Bread Broken for All

A parable of sharing
A sermon for Church Action on Poverty Sunday (7 February 2016)

bread for all

Kath’s story

Kath lives with her three teenage sons. Her youngest son has several serious medical conditions and requires intensive support. After her partner left 4 years ago, Kath gave up work to become his full-time carer. This left the family finances in precarious financial position:

‘We live very close to the edge… we don’t have many things. My 17-year-old needed a passport to get a part-time job and I had to say no. My youngest, who’s 14, has never been on a school trip, and I can’t afford the art supplies my other son needs for his course.

The family were just about managing when their Child Tax Credits were halved without notice. Kath had arranged her finances so that she relied on her tax credits to pay for food and other daily necessities, so the effect was catastrophic.

When Kath contacted HMRC, she was told her credits had been cut because she had failed to tell them that her two older sons were staying in education. Kath says she did update them. She was assigned a case worker and given a number to call, ‘and that’s where the problem started’.

‘I called them every day all day and couldn’t get through. And every time I got put through to the answer machine we got charged. It was awful. I’d go back to the helpline and say “I can’t get through”, and they said “Well, that’s the number”. They didn’t help at all. It went on for eight weeks.’

Kath was horrified by how she was treated. ‘When our money was stopped, there was no compassion, there was no way to get support.’

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Launching the Good Society Conversation

Niall Cooper

Listening to the periphery at the heart of Westminster

Good Society Converstaion launch, May 2014There was something intensely symbolic and powerful about yesterday’s launch of the Good Society Conversation by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and Church Action on Poverty:

Eighty people packed into the Cardinal Hume Centre’s children’s centre, a stone’s throw from Westminster’s power places – Parliament, Whitehall, Abbey and Cathedral – yet somehow a million miles away from the formalities of what now passes for conventional ‘report launches’ or political debate.

Good Society conversations always start with listening at the periphery

As Cardinal Nichols eloquently said in his keynote speech, ‘The Good Society conversations always start with listening at the periphery. But the periphery is not always geographically distant, but rather people or places which feel distant from power.’

And the huge energy in the room came precisely from listening to the stories and voices of those living and working in…

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Join the End Hunger Fast

End Hunger FastThe Christian tradition of Lent has long been at this time to fast, and by doing so draw closer to our neighbour and closer to God.  This year, we will begin a time of fasting while half a million regularly go hungry in Britain.  The End Hunger Fast is an invitation to join with others in fasting in solidarity with the increasing numbers in communities across the UK who cannot afford to eat. Continue reading

Stimulating public debate

Chester & Ellesmere Port FoodbankChester and Ellesmere Port Foodbank is one of the many new foodbanks opening across the UK and is part of the Trussell Trust network. The trustees’ priority is to provide food for those in crisis, but ever since its launch in November 2012, they have also been concerned to ask why people become unable to feed themselves and what can be done about it.

In this guest blog, they explain how they have begun to ask that question publicly.

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Walking the Breadline: Hitting a raw nerve

Walking the breadlineYou know you’ve hit a chord – or struck a raw nerve – when your latest report draws an immediate response from most of the major political parties – and when you see people reading it on the front page of their daily papers on the way to work.  Yesterday’s launch of our Walking the Breadline report was one such day.

If you haven’t read the report – or emailed your MP in support of our call for an urgent Parliamentary Inquiry into the growth of food poverty – you can do so here.

Headlines in most (but not all) of the daily papers told the story: ‘Britain’s hungry half million’ (i); ‘Hungry Britain: More than 500,000 people forced to use food banks’ (Independent); ‘Growth in food banks fuels calls for poverty inquiry’ (FT); ‘Welfare cuts have caused hunger and destitution, charities report’ (Guardian); ‘Benefit reforms ‘have left hundreds of thousands hungry” (Telegraph).

Walking the BreadlineThe report was covered prominently on ITV’s Daybreak programme, Sky News and Channel 4 News – along with over 20 local BBC radio stations (necessitating a mammoth 2 1/2 hour stint in front of the microphone with five minutes each in quick succession for stations from Tyneside to Devon and Cumbria to Sussex).

As the story gathered pace during the day, politicians as well as journalists felt the need to respond to what we had labelled a ‘national disgrace.’

Business Secretary, Vince Cable, contradicting a rather bland statement from the Department for Work and Pensions issued in advance of the launch – told ITV’s Daybreak that the situation facing thousands of Britons was ‘a very real issue’ and accepted that ‘there are people slipping through the cracks in the system.’

Meanwhile, Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh MP commented that:  “The UK is the seventh richest country in the world yet we face a growing epidemic of hidden hunger with people increasingly unable to meet their family’s basic needs. These shocking figures show the extent of poverty in the UK with half a million people now relying on emergency food parcels for help.”

By this morning (Friday), the story has been taken up by a slay of bloggers, letter writers and other commentators.  Mark Steel is in typically ascerbic form in today’s Independent ‘Next we’ll be saying the poor don’t need to eat’, with the Guardian’s John Harris asking What kind of country is this becoming?

And even as I write this, Channel 4 News’ FactCheck publishes a vindication of our main findings: “There is mounting evidence that the inadequacies of the welfare safety net are now directly driving the growth of hunger and reliance on charitable food handouts.”

It’s gratifying – but chastening – to know that our report has hit a raw nerve.  With all the media coverage of our Walking the Breadline reports, we’ve gone some way to conveying the scale of the crisis affecting literally hundreds of thousands across the UK who are struggling even to put food on the table, and we’ve started to hold politicians to account for failing to protect the poorest and most vulnerable from the impact of recession, austerity and welfare reform.  But the challenge is now to turn that into momentum for real change.

If you haven’t yet emailed your MP in support of our call for an urgent  Parliamentary Inquiry into the growing scandal of food poverty  – do so right now.