How have Christians responded to poverty during austerity?

Dr Stephanie Denning looks back at what our partners at the 'Life on the Breadline' research programme learned over the last three years. How have Christians responded to poverty during austerity?

Image credit: Beth Waters and Life on the Breadline

More than 15 million people are living in poverty in the UK (Legatum Institute, 2021).  So how are Christians responding to poverty in the UK?

Life on the Breadline has been a three-year research project (2018–21) analysing Christian responses to poverty in the UK during the ‘age of austerity’.  Together the project team – Chris Shannahan, Robert Beckford, Peter Scott, and Stephanie Denning – have undertaken the most in-depth empirical theological analysis to date of poverty in the UK. 

The most recent period of austerity in the UK began over a decade ago following the 2008 global financial crisis.  Visit the Life on the Breadline austerity timeline to learn about key austerity policies and how austerity has affected people’s daily lives.

During the research we interviewed national Church leaders in the UK, undertook an online survey with regional Church leaders in the UK, and spent time with six case studies of groups and projects responding to poverty in different ways. One of our case studies, and our project partner, has been Church Action on Poverty. 


Our participants in the Life on the Breadline research

Voices from the grassroots: Life on the Breadline photographic exhibition at Coventry Cathedral

This July, Coventry Cathedral is hosting the Life on the Breadline photographic exhibition.  This is one way in which we are featuring the findings from our research from our time with our six case studies in Birmingham, London, and Manchester.

The exhibition features photographs from our Life on the Breadline grassroots case studies which challenge the way we think about people’s experience of poverty in the UK and how Christians have responded to poverty during the ‘age of austerity’.  The photographs have been taken by the research team and by local residents, volunteers, and staff at the six case study projects.

This short film below gives a taster of the exhibition with reflections from visitors at the exhibition launch:

The exhibition shows that there are many ways that Christians are responding to poverty in the UK, from foodbanks to food pantries, to campaigning on housing injustice and responding to serious youth violence.  Our Life on the Breadline case studies show that these different responses can often overlap – for example, one group or project can both respond to poverty through social action, and campaign for change on the causes of poverty.  Importantly, our research also shows that not every case study defined their work in terms of poverty, recognising the stigma and negative stereotypes that can be associated with the language of poverty.

From the exhibition: Church Action on Poverty’s Your Local Pantry network has adapted and grown in response to the pandemic. Credit: Madeleine Penfold

The exhibition runs in Coventry Cathedral until 28 July 2021 and is free to attend.  To manage Covid-19 restrictions, please book your free ticket here in advance.

Where can I find out more?

Visit the Life on the Breadline website to access a wide variety of resources: 

Dr Stephanie Denning works at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University.

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