Meanings of ‘poverty’ are complex. Poverty affects us all, whether we or our communities are perceived as rich or poor. This means it is more important than ever 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.
The Diocese of Oxford is diverse, demographically. Where people live, and in what sort of area, 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; in suburbs the most vulnerable may be hidden from view, and in hamlets and isolated houses residents may experience isolation and difficulty accessing health and other public services.
Poverty comes in many guises — 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.
The perception that Oxford is ‘such an affluent Diocese’ therefore does not always tie up with what is seen on the ground. This is perhaps particularly acute when deprivation occurs alongside extreme affluence. This may result not only in individuals’ and families’ struggles 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.
For the Diocese of Oxford, the acute housing crisis and homelessness are key issues of poverty, along with the stigma that goes with hidden poverty. As church we need proactively to look for what is hidden, bringing reality to light.
Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread: A Reflection
This reflection can be used as part of an act of worship, to highlight food issues.
Give out a small piece of bread to each participant at the beginning, and invite them to hold it, then eat it or simply look at it, as they see fit. Then say:
This, my friends, is a piece of bread.
Bread comes in many forms. It can be made of a variety of flours, with yeast or without.
Bread is important in many cultures.
Bread is diverse.
Bread stands for all food, and therefore is symbolic of abundance.
It speaks of all gifts and all giftedness, and therefore of grace and generosity.
But it also represents austerity and scarcity.
It is the food of Birkenau and Belsen, as well as the food of the banquet.
It is the most basic and cheap of subsistence foods.
We measure our economy by benchmarking the price of a loaf of bread.
Those living in poverty are said to be living ‘on the breadline’.
This is the line that separates eating and not eating;
Choice and no choice;
freedom and enslavement.
By Alison Webster
Find Out More
The Children’s Society – A national charity with strong links to the Church of England, providing specialist support that empowers young people to make positive changes and rediscover their hope. Runs campaigns alongside young people so they can overcome the toughest challenges of modern life and face their futures with hope and confidence. Find out how your church can get involved.
Church Urban Fund — Working through the Church of England’s local parish networks, with churches and alongside other faith-based and secular organisations, national and local government, charities and foundations, as well as individual supporters, to bring about positive change in communities. Find out about poverty in your parish.
Church Action on Poverty — A national ecumenical Christian social justice charity, committed to tackling poverty in the UK. Working in partnership with churches, and with people in poverty themselves, to tackle the root causes of poverty.
For Richer, For Poorer — Poverty and livelihoods in the Diocese of Oxford.
GRA:CE Project Report – Growing Good: Growth, Social Action and Discipleship in the Church of England (Church Urban Fund/Theos, Nov 2020)
Life on the Breadline — A project of Church Action on Poverty looking at how austerity has affected Christian engagement with poverty.
Report on Christian Social Action from the Church Urban Fund.
Tina Molyneux, Head of Discipleship and Social Justice