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Challenge Poverty Week 2022

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Challenge Poverty Week in England and Wales

By Niall Cooper, Church Action on Poverty

Niall Cooper, Challenge Poverty Week 2022 for GM Poverty Action

Niall Cooper, Church Action on Poverty

Are you ready? It’s time to come together with people and groups around Greater Manchester and across the country, for the third Challenge Poverty Week in England and Wales.

This year, the week is focusing on dignity, looking at how that can be maintained for everyone amid the cost-of-living emergency.

The week runs from October 17th to 23rd 2022, and one of the launch events is happening here in Manchester, on Monday 17th.  Local people with first-hand experience of poverty and low-income will meet with local politicians, organisations and business people at Central Hall, from 10am to 3pm.

You don’t need to be a big organisation to take part though… everyone can and should get involved in Challenge Poverty Week. After all, we all want to live with dignity – to be treated as fully human, to have choices and be able to participate in our community. But this winter, the soaring cost of living will deny that dignity to millions of people. People will be forced to go hungry, or cold, and to make agonising choices about which fundamental essentials they will have to go without.

We want to speak up together, challenging the unjust systems and policies that are causing and exacerbating poverty, but also celebrating the work of people, organisations and communities across England and Wales who are coming together to uphold people’s dignity at this time.

Challenge Poverty Week will be a chance for people and communities facing poverty to stand up with dignity, share stories, and speak out for a just solution to the cost-of-living crisis. This is the third time Challenge Poverty Week has been held in England and Wales, following on from its success over the past decade in Scotland.

Your group could organise a discussion or storytelling session, join in the discussion online, invite politicians or journalists to one of your organisation’s regular events or sessions, or write to your MPs and councillors to say what needs to change.

Challenge Poverty Week is an opportunity to highlight the incredible work being done by community groups around the country, and to show what can and must be done differently.

Last year, we saw the publication of new report into how people on low incomes were affected during the pandemic, lots of fascinating discussions, meetings with politicians and journalists, and the Greater Manchester Big Poverty Conversation. This year, we are looking forward to a further mixture of online and in-person events, including film screenings, meetings with politicians, church discussions, and a wide range of campaigns around the cost-of-living.

Online activities can be just as effective as offline ones – sometimes even more so. You can reach more people without geographic or travel barriers, and some people are more comfortable sharing with an online meeting than addressing a busy room of people. Do bear in mind, however, that not everyone has good internet access – so judge for yourself whether to make your event physical or digital.

The week’s aims are to:

  • Build awareness and support for long-term sustainable responses to the pandemic and cost-of-living
    emergency, that focus on enhancing the dignity and agency of people in poverty.
  • Raise voices in unison against poverty and shine a light on visions for a more just, compassionate and opportunity-filled country.
  • Show what is already being done at community level to challenge and alleviate poverty.
  • Change the conversation around poverty and help end the stigma.

You can download the Challenge Poverty Week toolkit, packed with ideas and tips, HERE.

Let’s speak up as one, stand up for dignity, and challenge poverty together!

 

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Changing Realities

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What can we do about the cost-of-living crisis?

By Uisce Jordan, Changing Realities Project

Uisce Jordan for GM Poverty Action

Uisce Jordan, Changing Realities Project

The release of the Chancellor’s ‘mini-budget’ on the September 23rd has left me, and many others, feeling quite helpless as we worry about rising levels of poverty and inequality. As media increasingly reports on the cost of living emergency it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed and isolated. That is why now, more than ever, genuinely participatory projects such as ‘Changing Realities’ are important.

Changing Realities is an opportunity for families struggling and those living on low-incomes to join as a collective voice and advocate for real change. The project brings together experts by experience with researchers, artists, and Child Poverty Action Group to make change happen. By nature of being an online project, it also allows us to connect with people from all across the UK. I am based in Belfast and can understand how, despite certain differences in the social security system in Northern Ireland, we face many of the same difficulties as people from other parts of the UK. By connecting online, we become a larger community that can laugh together, learn from each other, and share experiences, good and bad.

What’s involved?

We share the everyday realities of life on a low income, but we also want to try to change things – improving the lives of those struggling to get by. Together we discuss solutions to the issues affecting people such as housing, work, low-wages, childcare, food, health, fuel, debt and access to public services. We accomplish this through online diaries, virtual workshops, skill-building activities and much more. We support people to speak directly to the media about the reality of living on a low income. You can do as much or as little as feels right for you.

If you’re a parent or carer with children under 19, and you’re on a low income, we’d really like to work with you, please get in touch for more details. Together, we can document the realities of this cost-of-living crisis.

Email: changing-realities-project@york.ac.uk Twitter: @changing_r

Changing Realities is funded by abrdn Financial Fairness Trust.

 

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School Uniform Costs and Support

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By Helena Canavan, More Than Food Project Manager, Bridging the Gap

Bridging the Gap has over the summer provided school uniform support to families across Manchester and Trafford, in the form of school uniform grants and preloved pop-up shops. We have supported over 150 children and we are aware of other local initiatives providing similar support. Dependent on funding we hope to continue and expand our school uniform support.

Being unable to afford the mandated clothing should never exclude a child from school or negatively impact their educational experience. However, our work in this area has drawn attention to the unmanageable cost of school uniforms for parents across Greater Manchester and highlighted examples of children missing school, being reprimanded by school or facing social exclusion because they are unable to wear the correct uniform.

We are now looking to campaign both local government and local schools to ensure they are addressing the cost of school uniforms and providing support to parents around school uniform costs when needed. Our work comes at the same time as new statutory guidance  from the Department of Education requires that schools ensure the cost of school uniforms is reasonable and secures the best value for money. We want to ensure all schools across

Greater Manchester are aware of this update, are reasonably adjusting uniform costs and support to meet this requirement and are aware of and able to refer into any further uniform support for parents in their local area.

If you are interested in hearing more, would like to support this work or would like advice and support setting up local uniform support in your area please be in touch with Helena or Michelle.

 

To find out more about how GMPA is responding to the cost-of-living crisis click here

 

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Loan sharks

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Loan sharks preying on the vulnerable as cost-of-living soars

by the IMLT Team

Families struggling to cope with the rising cost-of-living are being targeted by predatory loan sharks.

IMLT logo for GM Poverty ActionWith price increases on everything from fuel to food making it increasingly tough for households to make ends meet, unlicensed lenders are stepping in, offering loans to the desperate at astronomical interest rates.

A report published by the Centre for Social Justice estimated 1.08 million people could be borrowing from an illegal money lender – more commonly known as a loan shark. This figure has more than trebled since 2010. The study revealed that borrowers are often among the poorest in society:

  • 62% had an income below £20,000 – and of these about half were on less than £15,000
  • 66% already owed money to legal creditors
  • 75% claimed benefits
  • 65% had a long-term health condition.

Loan sharks are among the most ruthless, cunning and manipulative criminals operating in our society today. They exploit people’s vulnerabilities and force them into repaying loans with usurious interest rates. Victims are trapped in an endless cycle of debt and poverty, which can lead to family hardship, homelessness and severe mental health issues.

This crime is so widespread and hidden that people affected by it are too scared or ashamed to talk about their experiences. Many feel they have no recourse because they are afraid of repercussions or simply don’t know where to go for help.

The real danger of loan sharks is not just the large sums of money they lend out and extortionate rates of interest they charge. It’s the psychological toll it takes on victims and their families, leaving them feeling trapped and helpless.

Loan sharks are often seen as a last resort for people who have no other option for obtaining credit, including those with poor credit histories who are rejected by mainstream lenders. With just one unexpected bill, people can quickly find themselves in the grip of an illegal lender.

The loan shark might be a friend or acquaintance, or they might simply be someone known in the area for lending money. They will often deal in cash, rarely provide any paperwork, and will demand very high interest rates or they may not even be clear about what the borrower has to pay back.  The most common form of coercion is the threat of violence, but there are other forms too. Borrowers might be asked to give up valuable items or get involved in criminal activity as an alternative repayment on their loan.

The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) is a dedicated and highly specialist team of law enforcement officers working across England to combat illegal lending and associated crime.  The IMLT supports local authorities and partner agencies in identifying, investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of illegal lending, as well as offering specialist advice and support to victims and communities affected by this crime.

Loan sharks pose a persistent and dangerous threat to our communities, which is why Greater Manchester Poverty Action is supporting the work of the IMLT to raise awareness and inform the public of the warning signs of illegal lending activity. Loan sharks will never be eradicated completely, but we can make it harder for them to flourish.

Together we can fight against loan sharks by learning to recognise their tactics and knowing when someone is struggling to escape the clutches of an illegal lender. Ask questions, offer support, and encourage people to report their problems to the Illegal Money Lending Team.

The Stop Loan Sharks Helpline is available 24/7 on 0300 555 2222 and provides confidential advice, support and information to anyone affected by illegal lending. You can also email the team or use the live chat service on their website. This service is available between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Since 2004, the IMLT has supported over 30,000 people to escape the clutches of loan sharks and written off illegal debt worth nearly £90 million.

The team provide free awareness training for frontline workers to ensure they know the signs to look out for when dealing with vulnerable individuals who may be in the grip of a loan sharks. Please email for more information.

For more information please visit the website.

 

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Max Your Money

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By Lucy Goode, The Growth Company

Growth Company logo for GM Poverty ActionThe Growth Company, an award-winning social enterprise rooted in Manchester, has launched its Max Your Money campaign to help people boost their income and make their money go further in light of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

Support is available for the unemployed, those who are wanting to progress in their careers, and business owners – including individuals who are self-employed.

For people who are currently out of work, the Growth Company can assist with job-hunting, interview preparation and access to relevant training and qualifications. They can even support people with setting up their own business.

Max your money -self-employed for GM Poverty ActionThose who are in work and looking to step into a higher-paid role can also access training and apprenticeships to enhance their skills and earning potential.

Business owners and those who are self-employed can benefit from a package of support to help them grow and adapt their business to make it more profitable – including access to funding, networking opportunities and recruitment advice.

Max your money office worker for GM Poverty ActionAs part of the Max Your Money campaign, people can also get help with saving money when on a low income, reducing their energy bills, managing their credit card and budgeting.

Anyone wanting to learn more or take advantage of the support on offer can contact the Growth Company by phone on 0161 237 4101, or by email.

Read more about the campaign here.

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In the Red Index

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A new tool from Citizens Advice for understanding the cost-of-living crisis

More and more people are coming to Citizens Advice in financial crisis than at any point since the start of the pandemic.

One of the most powerful indicators comes from their debt advice.  Citizens Advice do detailed budgeting exercises with tens of thousands of people every year, trying to help them come up with sustainable ways to get out of problem debt. But for almost half of the people they help, because of the cost-of-living crisis, their advisers now just can’t make the sums add up.

Citizens Advice are now publishing a new regular index for this data called ‘In the Red Index’ because it shows the proportion of those who come to them in debt who can’t make ends meet. They’re literally in the red. Since the cost-of-living crisis began, the proportion of people in a negative budget has only been going in one direction: up.

They are seeing the highest proportion of people in negative budgets since their records began. In early 2019, the number of people they were supporting in a negative budget was 36%. In the first quarter of this year — before the energy price cap had increased – the figure had reached 46%,

The financial support available throughout the pandemic was keeping people afloat eg Universal Credit £20 uplift.

The trend for every demographic group is upwards; the increase in essential costs is catching everyone to some degree. But the crisis is discriminating — it’s making things tougher for groups who were already struggling.

It’s security of income and security of tenure that matters, in addition to actual income level. If you can’t predict when you’ll be paid  – as for example self-employed people often can’t  – you could be more likely to end up in a negative budget.

And because Universal Credit calculations about entitlement are complex, and because it can vary month by month, it’s hard to work out what your payment is going to be and that variability often makes it harder for people to budget effectively.

Read the full article here

 

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Manchester Living Rent

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Affordable housing that is easy to understand

Article provided by Manchester City Council

Manchester City Council has announced a new rent level called the Manchester Living Rent as a way to make sure more homes are affordable to Manchester people. The Manchester Living Rent (MLR) is a rent level that people on housing benefit can access, meaning new housing – regardless of where it is built – will be affordable to anyone in the city. This level of rent will be capped at the Local Housing Allowance level (or LHA). The LHA is the rent level set by the Government that will cover a person’s rent if they are on housing benefit or Universal Credit.

The MLR is also cheaper to residents than the standard Government definition of Affordable Housing – or 80% of market value for a particular area.

By pricing new homes at this rent level, the Council can ensure that new housing can be accessed by as many people as possible – particularly those households on lower incomes. The Council’s home building company, This City has already made a commitment that at least 20% of all the homes built by the company will be set at the MLR. And most Registered Providers and Housing Associations already cap their affordable homes at the MLR to ensure people on housing benefit can access their properties.

However, the ambition is that all Registered Providers and Housing Associations sign up to the MLR movement, as well as developers making a commitment to the Manchester Living Rent to improve access to affordable housing for Manchester residents.

Council Leader Cllr Bev Craig said of the new Manchester Living Rent: “I grew up in Council housing, my family still rely on it. I know first-hand the security that affordable housing can bring. This is something we care deeply about and something we are committed to improving in the city.

“We should and will do anything in our gift to bring homes to Manchester people that they need – and in places they want to live. Making sure we have the right kinds and supply of housing is vital to a successful city, including low-cost options.

“The Manchester Living Rent is important in that it creates a level playing field in housing affordability. It means that regardless of where the home is in the city, it can be affordable to anybody. It’s a clear and straightforward way of describing what we mean – low-cost homes that people on a minimum wage can afford.”

Find out more about the Manchester Living Rent

 

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Talking about poverty

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End Child Poverty Coalition: Action Toolkit

by Rachel Walters, End Child Poverty Coalition Coordinator

The End Child Poverty coalition have launched their Action Toolkit, written for young people, by young people. This aims to encourage young people to understand the root causes of child poverty and develop campaigning solutions to address them.

You can download the whole toolkit, or individual sessions here.

ECP Action Toolkit infographic for GM Poverty Action

Government data shows that across the UK there were 3.9 million children living in poverty (after housing costs) between April 2020 and April 2021, which is a staggering 27% of all children.

Yet the needs of children and young people are often ignored by decision makers. For example there was no mention of child poverty in the ‘Levelling Up’ white paper, and recent costs of living interventions are being made without taking into account the number of children living in each family. The Action Toolkit was developed by several End Child Poverty Youth Ambassadors, with support from Dr Gill Main from Leeds University. Youth Ambassadors are young people who work alongside the coalition to ensure that the voices of 16 – 24-year-olds are heard by those is positions of power.

You can work through each session in order, or pick and choose activities to suit your group set up. The Toolkit is also designed so it can be used for groups were some people may have personal experience of living in poverty, and where others perhaps do not.

The sessions end with guidance on how the group could develop a campaign to tackle the root causes of child poverty in the UK.

 

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No Interest Loan Scheme

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By Sheenagh Young, CEO South Manchester Credit Union

South Manchester Credit Union has been running a proof of concept for the proposed No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS) which aims to provide access to affordable credit for people on low income in England.

Our community credit union was started 21 years ago by volunteers and today we have a staff team of 10 and a high street presence on Fog Lane, Burnage. Our membership now numbers 4,500 and our combined savings are totalling nearly £5m. We are building community wealth. We are rooted in this place; our senior leadership and staff all live here and the life chances of the people of South Manchester really matter to us.

We were chosen by Fair4AllFinance to be the organisation to run the proof of concept for the No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS) in England which aims to test initial learnings ahead of a full pilot to be launched later this year. Fair4AllFinance has joined with Toynbee Hall and Fair By Design to scope and deliver the pilot which is funded by HM Treasury (£3.8m) and JP Morgan Chase (£1.2m).

The scheme is the first of its kind in the UK and has drawn inspiration from research conducted by London Economics. NILS aims to benefit individuals and society by providing a safe line of affordable credit to people on a low income to clear financial hurdles such as rent deposit, up front nursery fees and household equipment. Removing the burden of interest can make a difference to the ability to repay.

But isn’t it true that a loan from a credit union doesn’t carry much interest anyway? To give an example, a £300 loan repaid at £10 per week, with interest at 42.6% APR on the reducing balance, results in an interest charge of £34. We know that there are times when this can seem daunting even though we consider it a fair rate. This is why we wanted to take part in an innovative solution that could sit well alongside our current service offering.

So here is what we have found out so far about how NILS works – we have called our product a Stepping Stone Loan.

  • We knew this already but it is really tough out there right now and there is little safe help from organisations that listen and offer appropriate finance in a dignified way.
  • Stepping Stone Loan applicants have a range of unique circumstances including living with disabilities, caring responsibilities, recovering from relationship breakdown and domestic violence, returning to work, homeless, bereaved and longing to fund a decent funeral for a loved one. Our very first applicant, Lisa, has shared her story on our website.
  • 87% of applicants have poor or very poor credit scores which means it is exceptionally challenging for them to access credit they can afford to repay. People can get trapped in this cycle of exclusion.
  • Listening to a person’s needs and coming alongside to coach through financial squeezes is empowering and can kickstart a new confidence with money. Paying no interest is a boost.
  • The scheme works well to widen the gateway to credit union membership and has allowed us to approve a further third of first time loan applicants who might have otherwise been declined. This gives them an opportunity to engage with us, to start a savings habit and to build the financial resilience we know comes from belonging to a credit union.
  • The product has potential for partnership working with social housing providers, employers and other local stakeholders.
Sheenagh Young

Sheenagh Young, CEO SMCU

If you are not already switched on to credit unions this is a great time to get informed and you are lucky that we have a well developed consortium here in GM known as SoundPound

  • On a low income? – join your local credit union, save and borrow if you need to
  • Finances doing ok? – join, save and borrow if you need to – borrowing from us gets you great rates and service and you will get the satisfaction of knowing we will use all of our income to offer the inclusive financial services which are sorely needed
  • Don’t want to join in yet? – find out more about how it works
  • In a position to refer? – consider signposting to us
  • Advocate? – get involved and shout about us.

 

 

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Pension Top Up

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Greater Manchester Pension Top Up campaign 2022

By Greater Manchester Ageing Hub

People in Greater Manchester are being urged to check if they are eligible for pension top up payments after figures revealed approximately 36,000 qualifying households are missing out on around £70m in unclaimed Pension Credit.

Greater Manchester Housing Providers, a partnership of 24 social housing providers, and Greater Manchester Combined Authority, through its Ageing Hub, have launched an awareness raising campaign to encourage older people to take up pension age benefits. The Pension Top Up campaign is being is being rolled out across the city region and is supported by Independent Age, Age UK, and Citizens Advice.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “With so much pressure on household finances, it’s vital that older people are getting all the money they are entitled to. A third of those eligible for pension credit in Greater Manchester aren’t claiming, with many missing out on income from attendance allowance and housing benefit too. If you own your own home or have a private pension you could still be eligible, so please take a moment now and check – for yourself or your loved ones. It’s going to be another tough winter, and getting this top-up could make all the difference.”

Pension Top up campaign for GM Poverty Action

The main reason older people don’t claim is that they don’t think they are eligible. When it comes to finance and benefits, older people are most likely to respond to one-to-one prompting from family and friends or from trusted local contacts. The campaign encourages everyone to ask their older family, friends and customers, ‘have you topped up?’.

Jean, aged 86, from Gorton said: “Pension Credit has helped me with lots of the costs including food, clothing and bedding. My son helped me fill the forms out – I wouldn’t be able to do it without his help.”

Pension credit is designed to bring the weekly income of pensioners up to a minimum amount and could make those eligible £34 a week better off on average. In addition to the extra weekly cash, Pension Credit also unlocks other financial benefits including a free TV licence for over 75s, council tax support, and money towards green home insulation.

Karen Mitchell, Greater Manchester Housing Providers’ Ageing Well Lead and Chief Executive of Southway Housing Trust, said: “For many people that bit of extra income can make a crucial difference between struggling to pay the bills and living more comfortably”.

To check if you or someone you are close to is getting all the entitlements they are due, contact your local social housing provider or Independent Age freephone helpline 0800 319 6789  or go to the website

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