, if that’s what you’re so bothered about!’). Another factor for evangelical Christians which may detract from energy directed towards the ending of poverty is their focus on individual salvation and on a final cosmic consummation, which will be entirely in the hands of God and allow much to fall to perdition; so their efforts are on conversion of individuals, rather than on an incremental collaboration with God to bring in the kingdom on earth. (Having said that, I must add that in the UK in the last twenty or thirty years evangelical Christians have often been in the forefront of imaginative projects with and for the poorer parts of society.)

But in relation to the poor, Conservative Christians are very likely to believe that decades of welfare provision by successive governments have created a culture of dependency, in which too many of the recipients, whether simply receiving what was due to them or positively gaming the system, have got stuck in a poor quality lifestyle, in which it isn’t really worth taking a job, and so you get generation after generation of people with low aspirations and a failure to contribute positively to society. Conservative Christians may well believe that welfare systems have weakened families by encouraging sexual activity and births outside secure relationships and allowing men to escape the responsibilities of fatherhood. So recent Conservative government approaches to poverty have used the need for national austerity as a reason for making welfare benefits and other social provision less generous (which might be caricatured as a ‘stick rather than carrot’ policy to get people out of poverty!), bringing in a Universal Credit system which theoretically makes it easier to move smoothly into work from benefits, trying to create more private sector/self-employed jobs as the route out of poverty, and encouraging ‘Big Society’ voluntary and charitable initiatives to transform deprived communities.

What would justify this approach for a Conservative Christian? It is, for many people, no longer politically correct to say that the poor have somehow deserved their situation, that they have failed to make the right choices and not shown the kind of motivation and energy which could have enabled them to aspire to something better, but I think there is little doubt that a good number of those on the Right believe this. As Christians, they might support this by saying that each of us has personal responsibility before God and that those who fail to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2.12) will inevitably fall by the wayside. Texts such as 1 Timothy 5.8 (‘And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever’) or 2 Thessalonians 3.10-11 (‘Even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work’) may well be quoted at this point.

The belief that God will bring punishment and woe on those who do not live according to his laws can be justified from many Biblical examples, and the rationale for the Prosperity Gospel movement in the United States comes from the obverse of this. Nevertheless, Jesus, when challenged about the man born blind (John 10) or the victims of Herod and the fallen tower at Siloam (Luke 13) specifically denies that their suffering was a direct result of their sin.

The doctrine of personal responsibility is applied by the Right also to those who could potentially help the poor. Jesus challenges the rich man (Mark 10.21) to give up all his wealth and inveighs against those who hang on to their accumulated riches and then die before they can make use of them (Luke 12:16–21). Margaret Thatcher on one occasion, probably prompted by a clever speechwriter, reminded her audience that the Good Samaritan would not have been able to help the poor man who had been mugged on the road without the money that he had previously made. For both rich and poor, the parable of the Talents (Matthew 25) or Pounds (Luke 19) could, for right-wing Christians, provide a justification to encourage rich or poor to make something more from whatever they have been given.

In the end, it’s likely that there will always need to be a balance held between the Left’s desire for universal state provision and the Right’s recognition of personal responsibility in using the world’s resources.

John Milbank has written: ‘It is sometimes said that we can’t stop at charity, and that all Christian reformers have wanted to proceed to enshrining principles and practices in law. One can see the serious point of this and in certain respects such an advance is crucial, and yet there is a profound question mark over that whole tradition which William Temple exemplified. It is a … tradition that tends ultimately to surrender things to the state and risks eroding both the interpersonal and the sense that people are mutually responsible for each other at the immediate social level. Anglican social thought at least has always been divided between this approach and one which stresses less state intervention, and rather more a mixture of the political and the social in the role of intermediate associations where the citizenry act more spontaneously and more for themselves in a genuinely participatory fashion.’

I wonder if it would be fair to say that two CAPs represent the Left and the Right in Christian approaches to poverty. Church Action on Poverty places an emphasis on campaigns to press the government to create the conditions to end poverty. Christians Against Poverty use church members and debt advisers to help people find their way out of debt and start a better life, often as part of the church whose members supported them. It’s clear to me that both approaches – and much more of both approaches – are needed.

How have Christians responded to poverty during austerity?

Reset The Debt in Parliament

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Listening…

How should we talk about poverty in the 2020s?

What’s the best way to reduce the stigma of food poverty?

Food insecurity: now we have the data, it’s time to act

Hold the moment

Why did I write Second Class Citizens and what can we learn?

David Goodbourn Lecture 2021 – register now

A week that changed everything….

‘Life on the Breadline’ announces their End of Project Conference, 24-25th June 2021

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Filmmaker Brody Salmon, who has produced powerful films about poverty in his community

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13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Speaking of poverty, differently

The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Olivier De Schutter's video outlines his new mandate on ways of tackling poverty.

The UN Special Rapporteur’s mandate argues that poverty has often been pictured as attributable to the individual, but we should see it instead as a failure of society. To combat poverty, we should not shame or penalise people in poverty.

We should instead create a truly inclusive economy, in which each person is not considered a passive recipient of support, but an actor, co-constructing solutions. They emphasise that “building back better” does not mean returning to the status quo, but instead taking public action toward the sustainable eradication of poverty. 

This vision is in line with our own, putting people with lived experience of poverty at the forefront to create sustainable solutions to poverty. Our strategy focuses on how we can build a movement that ensures everyone can access dignity, agency, and power. 

Watch the video below and read more about the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

Transcript:

Poverty has often been pictured as attributable to the individual.

Who made the wrong choices in life, who is not fit for the world of work, who failed to see the opportunities, who does not deserve help.

As if society were a fact of nature, a given that we cannot change. this has a number of perverse consequences.

It leads to individuals in poverty feeling shame and becoming invisible in society. It legitimises discrimination and institutional abuse against those who experience poverty.

It gives the wrong impression that only a tiny share of the population is at risk of poverty and it reserves support to the deserving poor while others are denied help.

But poverty is really not a failure of the individual we should see it instead as a failure of society.

A society that fails to recognise the competence of people in poverty a society that relies on a fetishised conception of merit.

A society that does not ensure inclusion but instead creates exclusion.

A society in short that imposes uniformity rather than recognising the value of diversity to combat poverty.

We should not shame or penalise people in poverty.

We should instead create an economy that is truly inclusive: recognising the potential of each individual, building on the inventiveness of people in poverty and their multiple skills on the social innovations that they imagine on the solidarity networks they develop.

This is an economy in which each person is not considered a passive recipient of support but an actor co-constructing solutions.

If I can imagine this society so can you.

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

“All it needs is people willing to listen”

1,000+ church leaders say: Don’t cut Universal Credit

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

Sheffield Pilgrimage: pandemic boosts community spirit, but leaves physical and mental scars

Filmmaker Brody Salmon, who has produced powerful films about poverty in his community

How grassroots films change views of poverty

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021