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Sheffield Civic Breakfast: leaders told about mounting pressures of poverty

Sheffield Church Action on Poverty’s first Civic Breakfast since Covid has heard that around 120,000 people in Sheffield are living in poverty, homelessness is the worst it has ever been, and city food banks could collapse if demand continues to increase.

The Civic Breakfast provides an opportunity for organisations working to address issues caused by poverty in the city to raise and expand understanding of their work and the issues involved. It is attended by politicians, civic leaders, officials and faith leaders from Sheffield.

Guests saw a video, produced by Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield, showing the work of the Grace Food Bank in the Lowedges area of the city, before hearing from the food bank’s chair Dr Jackie Butcher and Sheffield University Professor of Social Policy Alan Walker.

Professor Walker told Civic Breakfast guests, including Sheffield City Council leader Tom Hunt and Lord Mayor Colin Ross:

“During the cost-of-living crisis, more and more families fell into deep poverty. It’s not a matter of juggling and budgeting – they simply don’t have enough money to make ends meet.”

Prof Walker said three out of four families in poverty were going without and three in five did not have enough money to buy the food they needed. There were 120,000 people, including 28,000 children, living in absolute poverty in Sheffield in 2022-23, a 6,000 increase on 2021- 22.
What’s more, 38,000 were living in destitution and 37,000 experiencing severe food insecurity – a 15,000 increase on 2021-22.

Prof Walker said there had been “an unprecedented attack” on the incomes of the poorest. These included the month delay before Universal Credit begins being paid to claimants, the freezing of payment levels, and the abolition of payments for more than two children.

To make matters worse, as poverty increased the government had simply changed the definition of poverty to disguise the rise.

“In Sheffield, 50,000 people are experiencing negative budgets, where more money is going out than coming in – and that is even if they claim all the benefits they are entitled to. A further 35,000 people are ‘running on empty’.
Government policies have a very important role to play in combating poverty. Benefit rates are too low. It’s a trap, it’s a systemic trap – and it can be changed.”

The Grace Food Bank’s Dr Butcher said demand had doubled between 2001 and 2022 and again between 2022 and 2023, and was still rising. “If demand doubles again we won’t be able to cope,” she warned. 

She derided claims that people could survive by shopping around and cooking meals themselves, pointing out that some food bank clients had, at best, just a kettle.

“People come to us because the system is broken. They can’t afford ‘stuff’, they can’t afford to make their home safe for a disabled child, they can’t afford to visit their child in hospital, they can’t afford to heat their home to deal with their COPD. We need the wholesale re-organisation of the system in this country.”

Tim Renshaw, chief executive of the Cathedral Archer Project, which provides support for the homeless in Sheffield, told guests:

“Homelessness has never been so bad. There are 865 households in temporary accommodation and 45 rough sleepers a night.”

Mr Renshaw described plans to use Public Space Protection Orders to move homeless people out of some areas as “an absolute red herring – a piece of political magical thinking.”

Sheffield City Council Labour Leader Tom Hunt praised local initiatives for trying to lift people out of poverty. He stressed the cost-of-living crisis had been going on for far longer than the recent price rises
and was the result of Government policy.

Coun Hunt said: ”Choices have been made to design a system that is broken,” adding that putting cash in the pockets of the poor was one way to start dealing with poverty.


For further information about the Civic Breakfast contact Sheffield Church Action on Poverty chair, Dr Joe Forde, on joe.forde@tiscali.co.uk or 07854 109 670.

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