Guest Blogs

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

i3oz9sHoliday Hunger
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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.

 

i3oz9sUniversal Credit
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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

 

i3oz9sEnd Hunger UK – Conference 2018
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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.

 

i3oz9sA new measure of poverty
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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.

 

 

i3oz9sExistence of foodbanks tells us all we need to know
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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.

 

i3oz9sReflections on the Food Power conference
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Update from GMPA’s Greater Manchester Food Poverty Alliance

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Following a successful launch and empowerment evening, the real work of the Greater Manchester Food Poverty Alliance has begun.  The work of the Alliance is now being coordinated across several subgroups who will co-produce a Food Poverty Action Plan for Greater Manchester.

The Action Plan, to be launched early next year, will be co-produced by people from each borough of Greater Manchester, including experts by experience – people who have lived experience of food poverty. It will set ambitious but achievable aims for Greater Manchester to tackle food poverty, and a clear set of actions needed to achieve these aims. As we identify people and organisations whose support will be needed, we will ask them to work with us now in developing solutions, rather than simply presenting a set of actions to them at the end of the year.

Six themed sub-groups have been tasked with developing their own sections of the Plan – this table shows some of the themes that they will cover, and information on how to get involved. Everyone who receives this newsletter will be welcome to any or all of these meetings, even if you are not on the Alliance or sub-group’s mailing list, but please do email the chairperson(s), copying in GMPA at food@gmpovertyaction.org so they know to expect you, and so they can include you in future communications.

Themed sub-group:  Place-based access to food:
Topics include:  Research into areas of GM that lack healthy and affordable food options
Chair:    Graham Whitham
Meetings: Has met twice, next meeting to be confirmed (TBC)

Themed sub-group:  Children experiencing food poverty
Topics include:  Access to fresh, sustainable healthy food during both term times and holidays. Food education both inside and outside schools
Chair:    Dominic Coleman   Letitia Rose
Meetings: Has met twice, next meeting 21st July

Themed sub-group:  Causes of food poverty
Topics include:  Benefits, support, advice and in-work poverty.  The food system and food supply chain mechanisms
Chair:    Dr Mags Adams;    Secretary:  Nayan Joshi
Meetings:  Has met twice, next meeting October 2nd 11am – 1pm Church House:

Themed sub-group:  Food banks and beyond
Topics include:  Coordination between social food and food aid providers. Sharing good practise and exploring new models
Chair:    Lily Axworthy
Meetings:Has met twice, next meeting TBC

Themed sub-group:  Measuring and monitoring food poverty
Topics include:  Measuring food poverty. Monitoring actions taken to reduce food poverty
Chair:    Charlie Spring
Meetings:  Has met once. Next meeting 6 – 8pm, Monday July 9th, MMU

Themed sub-group:  Skills and training for people in poverty
Topics include:  Cooking skills; Access to food/skills; Employment;  Food production
Chair:    Adele Jordan    Maggie Lister    Helen Walker
Meetings:  Has met twice, next meeting TBC

Tom for GMFPA article for GM Poverty Action

Tom Skinner, GMPA Director

There is also the Driver Group which coordinates the process, the Reference Group for people in positions of power and influence who can help to address any issues that the sub-groups identify, and the Diversity Group, which will advise the other sub-groups about how to address food poverty for everyone (please email Atiha Chaudry, to join this group).

It is clear that there is a great appetite for action on hunger, so please join us in this coordinated and strategic work to tackle food poverty together.

The Greater Manchester Food Poverty Alliance is hosted by GMPA. The project will develop a Food Poverty Strategy for Greater Manchester which will be published early next year. 

 

 

i3oz9sUpdate from GMPA’s Greater Manchester Food Poverty Alliance
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Darryl’s Story

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Darryl’s story shows us the links between childhood poverty and crime, and the importance of positive rehabilitation.

Darryl grew up in Oldham. His mum left home when he was just 4 weeks old, “She just lost interest and stopped coming to see us not long after that. Grandma told me it was because Mum wanted a girl, and I was a boy”, he remembers. “I hardly ever saw her after that. Never at all in my teenage years”. His father had to bring up Darryl and his two older sisters on his own, and although there was always food on the table, it was a struggle to buy anything extra with his dad’s wages from packing in a warehouse.

Darryl had a rough and hard youth. “I was excluded loads of times from school, getting into trouble for stuff like fighting and verbally abusing staff. I did it all to get attention. To prove I could do things”. Darryl was eventually expelled. “Behind all of this was money.

I’ve always known poverty from looking at all those things I never had. Having money, and everything you want. We didn’t live like that. We were in a situation where we had nothing.”

“I always wanted money. To buy things I didn’t have. It started off petty, thieving a CD from the shop. Trespass and probably some criminal damage too”. But then he fell into company with people who just drank and did drugs all day. “We ended up doing a lot of drugs, drinking, and getting caught in drug dealing. It made me even more desperate for money. And the crimes started getting more serious.” Darryl got involved in a spat with other lads in town, and was sent to prison for three and a half years.

Darryl was in prison for a year and a half, before being released.

However, he broke his curfew by returning to drinking, and was sent back to prison for a further year and a half. But he says, “It’s not that everyone in prison was poor, or grew up without much, there was a wide range of us. But in prison there was poverty of spirit. I got worse in there. It didn’t help me. My mental health got worse. I was angry. Looking back, I wasn’t ready to come out.” Darryl then spent several years in a secure psychiatric hospital, where he “picked up a lot of skills from psychology and psychotherapy which have helped me enormously to return to a normal life.”

Darryl thinks about what poverty means for him. “Nowadays people who have no money are homeless. I guess it’s a change in society. In my time, it was crime. You would just turn to crime to get money.”

“I’m happy I did those 5 years in hospital. If I was just in there for a couple of years, I wouldn’t have learnt all that I have. I picked up skills from the psychology and psychotherapy classes. People might think I’m daft, but I picked up a lot.”

Everyone in hospital said to me ‘you’re never getting out’, meaning that I would never turn my life around.  But I did and if I can do it, anyone can. Now I want to help others.

Darryl has made a success of his life since leaving hospital. He moved from 24/7 supervision, to being supported from a distance, for just 6 hours a week. He spent a long time volunteering in the kitchen at Back on Track, a Manchester charity that enables disadvantaged adults to make lasting, positive changes in their lives.

Darryl has a passion for cooking and performing arts, and has been singing with Streetwise Opera, a choir that works with individuals with experience of homelessness. He is now studying performing arts at college, and will soon start as a volunteer with Neshomo, befriending long term mentally ill people in the Greater Manchester Jewish community.

Some studies find a strong and direct relationship between socioeconomic status and offending, particularly in respect of the impact of childhood poverty and the effects of growing up poor on persistent youth offending (Braithwaite, 1981; Jarjoura et al 2002; Hay and Forrest, 2009; Bjerk, 2007). 

Interview carried out by Peter Cruickshank for Greater Manchester Poverty Action’s Beyond Poverty report 

i3oz9sDarryl’s Story
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Sarah’s Story

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Sarah’s medical conditions forced her to give up work. Now she is a disability activist and a champion for people with housing needs in Greater Manchester.

Sarah grew up in South Manchester, her mother was abusive and had mental health problems. “She would batter us, beat the devil out of us. Nobody tapped me on the shoulder, and said ‘it’s not you kid, it’s her’. My dad was a battered husband for 20 years. He was hospitalised one time. Once, my mum locked him in the cellar for a week, didn’t give him food, all he had was water. Dad worked in hospitality, Mum didn’t work, so we didn’t have much money. We weren’t starving poor, but only because Dad always used to divert the delivery van on the way to the restaurant – things would go missing on the way”, Sarah laughs. “But it was the 70s. Everybody was dirt poor. So you couldn’t really tell.

“When I turned 16, and I knew I was not legally required to live there anymore and be a punchbag. I packed my bag with my O-level books, and out I went, followed by my sister. We were homeless for a few months. First we spent a few nights in a greenhouse shed, in someone’s back garden, of a house that was empty.

“Then we headed to Hulme, and told the Council, “we’ll take anything you’ve got”. Before that came through, we lived in the old Crescent squats. It was a hard, tough, awful, derelict place. And dangerous. There was a dark side to the Hulme Crescent squats because you were living outside the law, outside the rules, outside of protection. You took your chances. The squats were basically run by the gangs. They were the enforcers. There were murders. The police stopped policing it, it was a no-go zone. For squats in general, you might not pay rent, but it extracts a price. It takes something from your head. The lack of security. Being seen as beyond respectable, worthy society. The way people look at homeless people, with disdain.

“We were there for several months before we got a council flat, just up the road. It had dust falling from the ceiling, rotting walls, and holes in the windows. The heating didn’t work, and there was mould everywhere – it was just as bad as the squats. But it was a start. And we were so poor we just lived on tins of spaghetti hoops.

“It was cold, hard and hungry. I worked nights in a bakery, and then I started an early morning office cleaning job too. I was also trying to do my O levels. I didn’t know at the time that I could have claimed child benefit for my sister. Nobody told me. There’s so much I didn’t know then, I suffered for not knowing”

“After a few months, my sister got pregnant and moved to north Manchester with her boyfriend. When she had her baby, I promised him that he would not suffer like we did, and he would have a better life. But I felt trapped, and I thought, “how am I going to do this?” At the age of 20 I stood on the balcony of my flat. I thought, I could jump, or I could fill out the PCAS form for polytechnic. I filled it in and applied for a degree in London, never in a million years expecting to be offered a place. And I got a letter back offering me a place to study Media and Cultural Studies, at what later became Westminster University.

“That was my escape and I grabbed it. I couldn’t afford to enjoy London on my student loan, but anything was better than what I’d come from. I ended up in a grotty room in West Hampstead, for £35 a week.   After my degree, I realised Manchester was my soul. So I came back, wanting to make things better. I loved cultural stuff, and I ended up doing ASDAMs (an award scheme a bit like Duke of Edinburgh) in Museums with young people. I loved it, realised that’s what I wanted to do.”

But then, about 8 years ago, Sarah started to become ill, bed-bound with severe pain and reduced mobility. After several years of tests Sarah was diagnosed with Hashimoto disease. “The insurance that I had through my trade union saved me from real poverty”, she says. “It paid me the equivalent of benefits while the medical tests were ongoing. After my diagnosis, and given how seriously my condition had deteriorated, I was moved onto Personal Independence Payments.

“I started to stabilise, from being very badly ill and I wanted to re-evaluate my life, and be useful. Young people and housing, especially with my background, was something I’ve always been passionate about. I realised things hadn’t improved since I had been in that position when I was young. Things had got worse. I met people from Unite the Union who were interested in campaigning. With the support of Unite and TUC, we decided we would set up an organisation to make policy changes in a devolved Greater Manchester.”

Sarah now does outreach with young people in squats across Greater Manchester, working to keep them off the streets. “Things have changed since the dangers of the old gang-filled Hulme squats, they are now better organised. They are viewed with prejudice, and ignored by most homeless organisations, but homeless squatters still deserve help.”

I’ll fight for them like hell, because nobody came to rescue me when I was younger. I try to be the person who I wish had turned up when I was that age. To save others from the traumas I went through.”

“I am really proud of the work I do on housing with some awesome, super-committed activists. We see Section 106, the Council’s own target for affordable housing of 20% in each development, being waived repeatedly, so we look at the big picture and make policy submissions. We want root and branch change, not just getting involved in a little bit of charity and giving people some sandwiches. We’ve developed a lot of good relationships with the media. I am most proud of the fact we are credible, and taken seriously.”

Sarah asked us to keep her identity private, so this has been written under a different name.

Interview carried out by Peter Cruickshank for Greater Manchester Poverty Action’s Beyond Poverty report 

 

i3oz9sSarah’s Story
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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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