Review of 2020

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It has been a tough and challenging year for people across Greater Manchester. The pandemic has had huge short-term consequences for the city-region, and the economic and health effects will last long beyond 2020.

Everyone has had to adapt to multiple and changing demands during this year. This has been no less true for us at Greater Manchester Poverty Action (GMPA). We can say confidently that GMPA has shown its value to Greater Manchester, helping shape responses to hardship caused by the pandemic and informing the ongoing fight against poverty. We have been able to engage in COVID-19 related work, and at the same time taken forward key pieces of our 2020 workplan (recruiting to the Food Poverty Programme Coordinator role, running the GM Living Wage Campaign, working towards a Poverty Truth Commission in Tameside, publishing the GM Poverty Monitor and launching our report on local welfare assistance schemes).

As we head into 2021, we’d like to wish you all the best for the festive season. We hope you get the chance to have a rest and that you stay safe.

Best wishes,
The GMPA Team.

Strengthening the role of local welfare assistance

Local welfare assistance schemes, operated by local authorities across England, play an important role in responding to the needs of people facing a financial crisis, and help to prevent people reaching a crisis in the first place. However, there’s been limited policy discussion about how the effectiveness of these schemes could be maximised.Infographic for GM Poverty ActionGMPA’s new report (released last week) – Strengthening the role of local welfare assistance – identifies a series of recommendations for local authorities and their partners in Greater Manchester to adopt. The report draws on good practice from both within and outside the city region.

Visit our website to download the report, the tools developed to support implementation of the recommendations and to listen to the report author Simon Watts discussing the recommendations with our Chief Executive Graham Whitham.

In 2021 we’ll be working with councils and others across the city-region to implement the key findings.

Delivery during COVID-19

As a result of the pandemic GMPA has focussed on the immediate crisis caused by COVID-19. Whilst we are still working towards our vision of a city region free from poverty, we have had to adapt our workplan for 2020. During this period we focused our delivery on the following areas:

  • Gathering intelligence from food banks, food pantries/clubs and meal providers. This information has been used by the GMCA, GM Health and Social Care Partnership and each of the ten GM boroughs to coordinate food provision and support. Specifically:
    •  GMPA has been advising how to support residents on low incomes who would usually access support through services that have had to close or adapt their operations. We are using the intelligence described above to inform this work.
    •  Maintaining online maps of food aid providers and other support services available to people on low incomes. The food providers map has received 21,000 hits since the beginning of March.
  • Maintaining an understanding of how local authorities, the GMCA and other stakeholders are supporting people experiencing poverty. Specifically we have:
    •  Shaped the Equality Impact Assessment tools developed by local authorities to assess the impact of community responses (the provision of food, access to prescriptions and other welfare support) to the pandemic on different groups of the population. We developed a policy briefing and presented this to the GM Humanitarian Assistance Group in April. The briefing focussed on ensuring socio-economic status/poverty was included within the Equality Impact Assessment tools and explained how this could be done and the issues that should be taken into account. This was taken up by local authorities as a result of our work.
    •  Supported local authorities in allocating additional hardship funding from central government to people struggling financially during the pandemic. This included developing a policy briefing and presenting it to the GM Humanitarian Assistance Group. This focussed on maximising choice, dignity and control for recipients of local welfare support and considering how it could best meet immediate needs whilst also addressing the underlying causes of poverty.

Greater Manchester Poverty Monitor 2020

In October we launched an updated and improved Greater Manchester Poverty Monitor 2020 detailing some of the key statistics relating to poverty across the city region. The aim of the Monitor is to support policymakers and practitioners to understand levels of poverty in their area to help inform and shape responses to the issue.

The Poverty Monitors revealed that prior to the pandemic:

  • 620,000 people were living in poverty;
  • 200,000 children were in households with an income below the poverty line;
  • 157,000 households were experiencing fuel poverty;
  • Around a quarter of a million people were claiming help towards housing costs;
  • 20% of all jobs in Greater Manchester were paying less than the Real Living Wage.

The Monitor also found signs that already high levels of poverty in the city region are likely to have got worse during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • The number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits in GM rose by 93% between March and August 2020.
  • There has been a sharp increase in the number of people claiming Universal Credit in each of the city region’s ten boroughs.

In response to the findings of the Monitor, GMPA back national calls on the government to:

  • Introduce a UK wide anti-poverty strategy
  • End the two-child limit on benefits and the benefits cap
  • Boost Child Benefit payments, and
  • Make permanent the Universal Credit uplift introduced at the start of the pandemic.
    Keep the lifeline for GM Poverty Action

GMPA Programmes

Food Poverty Programme:

  • We recruited Dr. Sian Mullen to the Food Poverty Programme Coordinator post in June 2020;
  • We are developing two pilot projects in Tameside and Oldham that approach the issue of food poverty from an advice and cash first approach;
  • In addition to the contribution to GM’s food poverty Covid-19 response, we helped convene and run the GM Food Cell and the GM Food Operations Group;
  • We are also leading on the development of the food poverty section of Good Food Greater Manchester’s Good Food Vision;
  • We submitted evidence to Parliament’s “COVID-19 and food supply” committee, and produced several other briefings for GM local authorities’ food and humanitarian leads on issues such as Healthy Start Vouchers.

Greater Manchester Living Wage Campaign:

  • We have continued to meet online as a campaign group through the Covid-19 pandemic, chaired by Campaign Coordinator John Hacking;
  • We ran or contributed to several events and meetings through the year, especially during Living Wage Week in November, engaging key employers and making the case for the Real Living Wage;
  • We have supported Salford’s, Oldham’s, and Manchester’s bids to become Living Wage places;
  • Greater Manchester announced its ambition to become the first real Living Wage City Region in the UK. We are offering our experience, assistance and support to achieve that ambition as soon as possible.

Tameside Poverty Truth Commission:

  • We recruited facilitators Beatrice Smith in April and Lizzie Bassford in December 2020;
  • We are bringing in the funds necessary to commit to the Commission, and are recruiting commissioners, with the aim of launching in summer 2021. Tameside Poverty Truth Commission for GM Poverty Action






i3oz9sReview of 2020
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A review of Living Wage Week 2020

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Three weeks on from Living Wage Week (9th to 15th November) we’ve had chance to draw breath and reflect on an incredibly busy and successful week. The week started on Monday with a North West event organised by the Living Wage Foundation. At this event, Steve Rotherham the Liverpool City Region Mayor announced the new real Living Wage rate as £9.50 (£10.85 in London).

At the same event the GM Mayor Andy Burnham called on partners and stakeholders to work together to make Greater Manchester the first real Living Wage City Region in the UK. We are offering our experience, assistance and  support to achieve that ambition as soon as possible. This is a significant step change in the fight against low pay in GM and we look forward to working with many of you in the coming months to make this ambition a reality.

Living Wage Week was obviously very different this year and our Campaign activities focussed on three online events with our partners to highlight a range of issues relating to the Real Living Wage and its importance in building back better from the pandemic:

Tuesday November 10th – Pay All Key Workers the Real Living Wage Rally
GM Living Wage Campaign and GM Citizens held an online rally in support of the Real Living Wage for all key workers. We heard testimonies from key workers and about national progress towards the Real Living Wage in social care. Key speakers were Steve North and Conor McGurran from UNISON.

Wednesday November 11th – Bolton: A Real Living Wage
GM Living Wage Campaign and our partners in Bolton, Boo Consulting and Coaching celebrated and promoted the Real Living Wage in Bolton. In the webinar we heard from accredited Living Wage employers in Bolton as well as employers who are interested in joining the movement.

Thursday November 12th – Exploring Challenges to Paying the Real Living Wage
In partnership with The Greater Manchester Employment Charter this event looked at the Real Living Wage in the context of the post pandemic economy. We had a panel, made up of representatives of the GM Living Wage Campaign, the Living Wage Foundation, USDAW and a representative from Rowlinson Knitwear, a Real Living Wage accredited employer. The event can be viewed here

There were a lot of other things going on. The Living Wage Foundation along with partners in Salford produced a short film promoting the Real Living Wage and Salford’s ambition to become England’s first Living Wage City. You can view the film here.

Our colleagues in the Greater Manchester Housing Providers Partnership (GMHP) (many of whom are already Real Living Wage accredited employers) released a report on the work they have done to support residents into work and the commitment they are continuing to make towards the Real Living Wage movement in GM. The report can be read here.

John Hacking GM Living Wage coordinator for GM Poverty Action

Greater Manchester Living Wage Campaign Coordinator John Hacking

Best Wishes and Stay Safe.

Greater Manchester Living Wage Campaign Co-ordinator, John Hacking

Email John Hacking
Twitter: @GMlivingwage           Facebook:




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Debt and its impact on health

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Responding to the debt crisis and its impact on health

by Simon Watts, Public Health Registrar on placement with GMPA

Turn2us logo for GM Poverty Action article on debtNew research based on a survey of 2,500 adults was published by Turn2Us last week revealing the levels of indebtedness which are now facing many residents across the UK:

•  One in three families are getting into debt as a result of the pandemic;

•  One in five people are now ‘always or most of the time’ running out of money before pay day; pre-Covid this number was closer to one in nine;

•  Younger age groups, those with a disability or those from a Black or Asian background are all more likely to run out of money before payday than other groups;

•  Of those surveyed who have accessed debt since March, nearly two thirds could only manage for less than a week if they lost their primary income source.

This shows how little financial resilience many people have. As a result, multiple sources of debt, which at some point must be repaid, have become increasingly relied upon.

The Office for National Statistics find that those in the most income deprived areas are likely to rely on debt more, and further analysis suggests average unsecured debt level is now a staggering £15,000 per household. This is less surprising when you consider the high interest rates associated with payday loans, which can exceed 1500% APR and that those lower income groups, who can’t access affordable credit options, pay an average of £527 more when they buy a household appliance. These are examples of the poverty premium, whereby if you earn less, your costs are higher.

And debt is not just a Covid related problem. The insolvency rate before Covid across most local authority areas in Greater Manchester was at or above the peak following the 2008 recession; we entered the pandemic in a bad position in terms of debt.

The impact of problematic debt is wide, leading to relationship loss, loss of your home, inability to get a home, or a phone contract. The legacy of having debt problems, even once the debt has been written off or repaid, is felt for a long time. The health impact of debt can be severe, with a review of the evidence on debt and health finding that debt was associated with depression and other mental illnesses and in some cases suicide, as well as physical health problems. Given that certain groups of the population (identified above) experience the biggest problems with debt, these negative health impacts are not evenly distributed and contribute to widening health inequalities between groups.

UK debt levels are a public health crisis. The Turn2us research makes several recommendations, including increasing funding for Local Welfare Assistance Schemes (LWAS). GMPA very much support this suggestion, as well as other recommendations in the report including reducing waiting time for Universal Credit (UC) and maintaining the £20 UC uplift, but we would also support further action.

Forthcoming GMPA research into LWAS highlights the excellent support offered by debt advice and money management teams across Greater Manchester; but these services are getting busier. A focus on prevention is needed that seeks to reduce the number of people entering debt crisis, but also ensures those whose health is suffering as a result of debt can access the right support. This isn’t just about helping those already in financial crisis, though that is important. It is also about lower income groups not always able to access affordable credit, it’s about responsible lending, illegal money lending, discussing the dangers of debt with young people and much, much more. And the approach needs to be consistent and coordinated across the city region, so that where residents live doesn’t determine their likelihood of getting into problematic debt.

Simon Watts for GM Poverty Action article on debt

Simon Watts

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with debt and money management, support is available from your local authority and other partner organisations. This website provides a useful directory of the support available, and you can find a range of information and advice services listed on the Maps of Support Services page of GMPA’s website.


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Socio-Economic Duty

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Is it time for voluntary adoption of the Socio-Economic Duty in Greater Manchester?

By Graham Whitham, Chief Executive

Over thirty people, including local Members of Parliament and councillors, joined us on Wednesday evening last week for a webinar on voluntary adoption of the Socio-Economic Duty. The webinar was jointly hosted by GMPA, Just Fair and The Equality Trust. There were contributions from all three organisations, and from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The Socio-Economic Duty is the missing piece in the UK’s equalities legislation. Although the Equality Act 2010 contains a Socio-Economic Duty, it hasn’t been enacted. That means that public bodies do not need to give due regard to poverty and socio-economic status when making strategic decisions and designing services, in the same way that they have to for protected characteristics.

One way to overcome the failure to enact the duty is for public bodies to adopt it voluntarily. GMPA believes that public bodies in Greater Manchester should think about how they can apply the duty. This would mean that socio-economic assessments are included when our local public bodies are undertaking equality impact assessments of projects and activities and when taking policy decisions.

What does applying the Socio-Economic Duty mean in practice?

Applying the socio-economic duty means paying ‘due regard’ to the desirability of reducing the inequalities caused by socio-economic disadvantage and poverty, reducing inequalities of outcome caused by socio-economic disadvantage, and actively considering how to reduce inequalities of outcome when taking decisions and designing services. Key questions that public bodies should ask to ensure socio-economic status is fully considered when making strategic decisions and designing services:

  • What are the potential impacts of the proposal/decision as we currently understand them?
  • Are there any unintended consequences of the proposal/decision on people experiencing poverty?
  • How could the proposal/decision be improved so it reduces or further reduces inequalities of outcome, with a particular focus on socio-economic disadvantage?
  • How will this policy or service assist you to reduce inequality in outcomes overall?
  • How can we ensure the views and experiences of people in poverty inform decisions and service design?
  • If you are now planning to adjust the proposal/decision, could it be adjusted still further to benefit particular communities of interest or of place who are more at risk of socio-economic disadvantage?

Some public bodies in Greater Manchester are already making progress on this. GMPA is keen to work with them and others so that voluntary adoption of the duty becomes widespread across the city region.

Graham Whitham, CEO GMPA

Graham Whitham, CEO GMPA

At the webinar we heard about the importance of taking socio-economic inequality into account when designing services and making decisions, particularly in light of the inequalities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, GMPA worked through the GM Humanitarian Assistance Group to support local authorities on inclusion of socio-economic status in their equality impact assessments of responses to the pandemic. You can read the briefing we published at the time here.

Please do contact GMPA if you’d like to explore adoption of the duty further.


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Poverty as a Health Issue

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By Simon Watts, Public Health Registrar on placement with GMPA

Poverty can cause ill health, but ill health can lead to poverty. We are seeing this more visibly with Covid-19, but this was apparent before the pandemic. As apublic health professional, I am passionate about preventing ill health. This short piece argues that poverty is one of the root causes of ill health and that these two large areas of public policy should not be considered in isolation.

Poverty can cause ill health in several ways. Through my recent research into local welfare assistance I have heard stories of residents living in cold, carpet-less, houses and not being able to afford to eat or pay their bills. These stories have clear links to poor physical and mental health and show the importance of strong welfare support in preventing ill health. Good housing, education and fairly paid jobs are also some of the things that will reduce poverty and protect people’s health longer term. These societal factors have a direct impact on health, but often aren’t talked about in the context of health. Improving health is about the NHS, right? Partly, but the NHS treating illness is only part of the picture. And, treating ill health is usually more expensive than preventing ill health in the first place.

Investing in poverty to improve health

Those on the lowest incomes are more likely to be in poor health and more likely to access emergency healthcare services. This is extremely distressing for the residents it impacts and their families, but it also puts pressure on local health budgets. This has been the case for a long time, but more could be done to change it. Investing what little funds there are available locally to reduce poverty could improve resident’s health and save CCGs and local authorities money in the longer term.

Similarly, we invest in a range of public health advice about how to lead a healthy lifestyle; what to eat, the need to take the right amount of exercise. However, we know that some groups are less able to act on this advice, particularly those on lower incomes who might face additional pressures and stress, so the health gap between low and high income groups widens further (Naidoo & Wills, 2016). Why is that? If your material, basic needs aren’t being fulfilled, why would a balanced diet, or taking regular exercise even be on your mind? Health is not a choice when you are struggling to make your rent or feed your family. Trying to tackle important lifestyle issues without tackling poverty will fail and will leave some lower income groups behind.

If we don’t tackle poverty as one of the underlying causes of poor health, we will continue to pour money into health treatment services without addressing one of the key root causes of that ill health.

There are positive examples of progress though. Across Greater Manchester there are a range of services which work with residents to help improve their circumstances. One of these services, Focused Care, work with residents to support them with underlying challenges in their lives such as housing issues or benefits; when these issues are resolved residents may then have the space and time to focus on their longer term health.

Similarly, my recent work on local welfare provision in Greater Manchester has identified some local authorities which offer strong support for those in financial crisis, helping people get back on their feet and improving their mental and physical health as a result. But access to that support is variable across the city region.

Local authority leadership and governance around poverty mitigation and reduction is needed to improve living conditions, and ultimately health. There are Greater Manchester authorities which have strong structures in place to help reduce poverty, led by elected members, but in some authorities poverty appears to be less engrained in decision making. It is worth looking to Scotland, where action plans on poverty reduction are a mandatory requirement for each local authority, as well as the need to consider inequalities in every policy decision through the Fairer Scotland Duty.

Targeted health interventions can reduce poverty

Poor health can also cause poverty, through no longer be able to work for example. Ideally more ill health would be prevented in the first place, which would reduce financial hardship but, as discussed, preventing ill health is complex. However, the health system can help prevent more severe illness if practitioners know about warning signs and symptoms early enough and work with individuals to manage them.

An example of innovation in this space is a GP pilot in Greater Manchester, funded through the commissioning improvement budget. The pilot involved contacting residents who hadn’t visited their GP for several years, starting with those who had historic risk factors such as high blood pressure or a history of smoking. If those residents didn’t respond, they were followed up, even if that meant multiple phone calls or a home visit.

Traditionally a patient might not have been followed up if they couldn’t be reached three times. Changing that approach meant GP practices persistently seeking out residents who wouldn’t normally engage, helping them proactively manage their health issues, which if left unmanaged could have resulted in a health crisis.  The pilot was disrupted by COVID-19, but this approach is supported elsewhere and could help reduce severe illness and the associated financial hardship.


Simon Watts for GM Poverty Action

Simon Watts

I am convinced that a strategy of proactively supporting the health of our most vulnerable residents will make a positive impact on their health and wealth, when complemented by a wider ranging, local-authority-led poverty mitigation and reduction strategy that targets the underlying causes of poverty. This should be supported by poverty and health being considered in all policy decisions.

The cost of not addressing poverty could be higher from a health and societal perspective than investing in interventions that can reduce poverty. Using elements of the healthcare budget, such as commissioning improvement funds, to support vulnerable groups and poverty reduction could reduce pressure on the healthcare budget longer term.



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GM Poverty Monitor, Free School Meals, the £20 uplift and shifting public opinion

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GM Poverty Monitor, Free School Meals, the £20 uplift and shifting public opinion

by Graham Whitham

Poverty monitor infographic 1 for GM Poverty ActionThank you to everyone who got in touch following the launch of the Greater Manchester Poverty Monitor 2020 last week. We’ve had some really positive feedback, and already been told by local VCSE organisations that they’ve been using the data in funding bids. That is the main aim of the Monitor – supporting local stakeholders to strengthen responses to poverty across the city region.

The launch of the Monitor was covered by several media outlets, including the Manchester Evening News and BBC Radio Manchester (Becky Want Show news bulletins).

Thank you to everyone who supported us by promoting the Monitor on social media. GMPA’s tweets were liked or retweeted almost 300 times, and over the first two days after the launch the Poverty Monitor was mentioned by more than 50 other twitter accounts. There have been over 2,500 visits to the Poverty Monitor section of our website so far.

Although the Monitor is an unfunded project and we don’t have the resources to keep it updated on a rolling basis, we are happy to add data and would welcome your support in doing so. With that in mind, do contact us if you have any sources of data that you think would complement the statistics already featured.

On the same day that the Monitor was launched, there was a vote in Parliament on extending Free School Meal provision to cover the school holidays. Sadly, this didn’t pass. In response, we saw an incredible outpouring of support across Greater Manchester for families struggling to put food on the table. Local authorities across the city region stood up different types of support to help people during October half-term. GMPA collated details of this support and the information and links through to relevant council websites can be found here. With local authority budgets coming under pressure, and local authority officers responding to multiple demands, we know a lot of effort went into these responses.

Whilst the October half-term has now passed, the vouchers that have been made available by some councils can be backdated and applications will remain open into November.

Even more important than Free School Meal provision is the future of the £20 Universal Credit uplift introduced at the start of the pandemic. Latest reports suggest that the Chancellor is open to the idea of extending the uplift, saying it will depend where we are with the pandemic come the Spring. Regardless of where things are up to with COVID-19, the uplift should be made permanent. We know that the benefits system wasn’t generous enough prior to the pandemic and left many people in poverty. It isn’t just because of COVID-19 that many families find themselves struggling financially.

Alongside this, we need to see the £20 uplift extended to families in receipt of legacy benefits (i.e. those benefits that Universal Credit is replacing). You can support this campaign by writing to your MP. Please see details of how to do this from our friends at Z2K.

GMPA Director Graham Whitham for GM Poverty Action

Graham Whitham CEO, GMPA

The Chancellor would likely find public support for this. The British Social Attitudes Survey 2020 (released last week) found an upsurge in support for more generous welfare benefits. Hopefully the absurd arguments made over the last ten years to support cutting social security support can be consigned to the past, and we can move towards an adequately funded welfare system that acts to drive down poverty.




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Child poverty rising sharply

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Child poverty rising sharply in the North and Midlands

By Graham Whitham

New research published this week by End Child Poverty finds that child poverty has risen most sharply in parts of the Midlands and Northern towns and cities in the past four years.

The research looks specifically at child poverty rates after housing costs are taken into account. Measuring poverty in this way often highlights the impact high housing costs have on household income, with many of the areas with the highest after housing cost poverty rates not surprisingly being in London. However, over the five years leading up to 2018/19, rents in other parts of the country have risen by the same amount as in the capital. This is acting to drive up poverty rates in places across the North. Increasingly this means that families are finding that, once their housing costs are paid, they do not have enough money to meet their children’s needs and are left no option but to turn to crisis help, like food banks, and are increasingly reliant on free school meals.

Manchester and Oldham are among the areas that have seen the highest increases in child poverty rates after housing costs in the country. The table below shows the child poverty rates in each of Greater Manchester’s ten boroughs in 2014/15 and 2018/19, and the increase between those years. Child poverty increased in all but one Greater Manchester borough during that period. The areas in our city region with the lowest child poverty rates in 2014/15 either saw relatively small increases in the five years up to 2018/19 (Stockport seeing an increase of 0.2% and Wigan an increase of 1.7%), or a decrease (Trafford seeing a fall of 0.9%). In contrast, Manchester had the highest child poverty rate in Greater Manchester in both 2014/15 and 2018/19 and saw the second highest increase over this period (7%).

Local authority Child poverty (measured after housing costs) rate in 2014/15 Child poverty rate in 2018/19 Percentage point change (2015-19)
Bolton 32.7% 39.0% 6.3%
Bury 30.9% 33.8% 2.9%
Manchester 33.6% 40.6% 7.0%
Oldham 31.8% 39.9% 8.1%
Rochdale 32.4% 37.7% 5.3%
Salford 32.5% 34.8% 2.3%
Stockport 25.7% 25.9% 0.2%
Tameside 31.4% 34.8% 3.4%
Trafford 24.0% 23.1% -0.9%
Wigan 29.1% 30.8% 1.7%


These difference are largely explained by variations in wage growth and housing costs. They also illustrate concerns that government policies that are acting to drive up poverty (e.g. cuts and reforms to benefits) are driving up poverty in already disadvantaged areas.

In response to the research, End Child Poverty is calling for a government strategy for tackling child poverty. GMPA is supporting this call, and the following asks:

•  Uprating of housing assistance in line with inflation;

•  Retain the £20 uplift in Universal Credit introduced at the start of the pandemic, which the Government has indicated will end in April 2021;

•  End the benefit cap and the two-child limit on benefits;

GMPA Director Graham Whitham for GM Poverty Action

Graham Whitham, GMPA Director

•  Invest in all children with an increase to child benefit;

•  Extend Free School Meals to all families in receipt of Universal Credit and those with No Recourse to Public Funds.

You can read the full report and download the data from the End Child Poverty website.

GMPA is a steering group member of End Child Poverty.


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Devolved approaches to social security

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Devolved approaches to social security in the UK – lessons for Greater Manchester

By Graham Whitham

We are pleased to be launching, in partnership with the Sustainable Housing and Urban Studies Unit (SHUSU – University of Salford), a series of short essays exploring approaches to social security at a devolved level in the UK. The aim is to understand what lessons there are for Greater Manchester (GM) from approaches taken in the devolved nations, and to consider what COVID-19 means for the future of local welfare provision.

Dr Mark Simpson (Reflections on Northern Ireland’s mirror image approach to devolved social security) highlights the different payment arrangements for Universal Credit (UC) in Northern Ireland (the only part of the UK where welfare policy is wholly devolved). In contrast to England, UC payments in Northern Ireland are made twice monthly by default and the housing element is paid automatically to landlords.

Despite the different levels of social security powers that exists in Northern Ireland and Scotland, both nations have sought to mitigate against some of the worst aspects of UK policy. Professor Sharon Wright (Social security in Scotland) explains that in 2018/19 the Scottish Government spent approximately £125 million mitigating UK cuts. According to Professor Wright, Scotland’s approach shows the value of listening to those with lived experience of social security and enabling local people to feed into the design of policies and practices.

An approach that responds to the needs of service users was at the heart of the DWP and Oxfam Livelihoods Training Project in Wales. Professor Lisa Scullion (to whom we are grateful for bringing this series of essays together) and Dr Katy Jones (Taking an assets-based approach to Jobcentre Plus support: Lessons from Wales) discuss how the project took a person-centred approach to tackling poverty, embedding understandings of poverty within DWP across Wales. Findings from this project could inform the development of labour market programmes in GM.

Dr Daniel Edmiston, Dr David Robertshaw and Dr Andrea Gibbons explore the impact of COVID-19 on local responses to welfare provision (What can local responses to COVID-19 tell us about the potential and challenges for devolved ‘welfare’?). Whilst recognising the incredible local cross-sector working that has happened during the pandemic, they warn of the risks presented by local welfare support operating in a context of diminishing resources. In this context, increased autonomy that a devolved approach to welfare may bring would need to be accompanied by mechanisms of accountability for local citizens to articulate their needs and preferences about local provision.

There are two aspects to approaching social security policy in GM. The first is to consider what can be done with existing powers. The second is to consider whether GM should seek devolution of aspects of the system and, if it were to do so, what powers it should seek and how it should use those powers. GMPA is currently undertaking research on the first of these considerations, exploring local welfare schemes, with a view to developing policy and a good practice guide for local authorities and their partners. This will be published later in the year.

On the second consideration, these essays encourage further discussion about how devolution of social security system could help strengthen the fight against poverty in GM.

What comes through strongly in the essays is the need to for a person-centred approach to welfare policy that ensures people with experience of using the social security are involved in service design. Also important to recognise is that regardless of the levels of power over the system that exist, what can be done locally, as Dr Mark Simpson says, to support people accessing the welfare system depends on the interaction of available powers, available budget and political will.

To read the essays click here


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Focusing on the causes of poverty

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End Child Poverty Campaign, Marcus Rashford and focusing on the causes of poverty

By Graham Whitham

The End Child Poverty Campaign (ECP), of which GMPA is a steering group member, has written to Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford to congratulate him on drawing attention to the problem of food poverty among families with children. Marcus is backing calls in the National Food Strategy for expansion of free school meals to every child from a household on Universal Credit or equivalent legacy benefit, expanding the school holiday food and activities programme and increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers.

It’s brilliant that Marcus has been able to generate such positive coverage for the issue of child food poverty and we fully support his call for an extension of free school meals to all children whose families are in receipt of Universal Credit. However, it is important that we don’t see food provision as a solution to poverty, whether that be poverty effecting children or other groups of the population.

It is imperative that the Government puts tackling child poverty at the heart of its post-pandemic economic recovery if we are to see an end to families having to rely on food handouts and vouchers to feed their children.

That is why GMPA supports ECP’s call for Government to set out a comprehensive and ambitious child poverty strategy that looks not just at ensuring children have enough to eat, but tackling the causes of low income and the reason families can’t afford adequate food in the first place. This would include strengthening the social security system by increasing child benefit by £10 a week; and ending the benefit cap, the two-child limit and the five week wait for Universal Credit. As well as taking action to ensure that companies pay a real living wage; addressing high rents and the cost of childcare; and reinvesting in children’s services.

Sian (GMPA’s recently appointed Food Poverty Programme Coordinator) set out GMPA’s response to the National Food Strategy in our last newsletter. Whilst a national conversation about food poverty is welcome (and necessary), the strategy recommendations do not focus enough on fixing these underlying causes of poverty.

GMPA Director Graham Whitham for GM Poverty ActionIn Greater Manchester it is important that we use what resources and powers we do have to support people in a way that prevents and reduces poverty, and that gives people maximum dignity, choice and control in the way support is provided. This should involve identifying opportunities to boost household income by increasing benefit take-up and widespread adoption of the Real Living Wage, as well as providing people with access to money rather than in-kind support such as food parcels and vouchers (see our ‘Cash First’ briefing for further discussion about the benefits of this approach).

Graham Whitham
GMPA Director


i3oz9sFocusing on the causes of poverty
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Keep the lifeline

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Joseph Rowntree Foundation campaign: Keep the lifeline

By Graham Whitham


Today (September 30th), despite the cancellation of the Autumn Budget, a letter has been sent to the Chancellor, signed by JRF and over 50 other organisations including GMPA. In the letter the signatories urge the Chancellor to “make the temporary £20/week increase to the standard allowance of Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit permanent from April, as well as extend the same uplift to ESA, Income Support and JSA.”

It goes on to say “Falling incomes and rising costs throughout the pandemic have put families under immense financial pressure, but the £20 uplift has been a lifeline that has enabled many of them to keep their heads above water and has stopped us seeing a marked surge in poverty levels. However, if the uplift ends in April 2021, this good work risks being undermined.”

For more details on JRF’s ‘Keeping the lifeline’ campaign please take a look at this blog  from JRF’s Acting Director Helen Barnard. More information about the campaign is available on JRF’s website here.

Please get in touch with us if you would like to support this campaign.

GMPA is supporting the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s (JRF) call to maintain the £20 uplift for Universal Credit (UC) and legacy benefits introduced during the lockdown. The current indications from Government are that they still consider this to be a temporary measure, and as yet are not persuaded of the need to keep it in the autumn Budget. However, we know that many low incomes families were struggling financially prior to the pandemic and that many will be struggling following the lockdown period as the economic consequences of COVID-19 become clearer. Those needs are not likely to go away anytime soon and the £20 uplift needs to become permanent.


i3oz9sKeep the lifeline
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