When people suffer from material poverty and deprivation they don’t just suffer the lack of a few things, they lack a sense of confidence, they lack a sense of having a stake in society around them. They feel that they’ve fallen off the edge and they’re dispensable. –- Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
Charles Dickens exposed poverty in Victorian England. We may have the modern welfare state but poverty has not gone away. With the slash and burn of public services, the massive cuts in welfare and housing budgets, followed by local council cuts and rising unemployment, poverty can only get worse.
The figures are shocking.
Unemployment benefits were when introduced, 20% of average earnings. Sufficient to get by on, but not to live the life of Riley. They remained at this level all through the Thatcher years. Under New Labour, Unemployment Benefit fell in real terms, now only half of what is was.
It is not only Unemployment Benefits, the value of State Pension has also fallen. Compared with Europe, British Pensions fall well down the league tables.
Inflation is a poor indication of how people in poverty are faring. Money is spent disproportionately on food and fuel. Food and fuel prices have risen at a disproportionately faster rate than inflation. For households in fuel poverty winter can mean a choice of heat or eat.
Those on benefits are hit with a double whammy. The real value of benefits has halved, household expenditure has risen much faster than inflation.
– 13.2 million in the UK live in poverty of which 3.8 million are children
– 5.8 million have household income 1/3 below the poverty line
– poverty shortens lives and creates disadvantage
– it is getting worse
3.8 million children in poverty. That is 1 in 3 children are in poverty, one of the highest rates of child poverty in the industrialised world!
Poverty is complex and it is not just about money. Whilst poverty may be rooted in lack of money, it effects the quality of life. People feel disenfranchised, marginalised, no longer able to function or participate in society, their self worth falls. They become angry, addicted to drugs and alcohol. Families suffer, diet suffers, education suffers, families become dysfunctional. Many parents lack basic parenting skills. Children suffer at school, not just bullying, but they lack the ability to communicate, lack basic social skills. Often do not know their own name, do not know how to use a knife and fork, let alone possess table manners.
In the wealthiest area of London, a man will now have a life expectancy of 88 years. A few miles away in one of the capital’s poorer wards, male life expectancy is 71 years. [Fair Society, Healthy Lives Report, February 2010]
In the richest 10% of neighbourhoods, 59.8% of under-21s went to university, compared to 31.9% in the poorest 10% of neighbourhoods. [Office for National Statistics, 2010]
Children from deprived backgrounds are nearly a year behind their peers in language skills by the age of five. [Sutton Trust Report, Feb 2010]
Children living in disadvantaged families are over three times as likely to suffer from mental health problems as those in well-off families. [End Child Poverty, 2008]
A father’s income determines his son’s to a greater extent in Britain than in any other wealthy nation, with half of high earners’ ‘economic advantage’ being transmitted to their children. [Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 2010]
In London homeless people are sleeping in rubbish bins to keep warm!
What is to be done? Jesus reached out to the poor, he associated with riff raff. He said (Matthew 25, 35, 36 & 40):
I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me,
I was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me
I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.
Faith in the City showed the extent of poverty and deprivation in our inner cities. It was a wake up call. ‘That Marxist report’ as Margaret Thatcher called it led to the establishment of the Church Urban Fund.
Big Government works top down. This apart from providing the basic safety net of the Welfare State (which is being dismantled) does not work. We have to work bottom up. We have to work directly with those effected. We have to empower them.
Give a man fish and I am feeding him all his life. Show him how to fish and he can feed himself.
Church Urban Fund works with local activists, with locally-based church groups. It goes where others dare not tread. It provides seed funding to get local initiatives kick started.
Source Café is a Church Urban Fund funded project in Aldershot. Aldershot by any measure is a deprived area. The town centre is derelict, housing association estates are more like what you would expect in the Third World, unsafe to walk at night and not much safer in the daytime. Kids hang around, drift into violence, thieving, drug dealing, gang culture. Drug dealing is rife in the schools.
Source Café provides a safe environment for kids to hang out. Source Café was established, with the help of Jo Emmett, to provide a safe pace for 14 to 24 year olds. It has progressed beyond a café, to provide anger management, a young mum’s club, after school club. Young people work as volunteers, which helps their people skills and builds self esteem and confidence.
Source Café gets on-going funding, help and support from local churches.
The vision of Church Urban Fund is to see every church, every Christian working with the disadvantaged.
The Budget Deficit is being used as an excuse for slash and burn of public services – closure of libraries, firing of lollipop ladies, scrapping of Bookstart, sell off of our woods and forests, slashing welfare. Historically the Budget Deficit is not huge, yes, it should be reduced,, but at a rate the economy can afford. Were tax-dodgers like Sir Philip Green, Vodafone, Boots etc to pay their taxes there would be no Budget Deficit.
It is not just that the poor are getting poorer or that the number in poverty is on the increase, the gap between rich and poor is widening, the rich are getting richer.
The rich laugh all the way to their offshore banks. The Sunday Times Rich List 2010 has seen a £77 billion increase in wealth for British super rich in one year! That is Britain’s Super Rich have seen wealth rise by one third in one year! And for the likes of Sir Philip Green (or should that be Greed?) do not even pay tax! The rise is easily the largest annual increase in the 22 years that the survey has been carried out!
The IMF has said that if you wish to reduce the risk of financial instability then reduce inequality.
Corporate tax dodgers are now so worried that they are engaging PR consultants to slosh around some greenwash, but no amount of greenwash can hid the fact that they dodge their taxes and it is the poor who pay the price.
Meet n Chat takes place every 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month at St Peter’s Parish Centre, with occasional speakers. On the 3rd Wednesday of the New Year they hosted a talk by Hilary Elliott, Head of Church Relations from the Church Urban Fund.