Guest Blogs

Prosperity and poverty

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by Graham Whitham

Increasingly it feels like Greater Manchester is moving slowly but surely towards a much stronger and clearer agenda on poverty. Andy Burnham’s work on homelessness, the development of local anti-poverty strategies by some of our local authorities (some of which are detailed here), the interest in Poverty Truth Commissions across the city region and the work of GMPA’s Food Poverty Alliance are all signs of a determination to tackle the issue of poverty through partnership working and in a sustainable and strategic way.

A good next step would be embedding tackling poverty and raising living standards within the city region’s economic agenda, recognising the negative impact poverty has on the economy of Greater Manchester through lost human potential and reduced productivity and the need for increased spending on public services.

That’s why it was good to see a strong focus on raising living standards and addressing inequalities in the Independent Greater Manchester Prosperity Review, launched last week. The Review was commissioned by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA). It updates the Manchester Independent Economic Review (MIER) published ten years ago.

The Prosperity Review recognises that whilst there has been strong growth in highly skilled areas such as the digital sector, the city region is also home to a lot of jobs that are low paid and offer poor terms and conditions. The growth in ‘poor quality jobs’ has exacerbated existing inequalities within Greater Manchester and left the city region’s living standards lagging behind those of London and the South East.

It has become increasingly accepted that we need to ensure economic activity benefits the lives of everyday citizens. Concentrating on high growth sectors of the economy risks ignoring large swathes of Greater Manchester’s economy, and we can’t expect living standards to rise if we have a two-tier economy – one offering well paid, secure jobs in highly skilled sectors, and the other offering poor quality jobs with limited opportunities for progression in traditionally low paying sectors such as care and retail. Harnessing the role of technology in these sectors should help boost productivity and link them more closely to the ever-expanding digital economy. The challenge will be ensuring workers across the city region benefit from this. We need to develop new ways of measuring that this is happening so that we can better understand whether the ‘economic story’ of Greater Manchester is translating into positive outcomes for its residents.

Graham W UK poverty strategy article for GM Poverty Action

Graham Whitham, GMPA Director

The Prosperity Review will sit alongside the Greater Manchester Industrial Strategy. The Mayor has also been working on a Good Employment Charter aimed at encouraging wider take-up of positive employment practices among employers. More details will be announced later this year. Work on these different elements presents an opportunity to set out an economic programme for the city region that focuses clearly on outcomes for residents. As other approaches set out a stronger agenda on poverty, we need to think about how we link the two so that tackling poverty is part of how we develop and grow the Greater Manchester Economy.

 

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Holiday Hunger

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A Snapshot of Activities and Food Provision in Greater Manchester

Children and young people who rely on school meals during term time, often struggle to be well fed during school holidays. If there is not enough food at home, hunger can be especially acute at these times, which can be socially isolating and detrimental to physical and mental health.

This is a growing concern – 59% of respondents to a National Education Union survey said that children in their school experienced holiday hunger. Of these, 51% said in 2018 that the situation has got worse in the last three years.

While the long-term solutions to food poverty lie in increasing incomes and making good food affordable and accessible for everyone, this is a crisis that must be addressed now. I can give you a preview of a relevant section of our Food Poverty Action Plan that will be launched on Monday March 4th (please book your place here if you haven’t already). Along with many recommendations and actions to address the underlying causes of food poverty, the Action Plan recommends that leaders and systems across Greater Manchester should work together to:

  • Develop and implement a Greater Manchester-wide framework for the provision of healthy and sustainable meals for children and young people, during both term times and holidays, with reference to the school food standard
  • All 10 boroughs to support and coordinate holiday provision with food. Coordinate a Greater Manchester approach to access to food during the summer holidays, encouraging schools to improve access to facilities and kitchens. e.g.◦ Coordinate bids for funding from the Department for Education◦  Develop a toolkit for holiday provision with food, including how to navigate safeguarding issues that may arise◦  Sharing and replicating approaches and models such as Holiday Hunger in Wigan◦  Holiday Kitchen type clubs with food focused activities, working with partners to make best use of Children’s Centres where facilities are available

The government has shown some signs that it may be willing to take responsibility for the issue, with the Department for Education commissioning some pilot projects this year. Specifically there is a total of £9m available for “testing the coordination of free holiday provision (including healthy food and enriching activities) for disadvantaged children during the 2019 summer holidays in up to 9 upper-tier local authorities. The aims of this grant programme are to develop a more efficient and joined-up approach to free holiday provision for disadvantaged children; and to ensure there is enough good quality free holiday provision to meet the demand from children eligible for free school meals (FSM) in the local authority during the 2019 summer holidays.” The bidding process closes on February 7th.

GMPA are encouraging and offering to support bids from across Greater Manchester. To that end, today we publish analysis of a survey that we ran along with Greater Together Manchester last year to get a snapshot of some of the provision during school holidays across Greater Manchester – please download that analysis here, and use it to inform your preparation and activities with children and young people during school holidays.

Good practice suggests that in order to reduce the stigma associated with projects that aims to reduce food poverty, any project or service should be focused on the provision of activities that are accompanied by food, and that the project or service should be open to anyone.

We asked the respondents whether they provided activities in addition to food and 19 of the respondents said that they did. When asked for further details, they cited a number of different activities as shown below:

Holiday Hunger graphic for GM Poverty Action

An excerpt from the survey analysis

Tom Skinner editorial article for GM Poverty Action

Tom Skinner, GMPA Director

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Universal Credit

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Universal Credit – action taken, more to do             
By Graham Whitham

Last week the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd MP acknowledged that key ways in which Universal Credit operates and functions need to be addressed. The first important announcement was that the two-child limit for Universal Credit payments will not apply to children born before April 2017. Whilst this is a welcome change, it still leaves the two-child limit in place for children born after that date, hurting families with more than two children who are already at greater risk of poverty. Many campaigners are rightly calling for the policy to be abolished altogether.

One of the major concerns about Universal Credit has been the lack of flexibility around the regularity of payments. Some are concerned that monthly payments cause problems for people used to budgeting on a weekly or fortnightly basis. Amber Rudd is looking at how the system can provide more frequent payments to those people who need them. At GMPA we believe the option of more frequent payments should be made available to everyone in receipt of Universal Credit. That way people will be able to choose the option that best meets their budgeting needs and habits.

Other announcements included looking at making is easier for families to manage childcare costs. Action is needed to reduce the complexity of accessing support for childcare and to support parents to meet upfront childcare costs when moving into work. The migration from the legacy benefits system to Universal Credit has placed a huge burden on the government and recipients of support. Amber Rudd said she will look at the migration of people onto Universal Credit to minimise some of the problems this causes for individuals and their families. The ideal would be an automatic migration of people from the legacy system to Universal Credit (rather than having to put in a new claim for support), but we are yet to see an indication from the Government that they will follow this course of action.

Graham W UK poverty strategy article for GM Poverty Action

Graham Whitham

The announcements are welcome but tentative steps towards addressing some of the concerning elements of Universal Credit. In Greater Manchester, many individuals and organisations are fully aware of the challenges created by the implementation and operation of this new social security system. At GMPA we are working with others to understand what can be done locally to improve the way the social security system operates. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss this further.

 

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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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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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