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End Hunger UK – Conference 2018

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A growing movement? End Hunger UK conference 2018
By Dr Charlie Spring, University of Sheffield

On World Food Day 2018, the End Hunger UK campaign convened its second annual conference in Westminster to discuss the growing movement around household food insecurity in the UK. A broad coalition of food aid providers, think tanks, faith leaders, researchers, local authorities, artists and diverse experts by experience, End Hunger represents a national effort to galvanise public and policy attention to evidently large numbers of people struggling to afford adequate food. We don’t know how large; one panel discussed the ongoing Bill to measure food insecurity nationally via the ONS Living Costs and Food Survey. It is hoped such monitoring would give a more robust sense of the scale and severity of UK food poverty, to be tracked against changes including Universal Credit rollout and Brexit.

Power of stories and frames

A key theme of the day, however, was the power of stories and images over stats in capturing public and policy attention to food poverty, its causes and solutions. A collaborative photo exhibition, ‘Behind Closed Doors’, has toured the UK with portraits and research into experiences of food insecurity, some displayed at the conference and ending in the House of Commons. We heard young poets recite moving submissions to a recent poetry competition. The Food Foundation are collecting submissions of lived experiences towards their Children’s Future Food Inquiry, while the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) aim to build an online Story Bank of lived experiences of food insecurity.

A panel led by Church Action on Poverty reported research by JRF and the FrameWorks Institute into effective ways to shift public discourse about poverty. Countering individualising, blame-and-shame accounts requires keying into commonly-held beliefs about the injustice of poverty and government’s responsibility to protect against it, using well-chosen examples and stories rather than relying on numbers alone.

Whose problem?

Coordinated by Sustain’s Food Power programme, partnership structures such as the Greater Manchester Food Poverty Alliance have been forming around the UK to ask how food poverty might be addressed at local and regional levels. The End Hunger UK gathering therefore required us to think about scales of responsibility for preventing poverty. I heard discussions about how local networks of food banks might better share their food supplies as demand increases. It was encouraging to hear food bank leaders discuss exit strategies over the next few years, and we must help them to realise these goals as my research shows how difficult this has been in the US and Canada

Some alliances expressed frustration at local authorities producing poverty strategies yet lacking any funds to turn aims into actions. Public health workers have conducted needs assessments and written proposals that end up ignored by senior colleagues. Yet, affecting national government and company policies that affect benefit and wage levels felt too tough a goal for many of the local alliances I spoke to. End Hunger UK, then, provides one lens through which to target a palpable collective anger. Another potential shared voice was offered by the school students of Blackburn and Darwen who have been organising as part of Food Power’s efforts to involve experts by experience in campaigning. The girls, who shared their stories for a short film, are launching a campaign Darwen Gets Hangry, which they hope will encourage others to turn their own experiences of shame and guilt about being food-poor- or ‘hangry’- into something collective and targeted that can spread to other parts of the UK.

Food Power Conference report by Charlie Spring for GM Poverty Action

Charlie Spring

The girls shared a panel with a group of asylum seekers from Luton who are also part of End Hunger UK, who formed a growing group after seeking Red Cross food parcels and now cook their produce as community meals. One lady, still seeking asylum after 16 years, told us she understands why some of the families she meets spend their money on drugs, even before food; they don’t have enough love, she said, or motivation and opportunities. Her expression of shared purpose with the Darwen girls to counter government indifference, gave a hopeful sense that the divisive forces of Brexit and far-right populism might be countered by intersectional
struggles of solidarity against the erosion of public entitlements and the human right to decent food.

This is an abridged version of an article that Charlie wrote for the Realising Just Cities blog – you can see the full version here

 

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A Bed Every Night

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Tackling homelessness this winter in Greater Manchester – A Bed Every Night
by Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester

I have always been clear that trying to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness should be something that any Mayor of Greater Manchester should be committed to.

In the 18 months since I was elected this has become my top priority. In that time I have learned a lot about what ending rough sleeping and the need for it actually means and what it will take. It has been a steep learning curve.

Rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness and we have adopted the goal to end the need for anyone to sleep on the streets of Greater Manchester by May 2020. This is a full seven years ahead of the government’s target.

We have seen our response to rough sleeping improve and become more co-ordinated. Last winter, across the city-region, we provided an unprecedented number of beds for people as the weather turned colder. This was due to the hard work and effort of our local authorities and their partners in the voluntary and private sectors. This year we want to do even more.

That is what we are all about in Greater Manchester. We are setting a new national standard with our ambitious pledge to end the need for rough sleeping and are now on the verge of a massive step towards achieving it with the commencement of A Bed Every Night at the start of November.

Our goal is to provide a place for every person sleeping rough every night right through the coming winter, from November 1st to March 31st. While we won’t turn people away, this scheme is only available to people whose last address was in Greater Manchester. We simply do not have the resources to open it up to people from further afield and we cannot create an incentive for more people to come here than we can accommodate.

We will be delivering this across every borough in Greater Manchester; we had over 200 places available across the city-region on November 1st. Over the coming weeks we will continue to work to increase that number as well as making sure there is a range of accommodation available, including safe provision for women and places that will look after dogs.

We also want to make sure that it is more than a bed for the night. Ideally, we want to provide a steady base with a hot shower, a hot meal and specialist support to help people begin a journey away from the streets. A Bed Every Night comes at just the right time – we will soon have more provision available through our Social Impact Bond (SIB) and our ground-breaking Housing First programme.

A Bed Every Night is not a sticking plaster but the first stage of a new systematic approach across Greater Manchester to ending homelessness. It will enable us to use every contact with rough sleepers to work with them to deliver more sustainable solutions. Ideally, we want to move people through emergency shelters into the right accommodation option for them, to enable them to stay off the streets.

Underpinning all this is our “whole-society” approach. We know we cannot achieve our goals with public money alone so we are working hard to mobilise the contributions of all sectors of Greater Manchester society – public, private, voluntary and faith – as part of the same strategy. This is the only sustainable way of tackling this chronic issue.

bed every night Andy Burnham for GM Poverty Action

Talking to those who are sleeping rough

I am so grateful to all the people who have contributed to the Mayor’s Homelessness Fund which has so far raised almost £145,000. The Fund is now wholly dedicated to the purpose of supporting A Bed Every Night.

We are also enormously grateful to Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany for throwing his weight behind the cause. Vincent has committed his Testimonial year to raising funds to support A Bed Every Night through his own Tackle4MCR campaign. We need every penny to maximise the success of A Bed Every Might and I hope people will consider supporting us however they can.

We know that there are challenges which we cannot control but, more than ever, I’m convinced that this is the right thing to do. Not least because of the number of deaths on the streets of our country. I hope that with this next development in our approach that we can go a long way towards our goal and that this will be a major step to achieving our target.

I look forward to updating you all on our programme in the New Year. Thank you for your support.

For more information, and to donate to A Bed Every Night, visit www.bedeverynight.co.uk

 

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Right time, right place

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With One Voice Director Matt Peacock explains why Manchester is the perfect place to host the inaugural International Arts and Homelessness Summit & Festival

I always arrive into Manchester the same way, leaving Piccadilly Station and walking down into the heart of the city past high street shops, criss-crossing tram lines, to the open space of Piccadilly Gardens.  Over the last decade it has been a sobering experience since this is the stretch of Manchester where most of the people who are sleeping on the streets congregate. As in many cities, not everyone who is street homeless is begging and not everyone who is begging is homeless but the visible homeless situation is chronic.

Street homelessness has steadily risen year on year, 1,100% since 2010 and more recently, the situation has become increasingly worse with a noticeable increase in drug use on the streets. Addressing the homelessness situation is so urgently important that it became Andy Burnham’s main election pledge when he was running for Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Fantastic work is already being done. Manchester can boast one of the most innovative homelessness strategies both nationally and internationally. And crucially, one where the voice of people who are or have been homeless is central to decision-making. The Manchester Homelessness Charter was set up in 2016 to create a collaborative and combined approach between all sectors, alongside people who are or have been homeless. A consultation was also recently announced on providing a bed for every person sleeping on the streets between November and March – and Greater Manchester was announced as a ‘Vanguard City’ by the Institute of Global Homelessness.

With one voice summit and festival for GM Poverty ActionAnd this is the context where social movement With One Voice is preparing the first International Arts and Homelessness Summit & Festival in November throughout Greater Manchester.

The people of Manchester would be forgiven for thinking there are more pressing concerns than putting on a set of arts events. The question, ‘why arts?’ has often been asked when it comes to homelessness and other social issues but perhaps it is even more vital to talk about this in Manchester when the situation is so severe.

The new strategy in Manchester recognises that homelessness is often the result of multiple issues coming together – poverty, employment, mental and physical health issues, relationship breakdowns, substance issues and more. The strategy argues that multiple issues call for multiple solutions with healthcare, housing, recovery, community building, investment in people’s well-being and self-esteem coming together to help people who are or have been homeless move forward more successfully long-term. Combining practical care with personal empowerment is key. Manchester and Greater Manchester will be the first authorities in the UK to integrate the arts into homelessness strategies – this is through With One Voice’s Jigsaw of Homelessness Support a model where interventions come together to create a whole picture of support. It is a bold and important step for Manchester to recognise the power of arts and creativity in the homelessness sector.

With one voice festival for GM Poverty ActionAs well as this holistic approach, Greater Manchester is adopting a ‘whole-society’ approach where every sector from business, to faith and culture are coming together to help solve homelessness in the Charter through pledges. With this background, Manchester is exactly the right place to hold the world’s first International Arts and Homelessness Summit & Festival.

And the cultural and homeless sectors have really stepped up to make this happen. We will shortly be releasing details of the brilliantly diverse programme of art and photography exhibitions, poetry projects, a public mural, and many more events.  The Festival culminates in a four-day Summit and conference at The Whitworth where an estimated 300 delegates from at least 15 countries will assemble to discuss arts and homelessness around five main themes: Practice, Policy, Performance, Partnerships and People. We are committed to making this the first fully integrated homelessness event in history with 50% of delegate passes being given to people who are or have been homeless.

We estimate around 20,000 people will see an arts and homelessness project during the week, creating huge exposure for artists and creatives who are or have been homeless.

As with many events of this nature, we are putting a lot of energy into what happens afterwards. This cannot be a flash-in-the-pan and must result in lasting positive change. We will talk more about legacy and long-reaching impact in the coming weeks.

I will make many more walks from Piccadilly Station through Manchester in the lead up to and following the Summit & Festival this November. I am certain the homeless situation in general, including visible homelessness will improve as nowhere else in the world have I seen all elements of the city pull together to tackle homelessness. The cultural sector is standing by to do its part and I am confident that once the world sees how arts and creativity is part of the homelessness solution in Manchester – enriching the lives of people, building their well-being and voice – more cities and regions will follow suit

With One Voice is an international arts and homelessness movement that seeks to connect and strengthen the sector worldwide and is produced by Streetwise Opera. More information about the Festival and Summit is available below.

International Arts and Homelessness Summit and Festival

As cities around the world struggle to solve homelessness, delegates from 15 countries will come together for a Summit and Festival at The Whitworth in Manchester from November 12th – 18th, 2018  to explore and celebrate the role the arts can play in tackling homelessness.

Homelessness is not just about housing, and people who are homeless can suffer from a multitude of challenges from practical ‘house-lessness’ to low well-being, social isolation and stigma. The arts are being used effectively around the world to reduce social isolation by building social networks and increasing both physical and mental health, improve public attitudes, promote understanding towards homeless people and enable homeless people to express themselves so their voice can be heard.

Tickets for all Festival events are free and delegate passes can be purchased for the Summit (November 15th – 18th) here. 50% of delegate passes will be given free to people who are or have been homeless – get in touch for more info.  More information

 

 

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A new measure of poverty

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By Graham Whitham

Another week, another story about high levels of poverty in the UK. This time from the Social Metrics Commission who have developed a new measure of poverty. You might understandably ask whether we needed a new measure of poverty but bear with me, this one has a backstory.

Back in 2010 the Labour Government passed the Child Poverty Act. It set in stone four child poverty reduction targets to be met in 2020/21. Fast-forward a few months and the incoming Coalition Government and think tanks such as Policy Exchange, set out concerns about the way in which poverty was being measured. The argument was that the previous government’s approach had been too narrow. Those making such arguments often undermined their position by referring to ‘the child poverty measure’, when in fact four measures had been adopted and sometimes by a simple failure to understand the difference between mean and median averages.

Things came to a head in 2012 when the Government published a poorly written consultation on child poverty measurement. It was rightly panned. The government had reached a dead-end; critical of the measures as set out in the Child Poverty Act, but unable to set out an adequate replacement.

Iain Duncan Smith scrapped the 2020 targets and, in their place, came a duty to report on levels of educational attainment and the number of children in workless households. Given that neither of these things are measures of child poverty, it didn’t exactly solve the problem of government having no meaningful measure or measures of poverty in place around which it could build a coherent strategy.

To overcome the impasse, former special adviser to IDS – Philippa Stroud – set up the Social Metrics Commission. She brought together a panel of experts to establish a new measure of poverty around which a consensus could
be reached.

Graham W UK poverty strategy article for GM Poverty Action

Graham Whitham

The results were published last week, showing more than 14 million people, including 4.5 million children, are living in poverty in the UK. The new measure does some things the measures in the 2010 Act don’t, for example taking into account savings as well as income and looking at household outgoings.

Whether this has all been worthwhile is another question. It is hoped that it will act as a catalyst for the Government to re-establish a meaningful agenda on poverty.  Eight years have been wasted arguing about how poverty should be measured, and these arguments are part of the reason why there is a such a vacuum when it comes to government policy. Only radical steps to halt soaring child rates will have made the work of the Social Mobility Commission worth it.

 

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Autumn 2018

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After a short break in August, the team at GMPA has a very busy few months ahead. We’re using the front page of this week’s newsletter to update you on our autumn activities.

Firstly, thank you to everyone who booked onto our Understanding Poverty Data course taking place later this month. This course is now fully booked. However, we have several places remaining on the Exploring the Poverty Premium course (October 18th). Please look at the training page of our website for details of how to book a place.

On October 26th we are delighted to be hosting an event looking at child and family poverty strategies. Lisa Nandy MP will be speaking at the event and we’re being hosted by Kellogg’s in Media City. We’ll be presenting research looking at which local authorities across England have poverty strategies in place. With the Westminster Government no longer having its own child poverty strategy and seemingly having abandoned this agenda, it is increasingly important that local authorities and their partners work to fill the vacuum. The event is free to attend and open to all, but places are limited so please book as soon as possible via EventBrite.

Next Wednesday (September 19th) we will be launching research looking at crisis support provided through local welfare assistance schemes. These schemes, operated by local authorities, replaced the old central government Discretionary Social Fund in 2013 and, despite the best efforts of many local councils, are under huge pressure in many parts of the country. We’ll be sending the report out to newsletter recipients next Wednesday morning. In advance of this, tomorrow I’m speaking at a workshop being organised by the Children’s Society where we’ll be looking at approaches to providing crisis support. Later on in the day I’ll be speaking at Child Poverty Action Group’s annual welfare rights conference (I hope to see some of you there).

The beginning of November marks this year’s Living Wage Week. As hosts of the Greater Manchester Living Wage Campaign we’ll be announcing our plans for Living Wage Week in the next couple of newsletters.

GMPA Greatewr Manchester Food Poverty Alliance logo for GM Poverty Action

The work of our Food Poverty Alliance continues apace, and it isn’t too late to
get involved. Please take a look at our Food Poverty website page for full details, and please fill in the Food Poverty action surveys if you haven’t already.

Small image of food map Sept 2018 for GM Poverty Action articleAs most of our readers will be aware, GMPA provides a map of Greater Manchester showing the locations of food providers for people in need . Following recommendations from members of the Food Poverty Alliance, we have amended the map to highlight the growing number of food pantries, food clubs and meal offers in the city region. When we launched the map in January 2017 there were 136 locations, now there are more than 170, but increasingly the new pins represent pantry-style options. This is an encouraging sign as while emergency providers such as food banks are a vital lifeline for people in moments of crisis, this provision must be matched by more sustainable approaches that can support people before they reach crisis point. You can read more about the pantry model on page 2.

Graham W UK poverty strategy article for GM Poverty Action

Graham Whitham

And lastly before I sign off. Thank you to everyone who engages and supports the work of GMPA. Without your interest, advice and support we wouldn’t be able to do our work. A big thank you from Tom, Chris and myself.

I hope to see you soon.

Graham

 

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Existence of foodbanks tells us all we need to know

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By Graham Whitham

Last week it was reported that government ministers have drawn up plans to investigate how many people are being forced to seek emergency food support and the reasons why .

For many people this will feel several years too late, as the huge growth in foodbanks since 2010 has provided ample evidence that the social security system is broken and that many households are unable to make ends meet.

The number of foodbanks in operation, and the number of people accessing them, has increased over a prolonged period during which wages have stagnated, people have felt less secure in work, local authority budgets have been slashed, benefits have been cut, living costs have risen and the use of benefit sanctions has increased.

The response of society to these problems and the resultant increase in hardship has been nothing short of incredible. Groups of people, often led by volunteers, have come together to find ways to meet people’s basic food needs. In 2012 there were 200 Trussell Trust foodbanks in operation across the UK, they now operate over 400. In 2013, one estimate suggested there were 60 emergency food providers in Greater Manchester. GMPA’s Emergency Food Providers Map  shows there are now at least 171 (most of which are independent providers run by localcommunity groups).

This is an incredible societal response. However, it is not a substitute for an effective social security system that prevents people from falling into hardship in the first place. A proper policy response is required from government, one that acknowledges the consequences of a stripped back and punitive benefits system and starts to heed concerns about the rollout of Universal Credit.

Government plans to investigate the causes of increased foodbank use represents an important step towards recognising the need for fundamental reforms to the social security system that can help fix the broken safety net and provide a platform on which we can drive down poverty.

There are things the government could do today to help address the hardship people are facing.

Graham W UK poverty strategy article for GM Poverty Action

Graham Whitham

A Child Poverty Action Group report out this week shows how simply design flaws with the monthly assessment of pay and circumstances (flaws the government were warned about back in 2012) in Universal Credit are pushing people into debt and hardship. Design flaws the government could address now.

Reinstating the scrapped discretionary Social Fund, ending the two child limit on benefits, introducing the yellow card system for benefit sanctions and making sure people on Universal Credit keep much more of their earnings are all measures that would help alleviate financial hardship.

In a week when the Trussell Trust have been calling for extra donations to help them meet increased need during the summer holidays, it is clear that many households in the UK are being pushed into unnecessary hardship and that we need a swift response from government.

 

 

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Reflections on the Food Power conference

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Charlie Spring, chair of the “Measuring and Monitoring” sub-group of the Greater Manchester Food Poverty Alliance, represented us at the first ever conference of Food Power, the national body of food poverty alliances.

Food Power Conference report by Charlie Spring for GM Poverty Action

Charlie Spring

As the work of the Greater Manchester Food Poverty Alliance gets underway, it’s a great time to learn from the challenges and successes of alliances around the country. Food Power is part of Sustain’s long-term work building fairer and more sustainable food systems, and has helped to fund the formation of over 50 alliances, from Aberdeen to Kernow (Cornwall), and ranging in size from Lockleaze ward in Bristol to an alliance covering the whole of South Wales.

A blistering day in Cardiff City Hall held an intense day of talks, workshops and discussions about how collective work can add value to existing efforts to tackle inequality and poverty. To open a workshop on developing action plans, I presented the structure we’ve adopted to organise ourselves in Greater Manchester, as themed sub-groups working to develop specific aims and actions within the coordinating fold of the Driver Group, the influence and barrier-busting work of the Reference Group and the scrutiny of the Diversity Group to ensure our processes and aims address multiple dimensions of food poverty for different groups.

We heard from cities further along the action planning and delivery process, such as Brighton whose action plan progress report has just been published. Some have conducted action research, some have worked to embed food poverty into council strategies and others have acted to galvanise the work of diverse organisations from holiday hunger programmes to community cafes.

A key concern was around the value and challenges of involving people with lived experience in building the movement. We were shown a powerful film of school students in Blackburn/Darwen who demonstrated the value of such involvement in shifting their sense that poverty is something that happens abroad, or that only affects homeless people. Memories of the shame one girl experienced receiving free school meals were transformed into gratitude for such entitlement and, with it, anger that such entitlement could be taken away. Learning to see their own ‘food poverty’ in the context of Food Power had empowered them to understand their own experiences as a form of expertise that could be used to create systemic change. However, others questioned the language of ‘food poverty’- do people have to define themselves in terms of a lack, or should we instead use the term food  inequality? Or, is food/fuel/period poverty simply poverty, with food a useful lens to create community and collective activism? Or, as Kath Dalmeny powerfully argued, should we centre our work on the Right to Food, a right which the UK government has signed up to protect and fulfil? Maybe it’s lawyers who should be calling leaders to account on poor hospital food, or mushrooming emergency food demand in the wake of Universal Credit rollout. People-powered, food-powered change: about maximising family income, defending services and, given that environmental and social injustice are closely related, protecting the soil to ensure future food supplies.

I left with new ideas on evaluating the added value of working in partnership (new jargon e.g. ‘collective impact’, and a new task of making sure everyone understands it!). I learned about the work of organisations and projects I was unfamiliar with – Alexandra Rose (vouchers for fresh food), Leapfrog (tools for engagement) and a story of how Luton’s Community Food Hub enabled segregated communities to challenge their stereotypes and resentments by sharing strawberry-growing skills.

At a time of Brexit and migration debates, food and meal sharing can be a way to transform narratives about the real causes of poverty and bring oppressed communities together rather than blaming each other. But I’ll give the final word to Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Mark Drakeford. He described the mixture of rage and gratitude he feels for community organisations providing free food and clothes for families who otherwise would be unable to send their kids to school for lack of uniforms. He described the powerful work of Food And Fun, the Welsh Government-supported holiday hunger programme providing healthy meals, nutrition skills and sports at ever-growing numbers of schools. He concluded with a reminder that devolved administrations’ hands are tied – they, and we, do not control the benefits system and ultimate responsibility lies with Westminster. However, we can ensure we best use our services to “mitigate the roughest edges of growing up in poverty”. We can only do what we can.

You can read more about the Food Power conference, and download presentations, here.

 

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What difference does my vote make?

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Making the difference!

By Chris Smallwood, Director, Anchor RemovalsAnchor Removals - Chris Smallwood for GM Poverty Action

It is one of the most frustrating statements politicians hear from their electorate – “What difference does my vote make?”

I don’t agree with the sentiment or the statement, but I do share the sense of disenfranchisement. Let’s face it, when you have a family – mum, dad and two little infants running around, you are struggling to pay a bill or don’t know where your next earnings are coming from – why would you feel politics has any value to you?

Poverty isn’t new but according to Joseph Rowntree Foundation, after 20 years of falling poverty rates we are now seeing a trend upwards. Whilst I am no statistician and I am certainly not an academic, I am an employer and I can see around me in Salford more people on the streets living rough and more families struggling to survive. I wasn’t happy just dropping the odd tin of beans in for the foodbank at my local supermarket. As an employer I knew I had the power to change things even in my business of just 10 employees.

So, what can a small business like mine do to make a difference? Since 2016 we have paid the real living wage as a minimum and we don’t operate zero hours contracts. In effect all our team are salaried with the minimum 40-hour week currently earning £18,200 per year. It’s not a lot but when you compare it with the widely feted “gig” economy – it is a game changer!

So, what is the “gig” economic model? It is companies employing people as sub-contractors, so they are not directly employed by the company, therefore any equipment, resources, holidays, National Insurance contributions and taxes are managed by the employee not the employer. The terms of any Service Level Agreement (SLA) will often have punitive measures for the employee in the event of a failure to deliver the SLA, this can be as basic as a day off sick. It is also fair to say that many of these sub-contractors (whilst bright and effective operators in their specialist trade) are not trained or equipped as business owners and very often fail to understand the hidden costs of keeping account of the business expenses, tax and other requirements. This often drives people into poor health and welfare (long hours, no holidays and barely seeing the family) or debt and the employee must wait for work to come in, which can mean no income at all. You can’t claim benefits if you are classed as working or self-employed and this is getting much worse thanks to the welfare and reform work act 2016 where the benefits cap has been substantially reduced (but it is a commonly held belief that there are a large number of “gig” workers on less than the minimum wage).

The current government see the new ways of employing as “entrepreneurial” but as an entrepreneur myself, I object to the comparison. It is a dereliction of duty for employers when they know they can employ on a full-time basis but choose not to. The government instead of encouraging better wages and a more stable working environment for employees, chooses to use the stick of reduced benefits, forcing people into impossible life choices.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t easy being a good employer and it doesn’t guarantee you good employees. But it is no coincidence that in a small business like ours, staff turnover is very low.  They love the company and they are proud of what we do!

The public and our customers want to see good practices like “fair trade”, and in our case fair employment terms. Overall, it produces happier staff and better customer service, society benefits with more people in the community employed, the government benefits from more taxes and the families of our employees benefit from less financial stress and regular working hours.  The idea that you can’t make money is refuted by the fact that we have been a socially responsible, profit making business for 3 years now! Having spoken to many employers, they do see the benefits of what we are achieving but they look at what the bigger organisations in our industry are doing and they want to be competitive.  However, it is worth noting that in 2017 small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) employed 16.1 million people; that is 60% of all private sector employment in the UK* and they constitute over half of all accredited Living Wage employers**

*https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/663235/bpe_2017_statistical_release.pdf

** https://www.livingwage.org.uk/sites/default/files/University-of-Middlesex-Putting-the-Living-Wage-to-Work-October-2016.pdf

 

 

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UK poverty strategy urgently needed

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By Graham Whitham

In 2008 the UK was experiencing falling poverty rates, the number of people sleeping rough was less than half of what it is today and those of us who had heard of food banks thought of them as an American not a British phenomenon.

If someone had said ten years ago that in 2018 the UK’s unemployment rate would be at a 42-year low  and that the proportion of workers in low paying jobs would be at its lowest level since 1982, we might have been forgiven for thinking the country was well on its way to meeting the target to reduce the proportion of children experiencing relative poverty to less than 10% by 2020. Instead that
target, and complementary targets set out in 2010 Child Poverty Act, have been scrapped and an extra one million children are expected to fall into poverty in the next few years.

The lack of a central government anti-poverty strategy means that policies are introduced without their impact on poverty rates being considered. Opportunities to meaningfully address poverty through positive measures, such as extra investment in childcare or increases in the minimum wage are missed as other policies, such as cuts to benefits, actively work against them. The lack of a strategy has meant the UK has completely missed the opportunity to harness positive labour market developments. Jobs growth and reductions in the number of people in low-paying work should have resulted in falls in poverty and increases in living standards.

This isn’t just about headline rates of poverty. Policymakers need to understand both the changes in levels of poverty and the risk of poverty among different groups of the population, if they are to develop, adapt and amend policies aimed at tackling the issue. The make-up of poverty has also changed considerably overtime. The risk of poverty for single-parent households, for example, has fluctuated over the last thirty years. Working households now make up a greater proportion of those people experiencing poverty compared to twenty years ago. Families with more than two children have always been at greater risk of poverty, but the level of risk for those families is growing.

Graham W UK poverty strategy article for GM Poverty Action

Graham Whitham

Recent analysis published by Child Poverty Action Group has identified a worrying trend as poverty in the UK becomes more entrenched. Analysis of the ‘poverty gap’ shows that families in poverty are now living, on average, further below the poverty line than they did ten years ago. This development is highly concerning, with huge swathes of families at risk of being cut adrift way below the poverty line. It is also a significant shift, as the UK has tended to have relatively high levels of child poverty but a low ‘poverty gap’, with lots of families in poverty but with incomes just below the poverty threshold.

New experimental analysis by the ONS looking at expenditure poverty (as opposed to income poverty) further illuminates our understanding of the issue. There is an abundance of data and information about poverty – the UK is ‘data rich’ – but there isn’t the necessary strategy in place nationally to respond to what this data tells us and to ensure policies drive down rather than drive up poverty.

Without a clear strategy capable of dealing with these developments, the UK’s poverty crisis will only get worse and the cost of dealing with it in the future will only get greater.

Top image © Beggar by Banksy

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Benefit Sanctions

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Study highlights the negative impact of benefit sanctions

by Graham Whitham

A major study launched last week confirmed what many of us already knew, benefit sanctions are an ineffective means of getting people into work and can have severe negative consequences for those they are used against. The study, which brought together academics and researchers from several universities, tracked claimants over a five-year period and found that sanctions reduce people’s motivation to search for work and hurt people mentally, physically and financially.

The findings run counter to government rhetoric which has argued greater conditionality has helped to push benefit claimants into employment. The study argues that where people have moved into work over recent years, it is much more likely to be the result of personalised employment support than sanctions. For people with complex needs or in particularly difficult situations (people with addictions or experiencing homelessness), sanctions act to push people out of the benefits system (‘dropping out’). The consequence is people resorting to crime as a means of getting by and leaves them further removed from the help and support they need to move into employment and out of poverty.

The UK’s social security system has long had elements of compliance and conditionality, but the intensity of these elements has increased considerably over the last six years. The use of sanctions has fallen from a peak in 2013/14 perhaps because of the growing realisation of the damaging impact of their use. However, despite the findings of the ESRC funded study, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) continues to argue that sanctions are an effective means of moving people into employment.

Many anti-poverty campaigners argued strongly against social security reforms during the first few years of this decade and have continued to do so. Campaigners warned of the consequences of an increasingly punitive and pernicious benefit sanctions regime.

Graham Whitham, Director of GMPA and author of report on economy for GM Poverty Action

Graham Whitham

Those warnings weren’t heeded by government, unfairly dismissed as the usual suspects making the same old arguments. As unresponsive as government may choose to be to the calls of campaigners, policy must be much more responsive to research and evidence. Now this study, sitting along other pieces of work, hammers home the failings of current policy and its findings must be responded to if the long-term goal is to support people into suitable and decent work and onto sustainable pathways out of poverty.

It is often said the UK leads the way when it comes to evidence and data about the population and our universities lead the way on various aspects of social policy. We have no shortage of knowledge and evidence, but for the potential of this expertise to be realised, central government policy needs to be much more evidence based and responsive when research findings highlight policy failings. If central government in Westminster won’t heed this call, then we need think about what opportunities there are in Greater Manchester to develop evidence based social policy at a city regional level.

 

 

 

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