Guest Blogs

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**





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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

i3oz9sUK poverty strategy urgently needed
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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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Rethinking Poverty

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Rethinking Poverty: Greater Manchester Can Lead the Way
Tom Skinner, Director of Greater Manchester Poverty Action

Tom Skinner speaking at Rethinking Poverty for GM Poverty Action

Tom Skinner

We had a fantastic time at our Rethinking Poverty event last week, and I want to thank everyone who helped to make it run so smoothly, all of our wonderful speakers, and everyone who attended and contributed to the discussions. You can read a report of the event on the website, which concludes that “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.” Here I share my personal reflections from the night.

Children and young people are not just the future, they are now. They bring fresh perspectives and ideas, hope in abundance, and they see things with a clarity that is so valuable in a complex world. You can find the two videos that Young Manchester made in the report on the next page – please do watch them and share widely as they deserve to be seen by many people.

Barry Knight, author of the Rethinking Poverty book around which our event was based, is definitely on to something. His book poses questions as much as it provides answers, and I believe he is asking the right questions. Beatrice Webb laid down the intellectual foundations of the welfare state more than 30 years before it was implemented – we will strive to ensure that it does not take so long for Barry’s vision to be realised. You can read more comprehensive reviews and responses from the likes of Gerry Salole, Chief Executive of the European Foundation Centre, and Greater Manchester’s own Kate Green MP, or even better, buy the book and see for yourself!

Despite the challenges facing Greater Manchester, we can and must be ambitious in developing a vision of a good society here without poverty, and working towards it. We have some great leaders and public servants, a varied, determined and engaged third sector, many businesses who want to be part of the solution, and most importantly, millions of people with incredible passion and potential. Greater Manchester Poverty Action will help unlock this potential through encouraging cross-sector and cross-boundary collaboration for years to come, with your help…


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Our economy isn’t working

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Can Greater Manchester pioneer a new way of doing things?

By Graham Whitham

The UK is failing to ensure economic and jobs growth leads to higher living standards for all. GDP growth has been positive in every quarter since the end of 2012. The employment rate is at a record high and the unemployment rate at its lowest level since 1975. Yet, living standards aren’t going up and the IFS says incomes for the average family will not grow over the next couple of years.

In contrast, the richest 1% have recouped losses in income from the financial crash. That’s because the economy is configured so that wealth is increasingly captured by capital rather than workers. The richest 1% have received a quarter of the £4 trillion national increase in wealth since 2000.

Policy encourages a business culture that promotes short-term, shareholder driven approaches, at the expense of workers, who have found their position undermined. The UK has adopted this business culture and approach to its economy despite high levels of economic inequality hindering economic success, and evidence that putting money in the pockets of those on low incomes reaps greater economic rewards than concentrating wealth in the hands of the very rich. A new approach is needed.

As the birthplace of the cooperative movement, and a place with a proud tradition of doing things differently, Greater Manchester should be at the forefront of a new economy that fosters alternative business models that re-balance wealth distribution and shift power relationships. The phrase, ‘What Manchester does today, the rest of the world does tomorrow’ may stem from a very different economic school of thought, but this city region should be at the vanguard of a new, more human centred economy that lights the way for the rest of the country.

Alternative structures of business are emerging that are better geared to sharing wealth more evenly. These are either mission driven or ensure that the stakeholders most impacted by the business also own the business. Such business structures are geared to not only reinvest more into their business but also work more constructively for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Employee-owned businesses, such as John Lewis, have grown significantly in multiple economies, outperforming other businesses on sales and employment growth. Studies on employee ownership show that those types of businesses generate more employment growth and lead to significantly higher pay for their employees.

Multi-stakeholder cooperative models also aim to balance the interests of various stakeholders, such as consumers and workers. These typically structure company governance to ensure that the interests of workers and consumers, or producers and buyers are balanced in key decisions, including on how profits are used. The Go-op train cooperative is one example of this model.

Fostering an alternative approach to business and the economy in our city region will require an acknowledgement across GM that ‘trickle down’ doesn’t work. Whilst the Manchester economy has remained relatively robust, the city region is home to lower than average wages, some of the highest levels of child poverty in the country and growing inequality between the south and north of the conurbation. A plan for addressing these challenges and implementing an alternative GM economy should include:

•  Adoption of human centred indicators as a means of measuring economic success.

•  Promotion of companies that adopt alternative business models through

◦  active public procurement that favours such models

◦  access to finance for such businesses through a regional/local investment bank

◦  tailored start-up and business development support

◦  trialling business rate deductions and working with central government to identify other incentives for such businesses.

•  Promotion of decent work, including the voluntary Living Wage, through

◦  Development of a Decent Work Standard and appointment of a Decent Work Commissioner

◦  Adoption of the Decent Work Standard across all public sector bodies.

◦  Introduction of a GM wide Employment Charter (based on the Standard) with real teeth

◦  Active public procurement that favours businesses that provide decent work

◦  Working with businesses to identify means of effectively measuring the business benefits (e.g. employee morale, productivity and retention) of adopting decent work employment practices.

•  Promoting positive corporate behaviour through greater transparency around business behaviour and practices.

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

Graham Whitham

The UK faces major challenges of in-work poverty, stagnating living standards, low productivity and the prevalence of poor quality work. There is widespread acknowledgement that the economy doesn’t work for all, but lack of a concerted effort to adopt a new, alternative approach at central government level. Greater Manchester should be a beacon for a new way of doing things, becoming a home for companies that do things differently.


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I am a poverty truth commissioner

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Patrick Philpott is a commissioner on Salford Poverty Truth Commission.

I left prison with £4.20 and did not receive my first benefits for 16 weeks. I went to a food bank and a breakfast drop in centre, and there I came across a project involving Church Action on Poverty, and that’s when I heard about Salford Poverty Truth Commission.

At the moment there are nine poverty truth commissions running or being set up in the UK, and I am a commissioner on the Salford one. Poverty truth commissions, to me, are the missing link. They are about real people, who can make a difference, and who have the right values and they look at the source of poverty not just the outcome.

The first meeting I went to was at Salford University and as an ex-offender I just didn’t feel worthy of even being there. But I saw an opportunity to make lifestyle changes and by being engaged with a diverse group of good-living people, I knew there was an opportunity to maintain a bit of consistency.

The commission had 15 people who have been in poverty and 15 people who are in what we call public life. To me, it was an absolute privilege to be in a room full of such normal people and good-living people. I was made very welcome and I think I was an addition to the diversity of the group. In a way, it was easy for me because I had nothing else to be doing. The meetings were a highlight for me, a day out.

The thing that impressed me was the whole thing had the support of the Bishop and the Mayor of Salford. That’s my two biggest interests, faith and politics, I am committed to both. From the outset, for everything we achieved, we were blending a bit of faith and a bit of politics.

We have assembly meetings once a month and between that there are little activities. My first one was when I was invited to speak at St Clement’s Church in Salford. I went to speak at the church with a GP on the group and frankly I felt out of place, but there was nothing but encouragement and support and they valued my experience of having lived in abject poverty for quite a long time.

It certainly brought down stigma and barriers for me. The doctor drove me back to my bail hostel and I felt ashamed of my past, but there was no judgment. I was made to feel part of something, and it was the first time in my life I felt part of something worthwhile and meaningful.  It’s the most talented group of people I have ever met in my life. It’s not party political or religious, it’s just about people understanding that people care and need help.

I had been out of mainstream society for a long time, and I was watching the approach the group took. I saw a group that had potential to have an influence in different areas of society, and they started knocking on doors gently. Personally, at times, I would have been inclined to kick the door down, but this helped me make the adjustments I needed to make for myself, and the simple approach worked.

You can feel the love growing in the group, and see people’s commitment. It’s very simple and it’s what’s lacking, not just in relation to poverty but in British society – simple love and understanding.

I have been in Salford on and off since 1974, and the day we met Salford council was unbelievable. Now there has been a change in ethics. They have changed the way they do debt collection and we can meet people face to face again. They have waived charges when people who are homeless need a copy of their birth certificate, and we have produced a guide for people who are sleeping on the streets. There’s some tremendous help out there but some charities have almost become industries. Our approach is about individuals. We care for people’s lives, and where people have been broken or are in despair, we care as individuals and as a group.

Patrick Philpott, Salford Poverty Truth Commissioner for GM Poverty Action article

Patrick Philpott

I honestly believe social care is just about Christian values – not theology or doctrine, but just unconditional love, kindness, compassion and humility. We can’t all have ten jobs and four careers. The truth is, people in poverty must be understood and respected and we have a moral obligation as human beings, if we see someone less fortunate, to say ‘I can lend a hand’.

I am not naïvely thinking we can change the world overnight, but if anybody anywhere else needed motivation, just look at what we have achieved in Salford.

My association in Salford covers five decades, and some of the changes I have seen have been a gradual race to the bottom. But this is something that works and it can bring tremendous hope. And people, not just in Salford, should watch this space.


i3oz9sI am a poverty truth commissioner
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