Beyond Poverty

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 Launch of GMPA’s Beyond Poverty Report

At Greater Manchester Poverty Action we are committed to strengthening the voices of people in poverty. People who have lived experience of poverty are sometimes referred to as experts by experience, rightly recognising the potential that they have to bring about real change for themselves, for their communities, and for wider society. Sharing people’s stories is important for raising their voices and helping them to be heard, and for developing everyone’s understanding of poverty.

The reasons why poverty exists in Greater Manchester, and in the UK as a whole, are well understood; high living costs, a housing market that is incapable of meeting everyone’s needs, a broken social security system that fails to provide a sufficient safety net, and an economy that relies too heavily on insecure and low paying work in order to function are all among the structural factors that result in people experiencing poverty and hardship.

However, the reasons why one person experiences poverty and one person doesn’t, and why some people are at greater risk of poverty are complex and multifaceted. Policy and practice needs to be designed in a way that responds to these complexities and challenges. To do so the voices of people with lived experience of poverty must be heard, and furthermore they must be involved in re-designing policy and practice.

We are therefore pleased to announce the launch of GMPA’s Beyond Poverty report, which will be serialised in this newsletter over the next few months. The report will share the stories of people from across Greater Manchester who are either currently experiencing poverty or who have experienced poverty in recent years, describing the experience, the causes and the effects of poverty. We don’t offer detailed commentary alongside the case studies, we want the voices of these experts by experience to speak for themselves. When all the articles have been published we will print them as a single report – please let us know in advance if you would like a copy.

We start in this edition with David’s story that describes being out of work due to illness and disability, and shows the importance of a supportive and effective welfare system for those unable to work.

We want to take the opportunity to thank everyone whose story you will read in the coming months, who have showed great courage and understanding in coming forward and telling their stories, as well as Peter Cruickshank for having conducted the interviews with such sensitivity and dedication.

David’s story

Charlotte’s story

Penny’s story

Sarah’s story

Darryl’s story

Going beyond the Beyond Poverty report, sharing stories is important, but it is only the beginning. Poverty can only be addressed when those who experience it first-hand are involved in the process of identifying problems and working on solutions. We are therefore also inviting experts by experience to co-chair each sub-group of the Food Poverty Alliance. In so doing, we aim to co-produce a Food Poverty Action Plan for Greater Manchester with a deep understanding of the causes, effects and experience of food poverty.

Tom Skinner and Graham Whitham, Directors, and Chris Bagley, Communications Manager of Greater Manchester Poverty Action


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David’s Story

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An army veteran and former labourer, David’s injury prevented him working. His story shows the importance of a supportive and effective welfare system for those unable to work.

David Beyond Poverty for GM Poverty ActionBorn in Blackburn, David joined the army after school and served in Lebanon. After returning to civilian life, David did manual work, “All kinds of labouring, heavy duty jobs like loading wagons and the demolition of buildings”. He had enough money to live on, and was happy. David’s face lights up when he talks of Jean, his wife. They met in their 30s, and were married within a year.

Then in 1998 David had an accident, falling down the stairs at home. It left him with serious back and leg injuries, unable to work. David had spent 20 years “paying in”. He received Incapacity Benefit to support him while he recovered. However, his back injury was not easy to treat and he suffered from   depression. A terrible throat infection then stole David’s voice, and he has not talked since – for 10 years he has communicated by typing on a computer. Everything became overwhelming, and David would only leave the house for doctor appointments. He became very dependent on his wife, putting a strain on their relationship.

David received Incapacity Benefit and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) until 2012 when he was summoned to a Work Capability Assessment (WCA). In a wheelchair, and unable to talk, David recounts that “I had my WCA and they said I was fit forwork. They took no notice of my very obvious problems. There’s not even anywhere in the report talking about my silence during the assessment, and some of the things in the report were simply false, they must have just made that up.”

With ESA taken away, David was left living on the lowest rate of Disability Living Allowance. Receiving less than £100 per month, he and his family began to starve. “When my ESA was stopped, it put my family deeper into poverty”, he says. “There were times we went without food, once we didn’t eat for three days, the benefits were not enough to support us. It was a vicious circle. To keep my bones strong and healthy I needed a healthy diet, but I couldn’t afford a healthy diet, so my condition got worse. We wouldn’t have survived without food banks. The benefits system should have been better”.

David now lives in Wigan, and attends a community centre called Sunshine House which has given him a greater sense of purpose. David Beyond Poverty for GM Poverty ActionHe has made good friends, playing Scrabble and other games, and writing science fiction at the writers’ group.

David says he has been “struggling, maybe like a lot of people” in the last few years. He is accepting of his condition, remarking, “After this amount of time I don’t think that it will improve. I gave up on miracles ages ago”. But he smiles and notes the many riches he does enjoy. Through it all, there is a real determination to be part of society, to be accepted. He says, “I want other people to accept my condition as it’s not going to get any better. I’d like to be known as me, as I am now. I am David.”

Interview carried out, and photos taken, by Peter Cruickshank for Greater Manchester Poverty Action’s Beyond Poverty report 


Since their introduction in 20008 Work Capability Assessments have come under much criticism from disabled groups, academics and independent assessors for damaging mental health and wrongly removing funding from many people in need. Furthermore the National Audit Office has found that about 70,000 ESA claimants have been underpaid for years, some as much as £20,000.

DWP’s fit-to-work tests ‘cause permanent damage to mental health’, study finds

2,000 disabled people wrongly declared ‘fit to work’ by DWP in just three months


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GM Food Poverty Alliance

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Join the Greater Manchester Food Poverty Alliance

The proliferation of food banks and other social food providers has been one of the largest movements of this decade – now we must work together for a Greater Manchester in which no-one has to go hungry.

With lower incomes and higher costs, many people are struggling to put food on the table, and a healthy, balanced diet may be even further from their reach. Many are also limited by inadequate cooking facilities. The explosion in the number of social food providerswe have mapped 171 of them across the city region – shows that the people of Greater Manchester share our concern and are taking action.

Some of these efforts are coordinated on the ground, for example in Wythenshawe and Stockport, and there is some over-arching coordination by the likes of The Trussell Trust, Independent Food Aid Network and Greater Together Manchester. However many gaps remain, for example valuable data remains uncollected by many food banks, in some areas public sector and social sector responses are not joined up, and the role of much of the private sector is significantly underdeveloped.

We believe that this is the time for strategic action to bring out the best in Greater Manchester’s response. The first aim of the Alliance will therefore be to co-produce a Food Poverty Action Plan for Greater Manchester. The plan will set achievable actions, to:
•  Reduce and prevent food poverty
•  Build resilience and support communities to plan and adapt to the challenge of food poverty
•  Address structural and economic issues that underlie food poverty, such as the benefits system and precarious and low-paid employment

I also made a pledge at the Mayor’s Green Summit last week that the Alliance will consider the environmental impact of its recommendations, while also challenging those who lead on environmental issues to consider the impact of their work on people in poverty.

Participants can be in the public, private or social sectors, and they can be leaders in positions of power, on-the-ground practitioners or people with lived experience of food poverty. This alliance will have a place for people from all walks of life, all across Greater Manchester, as long as they want to work with others towards a more coordinated and strategic long-term approach to addressing food poverty in our city region.

We ask every organisation that works with people who have lived experience of food poverty, to encourage some of them to attend the meeting. The Alliance, and the Action Plan, will be stronger and have greater integrity if co-produced with people who are ‘experts by experience’.

You can join the alliance by attending our launch event:

Time: 1pm – 4pm    Date: Tuesday May 8th 2018

Venue: Main Hall, Methodist Central Hall, Oldham Street, Manchester, M1 1JQ.

Please book in advance, and share this invitation with others who might be interested

Tom Skinner, GMPA Director writes editorial for GM Poverty Action

Tom Skinner

If you cannot attend the event but would like to be included in future communications about the Alliance, please email Tom  with ‘FPA Sign-up’ in the subject line.

The Greater Manchester Food Poverty Alliance, convened by Greater Manchester Poverty Action and the Food Poverty Special Interest Group, is part of the national Food Power program.


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Advice & Information Map

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We are delighted to be launching the third in our series of maps showing vital resources and sources of support for people experiencing poverty in Greater Manchester. GMPA’s third map shows the many providers of advice and information in Greater Manchester. It complements our  Emergency Food Providers and Household items and repairs maps.

There are two different pins on this map, the orange star pins show accredited advisors such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, the Law Centres and Credit Unions; the smaller brown dot markers show the locations of the many other agencies, community centres, libraries etc where you can go to get help, information and guidance.  Please check the providers website carefully for more information about any restrictions on whom they can assist (eg age range, location), their opening times and access requirements such as appointments, before contacting them or visiting their premises.

Advice and information map for GM Poverty Action

This is by far the busiest map we have produced. There are some locations with multiple pins where several agencies may work in the same building. Some pins may show information about more than one agency based at that location, but you can remove one layer of pins by simply unticking the list shown in the information box on the left-hand side of the page.  You can also access the information about any of the providers by opening one of these lists and clicking on the name. To access a single pin where there is a cluster on the map, just enlarge the map scale and it should be possible to access the pin you want.

There are a few pins well outside Greater Manchester, eg London, Newcastle and Liverpool.  These are for organisations that provide support either through a website or by phone but who don’t have a base in the region.

If you are looking for a very specific type of advice eg on immigration, for young people, for families with a member in prison etc then do please use the search facility provided in the red section of the left-hand information box.  This will filter the information for you and show you which agencies may be able to provide the support you are seeking.

This map will continue to develop, but now you can help us to improve it.  If we’ve missed a provider off or you are not happy with your entry on the map, then let us have all the necessary details by email.  Please also let us know if you are shown on the map but you are no longer providing this type of service.

We hope that the map will be useful and look forward to hearing your feedback.


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Rethinking Poverty

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Report from Rethinking Poverty Event

Graham Whitham at GM Poverty Action Rethinking Poverty event

Graham Whitham


The event started with GMPA’s Directors Graham Whitham and Tom Skinner talking about GMPA, what we seek to do, some highlights from the last year (which regular readers of the newsletter will be aware of), and our hopes for the year ahead. Graham also talked about Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s UK Poverty 2017 report which had been published that morning, and that highlighted 14 million people living in poverty in the UK – over one in five of the population.

Our first guest speaker was Barry Knight, Director of the Webb Memorial Trust and author of Rethinking Poverty. He outlined the challenge that our society faces in reducing poverty through existing paradigms, and invoked Beatrice Webb in his insistence that poverty is a function of social structure and economic mismanagement, not individual character failings. The two decades immediately after WW2 were characterised by full employment and a comprehensive welfare state safety net but we now face threats from the likes of automation, low wages and low public spending. He said that policies should not focus on economic growth, but ensuring a basic standard of living, allowing people to participate in and contribute to society, and characterised by intergenerational fairness. In particular, it’s critically important that young people and poorer people work together and make their voices heard; change will only come from the bottom up.

Barry Knight of Webb MT at Rethinking Poverty for GM Poverty Action

Barry Knight

He concluded by calling for triple devolution: power should be shared by national government, regional and local government, and communities themselves. Local authorities should devolve power to local organisations which have a broad base of community engagement, especially involving young people. A good society, without poverty, will not come from top-down redistribution, but through new transformational relationships based on mutuality.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, spoke next, and said that devolution offers major new opportunities to rethink politics and poverty. He agreed that real change will come from the bottom up, not from Westminster, so Greater Manchester has the opportunity to make changes and inspire others to do the same. He shared a tragic story about the death of a young homeless man whom he had known. Society is now deeply unequal, not just in relation to income/pay but also in experiences of insecurity. The rise in demand for mental health services reflects this increased insecurity.

Andy Burnham at GM Poverty Action Rethinking Poverty event

Andy Burnham

He urged us to question high pay as well as low pay, and inequalities within organisations, as well as between individuals. He said that he is committed to ensuring that the cynicism that people feel about Westminster politics should not be replicated locally; indeed, devolution offers an opportunity to correct the problems created by Westminster. We therefore need to demonstrate new approaches, and show that change is possible.

Andy outlined his plans to end rough sleeping in GM by 2020, citing the introduction of a Social Impact Bond to provide accommodation for 200 rough sleepers, and to address in-work poverty through the Good Employment Charter and the Living Wage. He said that we need to work together to improve school readiness, with 13,000 children in GM starting school without the necessary skills to develop. Free bus passes for 16 –18 year olds and a ‘Curriculum for Life’ will help young people after school to get the start that they need as they approach the world of work. Andy then took questions on issues including:

• The need for leadership on food poverty – Andy is organising a Green Summit in March 2018 and will consider appointing someone to lead on food policy in particular

• Universal Credit – Andy said that some of the DWP budget should be devolved to GM. A suggestion was also made from the audience that credit unions could play a role in helping to address the long wait for UC to come through that is putting many people into rent arrears, and Andy expressed a willingness to explore this possibility.

• Involving the private sector more in poverty reduction – Andy talked about those who are supporting the Mayor’s Homelessness Fund, and the role that the Good Employment Charter could play in improving job quality in many businesses

• Universal Basic Income – Andy said that evidence from the pilot in Finland will be important, and said that as well as income, other issues need to be factored in for real poverty reduction, e.g. in housing, security of tenure, quality of housing and rent controls for people in private rented sector.

• The need to channel more resources into affordable housing – Andy has appointed Paul Dennett as GM lead on housing, and with 85,000 people on the waiting list, we do need to increase supply of affordable housing

We then welcomed Young Manchester, two of whom gave powerful speeches about the impact of poverty on young people, told us about their Poverty Speaks Volumes work and presented their video: watch it here.

Young Manchester at Rethinking Poverty GM Poverty Action Event

Representatives of Young Manchester

Finally we had a panel discussion with Jayne Gosnall, Salford Poverty Truth Commissioner, Dr Carolyn Wilkins, Chief Executive of Oldham Council, Barry Knight who had spoken earlier, and Paul Dennett, City Mayor of Salford Jayne, Carolyn and Paul each gave short speeches reflecting on the other talks and presentations.

Panel for Rethinking Poverty at GM Poverty Action Rethinking Poverty event

Left to right:Jayne Gosnall, Dr Carolyn Wilkins, Barry Knight and Paul Dennett

Jayne talked about the principles behind the Salford Poverty Truth Commission and the outcomes, such as making council tax bills easier to understand, information about what to do if struggling to pay the bill, and free replacement birth certificates for homeless people. Carolyn said that Oldham has been working differently for some years, after rethinking its fundamental purpose: not just service delivery but also economic development, listening to people’s lived experiences. Paul said that poverty is a systemic issue and a symptom of the failure of neoliberalism, and that we need more progressive taxation. Poverty cannot be addressed just through local actions, but devolution presents an opportunity to challenge the highly centralised UK government. He said that we need to campaign for social justice, further devolution and local democracy. There was then a lively discussion with questions from the audience.

We finished with some final thoughts from Graham, and “I don’t want to live in poverty”, another powerful song from Young Manchester. All of the speakers, and the audience who asked questions, complemented each other well and we explored many challenging questions and innovative approaches through the afternoon. It really was an event in which we rethought how to address poverty here, and how Greater Manchester can lead the way in the UK.

Andy Burnham and Young Manchester at GM Poverty Action Rethinking Poverty event

Andy Burnham with representatives from Young Manchester



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