Launch of Enterprising Communities Fund

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By Sheenagh Young, CEO at South Manchester Credit Union and Chair of SoundPound Consortium

Greater Manchester is about to be the first place in the UK where local credit unions invest directly in local social enterprises through an innovative £4.1million investment fund for organisations and businesses trading for social good, the Enterprising Communities Fund.

The Fund is close to launch and has been created through a partnership between GMCVO, The Greater Manchester Consortium of Credit Unions (GMCU), Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), Access – The Foundation for Social Investment and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

GMCU is a consortium of 13 credit unions, all based in GM. We are unique in the UK.

We have joined forces to amplify our existing financial services offer and to work together on collaborations across the city region. We have developed strong links with Fair4AllFinance as we share the ambition to make the financial services sector fairer for everyone.

Organisations or social businesses working in Greater Manchester who are looking to grow their business activities will soon be able to apply to the Enterprising Communities Fund for an investment of up to £100,000.

There will be a grant element of an average of 20% of each investment to support applicants with the application process, and for them to consider ‘net zero’ implications and energy efficiency as part of their idea.

The Fund aims to make a large proportion of investments in communities where the need is highest.

Social investment is a loan given to organisations and businesses who are trading for a social, cultural, or environmental benefit to bring about positive change.

This could include addressing social needs, strengthening communities, improving people’s life chances, enhancing culture, or protecting the environment.

The launch of the Enterprising Communities Fund represents a milestone for the development of the social economy of our city region; another solid step in Greater Manchester becoming the social enterprise capital of the UK.

The community wealth deposited in local credit unions becomes a resource for local people to grow social enterprises. Credit unions are natural investment partners as they also exist to serve local people and improve their life chances.

Cat Chrimes, Head of Social Enterprise and Investment at GMCVO, said:

“Credit unions have supported individuals in their communities for years and we are excited to be bringing together credit unions with GMCA to invest in voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations that are having a real impact in their communities – helping to create more good jobs, positive environmental impact and social change, all of which is important during this economic crisis. The grant money provided by Access will help to improve the resilience of organisations in the early days of taking on the investment. This is the first time that this kind of partnership has come together, and we look forward to being able to evidence the importance of place-based investing using community wealth.”

Do you work for, or know of, a local social enterprise which may be interested in this investment fund? Share it with them!

You can find more information about the investment fund as well as other sources of investment and how to apply on GMCVO’s website: gmcvo.org.uk/enterprising-communities-fund.

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Manchester Volunteer Advice Partnership: A collaborative anti-poverty approach

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By Dawn Kaveney, Volunteer Development Worker at Manchester Mind

As a collective Manchester Mind, Cheetham Hill Advice Centre (CHAC), Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit and Manchester Refugee Support Network believe in the power of information and advice to support change, and that there is strength in our communities.

This has certainly played out in our Manchester Volunteer Advice Partnership (MVAP), which has been running for the past 12 years with the support of The National Lottery Community Fund.

The partnership came together to meet an identified gap in all our services and that was about how to meet the growing tide of demand for advice and effectively support people who wanted to volunteer in advice work.

We developed a project to do this by centrally delivering a structured high-quality training and development programme for volunteers that also enables them to enhance skills, knowledge and confidence. The result has been increased capacity to deliver advice, contributing to workforce sustainability both within the partnership and external organisations.

“Working with the MVAP partnership to recruit and train new volunteers has been immeasurable. The countless hours provided by the dedicated volunteers has helped Manchester residents with completing applications, re-housing applications, debts, consumer grievances, education applications, travel passes and more. The tireless work of volunteers has helped us raise over £2.5 million in additional income, prevented homelessness and helped deal with debts of over £783,000 all in the last year alone” – Advice and Volunteer Manager at Cheetham Hill Advice Centre.

We then recognised that other organisations and services were experiencing the same challenges as we were – trying to help people negotiate the complexity of the system, there was no other training about, so we responded by opening up places on our core training and delivering bespoke sessions. We are finding that in doing so we are supporting volunteers and in some cases paid workers, leading to increased confidence and the ability to recognise issues, provide information and advice and signpost effectively.

“I notice I have more visits from my community over the last weeks. I guess that the better advice I deliver and the confidence I gain while doing my job attract more clients and help them trust me more” – Ethnic Health Forum employee.

Another one of our original aims was to create a volunteer group that was representative of the diverse communities in Manchester and to reach people who may otherwise not have the confidence to apply. This has all been about recognising the potential of individuals, the invaluable benefits of personal experiences and the resourcefulness that already exists. By providing this opportunity we are enabling people to build skills, knowledge and confidence to help others, which is having a trickle-down effect of empowering communities.

To recruit we go out into the community and advertise MVAP as a learning and development opportunity, rather than stipulate that certain skills and knowledge are required. This approach has proved successful with 53% of our volunteers this year being from racialised communities, giving a rich resource of languages mirroring the diversity in Manchester.

“The additional languages spoken has ensured we could provide help and advice in the client’s first language; no words could express the importance and the impact of this, to ensure our residents are understood and that they are provided with help and advice that they can comprehend, providing empowerment and knowledge” – Advice and Volunteer Manager at Cheetham Hill Advice Centre.

This approach has led to us being regularly oversubscribed. Rather than turn people away we have developed a good relationship with a smaller organisation who’ve joined our recruitment events. Their volunteers then have access to all MVAP training and events.

Delivering advice is an important aspect of any anti-poverty strategy. Advice enables people to tackle the complexity of systems that are stacked against them, and helps them access their rights and entitlements. But this is only one part of it. Volunteering allows us to develop a workforce, and building capacity within our community is a strength of this programme that ticks many boxes.

As MVAP is in the last year of lottery funding and there will be no more (as we have been supported by the lottery over three funding periods), we need to assess where our strengths are and how the sector benefits. We are ready to continue and our partnership believes in what we are doing and what we have achieved.

We are particularly interested in expanding advice training and the delivery of bespoke sessions, as well as offering consultancy on volunteer recruitment and management—but, we would like to hear from you. What would help you to increase capacity to support people? What would enrich your service? How can we be involved?

Please get in touch with dawn.kaveney@manchestermind.org if you want to continue the conversation and/or complete this short survey.

We would love to hear from you.

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Join the GM VCSE Anti-Poverty Forum

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By Aisha Muhammad, Public Policy Officer at Greater Manchester Poverty Action (GMPA)

GMPA chairs the Greater Manchester VCSE anti-poverty forum, established under the delivery of the Greater Manchester VCSE Accord to build on existing strengths of VCSE sector across the ten boroughs.

The forum brings together VCSE organisations from across the city region to share their experiences and expertise, discuss challenges, and organise strategic influence and action in the fight against poverty. The forum aims to create a powerful VCSE sector voice on an array of pressing topics – from the need of a cash-first approach, to the advocacy of the Living Wage Campaign – and recognises the value of the sector beyond ‘crisis responses’ to poverty in these increasingly challenging times.

Forum sessions are held every two months, with VCSE sector organisations from across Greater Manchester being welcome to participate. For more information and/or to join, please get in touch.

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Homeless prevention: the Tenants’ Advocacy Service

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By Alison Eastwood, Development Manager at the Bond Board

Covid-19, the cost-of-living crisis and the impending Renters Reform Act have hit the private rented sector hard.

The number of people being evicted by a bailiff following a ‘no fault’ eviction has risen by 41% in England in the last year. The number of Greater Manchester households facing eviction has reached its highest level on record, with a total of 448 section 21 ‘no fault’ notices served between April and June of this year (Ministry of Justice, August 2023).

Look behind those figures and you’ll find ‘buy-to-let’ landlords raising rents as interest rates go up and those selling up before the Renter’s Reform Act takes effect. You’ll find families in rent arrears struggling to pay rent  increases of more than £200 a month, people whose relationship with their landlord has broken down, properties causing health problems due to disrepair and those dealing with the shock of receiving a ‘no fault’ eviction – a bombshell that reverberates around the whole family.

The lack of affordable re-housing options adds another layer or trauma with only two ‘affordable’ (within LHA rates) private rented tenancies available in Rochdale between May and October 2022 (Dataloft 2022). The final blow comes from the Homeless Officer who advises of ‘months’ or ‘years’ before an offer of social housing is likely.

The Bond Board is a Greater Manchester homeless charity, with a 30-year track record of delivering impactful homeless and housing services for a variety of major funders. It’s not surprising that during the current housing crisis our service users tell us they are ‘scared’, ‘isolated’, ‘depressed’ and ‘in a deep hole with no way out’. Our service users are resilient, but they also face challenges which include a lack of affordable housing options, lack of money, benefit issues, rent arrears, food/fuel poverty, health problems and social isolation.

We know many struggle to access telephone support from an advice line, due to lack of skills, confidence and/or resources. For those with issues such as a learning difficulty or depression, accessing complex legal housing advice over the phone and acting on that can be very challenging. It’s also hard to make major decisions when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, or the gas meter has run out.

We set up the Tenants’ Advocacy Service (TAS) during the pandemic, with initial funding from the Greater Manchester Mayoral Fund and the Lottery Community Fund. We sought to prevent homelessness by advising low income private rented tenants, whose tenancy was at risk, at an earlier stage than the 56 day Relief Duty.

Our model combines specialist housing advice and landlord/tenant mediation with holistic support work – a unique approach that enables one specialist worker to provide all services for as long as it is needed, in whatever location works for the service user. We have recruited and trained staff who have specialist housing law knowledge, while at the same time, our TAS Advisers also provide general support—including with furniture, fuel and food, income maximisation and referrals for mental health support.

After a successful first year with a homeless prevention rate of over 70%, TAS secured funding for three years from The Henry Smith Charity. We’re now halfway through the project and are proud to share an independent evaluation of the TAS service by the creative listener, Len Grant.

The booklet tells the story of the TAS, enabling our service users, referral partners, a landlord and staff to have their voices heard in a unique format. The feedback has highlighted lots of positives, including our high homeless prevention rate and the significant financial gains achieved for service users. It also shines a spotlight on the mental health impact of the threat of homelessness, as well as the remarkable resilience of our TAS service users.

You can read the evaluation here: www.thebondboard.org.uk.

If you would like more information about The Bond Board or to refer to the Tenants’ Advocacy Service (Rochdale), please email info@thebondboard.org.uk.

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Book launch: Eliminating Poverty in Britain

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By Helen Rowe, writer and social researcher

Poverty is unacceptable and yet, if we are honest, it is accepted.

There is a world of difference between alleviating poverty and actually trying to eliminate it, but with a realistic and holistic outlook, it is possible.

Should a political party seek to end deprivation on our Isles, the leadership would need to accept two unpalatable truths. The first is the short timeframe of five years. With no guarantee of re-election, the aim must be to finish the job in a single term of office. The second is that it cannot involve tax rises. Our political history is clear on this point – parties are not elected into government if they say they will raise taxes. It is a recurring and unequivocal ‘no’. How then could it happen in a country such as ours with an enormous national debt? How would we fund it?

Three core concepts are essential: compassion, focus and a detailed plan which works in conjunction with the green agenda, and one that can be clearly articulated to the public during an election.

Even with 14.4 million living in poverty, the stereotype of the undeserving poor perpetuates. This Victorian judgement has been handed down through generations and has benefitted certain politicians who have used it to distance themselves from dealing with the country’s problems. Eliminating poverty in Britain can only be achieved by a leader who genuinely understands the country they are leading and who has enough wisdom to use the power they hold in their hands thoughtfully.

The pandemic showed us how broad and rapid action can be made in unfathomably short timeframes. The same type of focus would be needed to break poverty’s hold over our country. Five years is not a long time for an issue this large and complex. Fortunately, child deprivation is particularly responsive to interventions and so could be the first success of the poverty elimination programme.

A holistic and expansive plan (as detailed in my book) would require a combined effort from across society. Led by Downing Street, it would need to encompass the civil service, devolved and local governments, expert nonprofits like Greater Manchester Poverty Action and the voices of those most affected by deprivation. Money from the Royal Bank of Scotland shares that the government still owns, changes in departmental spending, fewer follies like Boris Johnson’s failed Garden Bridge over the Thames (which cost £43m for nothing) and a new system of socially responsible gilts for investment funds, would provide enough money to get the programme started.

We can have everything we want for our country, but only if we eliminate poverty. We can have:

  • shorter waiting times on the NHS – poverty makes people sick
  • better attainment in schools – stress and hunger stop the brain functioning properly and change our DNA
  • a lower crime rate – serious youth violence and poverty are intimately connected
  • a protected environment – we cannot deal with climate change unless we deal with poverty
  • a stronger economy – for growth to begin, people need money in their pockets to spend.

Poverty affects every person in our country. It permeates broadly and exhausts people and services alike.

We have more knowledge, understanding and connectivity than our species has ever known. If we decide not to try this now, when do we do it? In five, ten or fifteen more years? Now is the best time. It is not impossible, it just requires compassion, focus and a plan and then we would create a society which is fit for everyone who lives in it.

If you are interested in reading more, Eliminating Poverty in Britain is now available in bookshops or online. To contact Helen Rowe, go to www.helenroweuk.net.

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Nonprofits call for a long-term strategy for local crisis support in England

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By Joe Farnworth-Mayers, Policy Officer (Local) at The Trussell Trust

Unexpected costs happen in our lives – whether it’s a boiler packing up or facing a larger than usual energy bill. These costs, while inconvenient, should never mean people find their only option is to turn to a food bank for support. Yet sadly, for too many people, this is the case.

Our recent Hunger in the UK research found that the majority (53%) of people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network have had to meet a large and unexpected cost that they had difficulty paying in the previous three months​. The research also showed that the overwhelming majority of people at food banks have been forced to seek help as a last resort having exhausted all other avenues. They are likely to have multiple forms of debt, run down whatever limited savings they may have had, and exhausted all options from family and friends.

At its root cause is a social security system which doesn’t provide people with sufficient support to afford the essentials. But we also know that the impact of these unexpected costs is magnified further when people do not have help to turn to locally. There is a clear and valuable role for discretionary crisis support schemes delivered by local authorities which can provide immediate support to people when they need it most.

We’ve seen first-hand the impact such support can provide. In partnership with Leeds City Council, the Trussell Trust commissioned an evaluation into a cash grant pilot scheme, which provided grants to people in financial hardship in Leeds in place of emergency food parcels so they could pay for the essentials they needed most.  It found that this approach improved people’s immediate financial situation and reduced the need to turn to a food bank in the short term. The approach was also considered more dignified by those receiving the grants.

The UK Government has provided nearly £2bn in funding to local authorities through the Household Support Fund (HSF) since October 2021, which we strongly welcome. Yet despite this investment, the provision of effective local crisis support in England is still patchy at best. There have been multiple spending constraints in each round of funding, ranging from limiting support to pensioners and children, through to the type of essentials it should be spent on. Local authorities have also had to pull together spending plans at very short notice, without being able to put in place the people, the promotion and the application processes required to support local people in need.

The HSF is a positive first step, but for it to enable local authorities to support people facing hardship and build longer-term financial resilience within communities, it needs to have a longer-term strategy.

The Trussell Trust is proud to be part of a coalition of nonprofits – including GMPA – across the UK who are calling for this long-term strategy. Ahead of the Autumn statement, we will be calling for the Government to commit to a long-term strategy for local crisis support in England, which includes a multi-year settlement of funding, a clear outcomes framework for such support, and improved monitoring and evaluation of local schemes.

To explore this further, the APPG Ending the Need for Food Banks and Local Government Association are hosting a panel discussion on Wednesday 13 September on the future of the Household Support Fund. Register here. 

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New Greater Manchester partnership with Independent Age to create training to support older people in financial hardship

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By Jo Garsden, Programme Manager at Greater Manchester Ageing Hub

National advice charity Independent Age has initiated a new partnership with Greater Manchester to improve the lives of older residents in financial hardship.

Organisations are invited to be involved in development and piloting of new training offers from Independent Age around older people and financial hardship. The charity plans to share the learning gained here in Greater Manchester at a national level, with the aim of further roll out across the country.

The offer of an initial one year grant agreement follows significant support from Independent Age for the 2022/23 Greater Manchester Pension Top Up and Winterwise campaigns facilitated by the Greater Manchester Ageing Hub and partners, aimed at increasing take up of later life benefits and entitlements.

In 2022, more than 500 frontline workers in Greater Manchester (including housing providers, councils, VCFSE sector, NHS, fire, police) signed up for a free one hour online introductory training session on Pension Credit and Attendance Allowance delivered by Independent Age. From the end of August, a further 15 training dates will be released, with the offer being extended to selected local authorities beyond Greater Manchester.

Independent Age are exploring new training options for the wider workforce based on feedback from Greater Manchester partners supporting older people, including:

  • Online training sessions via Teams on: what happens to your benefits when you reach State Pension Age; general benefits training including what’s available and how to best answer questions on application forms; how to support older people in debt (focus on signposting); how to reduce costs including support from utilities providers, energy advice, social tariffs, TV licence, benefits maximisation
  • E-learning version of Pension Credit and Attendance Allowance online training (exploring whether this can be uploaded to council and NHS learning platforms)
  • Crib sheet to support someone applying for Pension Credit and Attendance Allowance
  • Peer ambassador training for older people around financial hardship
  • Videos around how to fill in an Attendance Allowance form and what to do if your application is turned down.

An estimated 36,000 eligible households in Greater Manchester are not claiming Pension Credit – that’s a third of those who are eligible. The average value to households is estimated at £34 per week, which equates to £70m per year across the region. Many older residents are also missing out on Attendance Allowance and Housing Benefit.

It will be my role to lead this work, with key areas of focus being:

  • Scoping what advice is currently available for older people and identifying opportunities for joint working
  • Building capacity of Greater Manchester organisations supporting older people around financial hardship
  • Developing and delivering ‘test and learn’ training offers to those supporting older people
  • Evaluating the Greater Manchester Winterwise campaign 2022/23.

The work is being supported by a new financial hardship and older people steering group which includes representatives from Greater Manchester Older People’s Network, GMPA, the University of Manchester and the DWP. The group meets monthly on a Tuesday 9-10 am.

To find out more about the work around financial hardship and older people, or to get involved in developing the training or the steering group, please contact jo.garsden@greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk.

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“Really user friendly” and “very useful”: Impact of the Money Advice Referral Tool (MART)

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By Daniel Oliver, Head of Programmes at Greater Manchester Poverty Action (GMPA)

GMPA’s money maximising tool has proven to be a success across Greater Manchester. 

GMPA established the MART in Greater Manchester over 18 months ago. The tool provides a framework for a conversation to support someone at risk of falling into poverty, with a concise summary of options available to get them to the most appropriate form of preventative support.

There are now MARTs in six of ten Greater Manchester boroughs: Bury, Oldham, Manchester, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan. An independent evaluation of these has now been completed by ICF, finding that the tools have made it easier for organisations to support people to access money maximising information:

“It’s massively saved me time…I used Google to search. When I saw [the MART], I knew it would save me all that searching” – MART user.

The evaluation also highlighted the positive role of the collaborative approach we adopted to create the MARTs, bringing together working groups of relevant organisations and people with lived experience of poverty:

“It was good having the service users there. When you’re co-designing something you need that input, so professionals don’t run away and do something that they just assume is going to work” – working group member.

This process of listening and co-production seems to have paid off, with over 250 workers and volunteers across 225 Greater Manchester organisations being identified as using the MARTs to support people, and more than 30% of these being staff within schools and the NHS.

The evaluation found that use of the MARTs varied between organisations, for example between school pastoral staff and foodbank volunteers, and a Wigan organisation shared the MARTs directly with people in the community:

There was quite a take up, particularly from men, who independently accessed some of the support services relating to mental health, debt and substances” – MART user.

Examples of MART use included: a family being supported to save money on their energy bills through a referral to the Energyworks service; a family accessing legal advice via the MART; and a family being supported to access Universal Credit, Child Benefit and an additional one-off grant, significantly increasing their household income.

GMPA is now reviewing and implementing the learnings and recommendations from the independent evaluation, in partnership with other organisations. These include improving the ways of working of the borough-level MART working groups, providing a more extensive MART training offer, developing an online system to enable automatic MART referrals and developing MARTs in other languages to increase accessibility.

The MART has been funded by the Trussell Trust and Oldham Council and seeks to maximise household incomes. GMPA would like to thank them for their support, as well as members of the MART working groups and those who participated in the ICF evaluation.

To find out more about the MARTs, please contact Jon Sands at jons@gmpovertyaction.org.

“It sounded like a really good idea to have all the information in one place so that we can refer people on to whatever help they might need -feeding people is only one part of that. Usually there are underlying things [which explain] why they’re presenting as needing food, and so it felt like a really good thing we could use to work alongside what we were already doing” – MART user

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The socio-economic duty in action: case studies from England and Wales

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By Megan Isaac, Research and Policy Intern at Just Fair

Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010, the socio-economic duty (‘the duty’), is intended to reduce socio-economic disadvantage. If enacted, it requires local and public authorities to consider the ways in which their decisions increase or decrease inequalities that result from socio-economic disadvantage. We campaign on the socio-economic duty as a tool to address inequality and discrimination in the UK.

Today we launched our new report ‘The socio-economic duty in action: case studies from England and Wales.’

Jointly written and produced with our partner Greater Manchester Poverty Action (GMPA), the report brings together case studies from local authorities and public bodies in England who have voluntarily adopted the socio-economic duty, and from the Welsh Government who implemented the duty in Wales in 2021.

The report finds that, across England and Wales, the duty is being used to tackle inequality in a wide range of areas, including recruitment, addressing the cost-of-living crisis, preventing increases in school meal prices, and responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Below are two examples of case studies profiled in the report.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service – driving licence bursary scheme

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service (MFRS) voluntarily adopted the duty in 2021.

As a result of using the duty in their decision making, MFRS realised that individuals experiencing socio-economic disadvantage were underrepresented in firefighter applications due to the requirement to have a driving licence.

MFRS removed the driving licence requirement for prospective firefighters and now offer bursaries for successful applicants from 20 deprived areas of Merseyside. This led to an additional 195 applications in 2022, 48 per cent of which came from the 10 per cent most deprived areas of Merseyside.

Welsh Government – Covid-19 Statutory Sick Pay Enhancement Scheme

Following the adoption of the duty at national level in 2021, the Welsh Government conducts Integrated Impact Assessments for strategic decisions which now includes considerations of socio-economic disadvantage.

During Covid-19, an assessment of financial support offered to social care workers highlighted that most of the social care workforce were women, with high levels of socio-economic disadvantage and most not receiving occupational sick pay.

The Welsh Government therefore introduced a Statutory Sick Pay Enhancement (SSP) scheme which ensured that social care workers who were unable to work due to exposure to Covid-19 received their full pay, without delay.

The scheme contributed to longer-term changes in social care working conditions, which included the introduction of the Real Living Wage for all social care workers in April 2022.

Benefits of the duty

The report highlights some of the varied and innovative ways in which the duty can reduce the inequalities that result from socio-economic disadvantage.

From more inclusive recruitment practices to increased social security payments, the duty is a powerful tool for addressing inequality.

By requiring local authorities and public bodies to pay due regard to socio-economic disadvantage, equality is centred in strategic decision-making, an important step on the road to realising everyday human rights.

Read the full report here.

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Amplifying the voices of lived experience

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By Daniel Oliver, Head of Programmes at GMPA

One of GMPA’s strategic aims is to embed the voices of people with lived experience in the decision-making structures of Greater Manchester.

We know that people who are living in poverty, or who have lived in poverty, bring unique experiences and expertise to designing anti-poverty solutions. As an organisation we have actively encouraged the role of lived experience in decision-making, including by running the Tameside Poverty Truth Commission and recommending that anti-poverty strategies are created in partnership with communities affected by poverty.

In 2021 we brought together a temporary Poverty Reference Group, composed of local people with lived experience of poverty, to inform the Greater Manchester Independent Inequalities Commission. This group recommended that “a new Panel should be established for people with lived experience of poverty, to complement the existing panels based on communities of identity.”

We are pleased to announce that a new Poverty Reference Group (PRG) will be established by GMPA later this year, with a view to this group becoming a permanent part of the Greater Manchester infrastructure. The PRG will bring together people from across different communities and demographics of Greater Manchester on a regular basis, to inform and influence policy and practice across the city region. The group will build positive relationships with key stakeholders across all sectors to ensure that the voices of people with lived experience of poverty are heard across relevant organisations, forums and networks.

This is an exciting step in amplifying the voices of lived experience of poverty in our city region, and we are looking forward to supporting the PRG to encourage positive change. To learn more about our plans, get in touch.

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