Poverty can affect us all, whether we or our communities are perceived as rich or poor. This means it's important to be careful of the language we use. Talking about ‘the poor’ or deprived communities as though they are somehow ‘other’ risks both reinforcing judgemental attitudes and further disempowering the most vulnerable.
Poverty is about more than income - it's a web of interlinked factors relating to economic position, material conditions and social relationships that together have a significant impact on an individual’s ability to flourish. Income inequality intersects with a range of other inequalities, including race, gender, disability and class.
Our diocese is demographically diverse, meaning where people live can make a big difference to the opportunities available to them and to their access to public services. Local conversations suggest these gaps may be growing. In city centres like Oxford, there are complex needs within a tight space, while in suburbs, the most vulnerable may be hidden from view, and in hamlets, residents may experience isolation and difficulty accessing health and other public services. Hidden poverty is common and, as a church, we need proactively to look for what is hidden, bringing reality to light.
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People can be disadvantaged in any number of ways which are both caused by and contribute to income poverty. These include mental health, poor educational achievement, nutrition, and relationship networks. Income poverty is closely related to the other issues addressed below.
When deprivation occurs alongside extreme affluence, this may result in not only individuals and families who are struggling not being recognised by official statistics, but also requiring them to share services (schools, hospitals, etc) with others with different extremes of experience, exacerbating feelings of inadequacy and isolation.
The perception that Oxford is ‘an affluent diocese’ does not always tie up with what is seen on the ground.
- With Citizens UK we’re using community organising to call for health and care workers to be paid the Real Living Wage. Find out more about what that means.
- Better Housing Better Health give advice on lowering energy bills, switching provider/tariff, and accessing financial assistance for those struggling to keep their houses warm.
Food poverty is deeply entwined with income poverty, with many people finding themselves choosing between turning the heating on, buying their children new school shoes, and food. Everyone should have access to enough, healthy food which meet their dietary requirements.
Eating is not just a biological act, but also a political and ecological one. In his book The Spirituality of Fasting, Charles M Murphy says:
"Eating is… a religious act that celebrates our greatest ties to God, the earth, and one another. Thinking of eating in this way helps us to realise how greatly reduced and less satisfying eating has become when it is nothing more than a refuelling exercise engaged in alone and on the run."
Food is linked to our body image, physical and mental health, our culture and how we engage with others, politics and spirituality.
Charities work to combat food poverty on local and national levels. Can you join in with something happening near you?
- Feeding Britain - There's no place for hunger in the UK - access to good quality food for all is possible and essential for a thriving society;
- Trussell Trust - Support a nationwide network of food banks and provide emergency food and support to people locked in poverty, and campaign for change to end the need for food banks in the UK;
- Independent Food Aid Network - UK network for independent food aid providers, supporting a range of independent frontline food aid organisations and advocating on their behalf at a national level;
- End Hunger UK - A coalition of more than 40 national charities, frontline organisations, faith groups, academics and individuals working for a UK where no one has to go to bed hungry.
- Jo Anderson shared the story of the St Laurence Food Cupboard in Pathways - have a read and get inspired.
- Use this prayer from Alison Webster - you might like to say commit to using it in a small group setting or similar.
God who calls us 'beloved',
God of hills and skies,
Oceans and rivers,
Of the earth and of all growing things,
Forgive our carelessness with our surroundings,
Our casual dismissals,
Our refusal to pay attention,
To take note,
To love what you have made.
When we eat,
Renew our senses,
Sharpen our awareness,
Of what we see, hear, smell, touch and taste.
Remind us that the simple act of eating
Is a matter of life and death,
And that what we eat,
And how we eat it,
Can give life to others,
Or take it from them.
Words by Alison Webster
Digital exclusion is becoming an increasingly important issue as more services move online - a process accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. More people are using digital technology to communicate than ever before. This can easily lead to exclusion for those who are not able to be so digitally connected.
Digital exclusion may be a result of income poverty whereby individuals or families cannot afford devices like computers or phone or sufficient data/wifi.
Digital exclusion can also be caused by rurality, where isolated villages or hamlets have insufficient broadband speeds, inhibiting streaming, video calls, or even creating difficulty loading straightforward webpages. Still others lack the digital skills to use the internet or don't feel confident in navigating a digital world.
- Building a Digital Nation - A report from Good Things Foundation showing who's digitally excluded in the UK and the reasons why they are not online;
- Motivational Barriers for Non-users of the Internet - A report from Good Things Foundation to explore the motivation - or willingness - for non-users of the internet to join use of digital technology;
- UK Consumer Digital Index 2021 - A study looking at the digital and financial lives of people in the UK.
- Getting Oxfordshire Online - Tackling digital exclusion across Oxfordshire;
- SOFEA - SOFEA's new project receives donations of laptops and other digital devices, refurbishes them and donates them to members of the community through their food larder network.
Partnering with both SOFEA and Getting Oxfordshire Online, there are collection points across the diocese for old laptops that can be refurbished and sent on to those who desperately need them. Get involved.