‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’
There are many aspects that contribute to a full life, but when people face unjust situations and extreme poverty, we are all unable to access this fullness of life.
Poverty affects us all, whether we or our communities are perceived as rich or poor. This means it is 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.
The Diocese of Oxford is demographically diverse, meaning 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.
Meanings of ‘poverty’ are complex - poverty is about income, but also more than income; 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. It is well established that income inequality intersects with a range of other inequalities, including race, gender, disability, and class.
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. Hidden poverty is also common and, as a church, we need proactively to look for what is hidden, bringing reality to light.
Income poverty is closely related to other issues like food poverty, digital exclusion, and social isolation.
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 implicated in our identity (body image, health and wellbeing, links with mental health); our culture and how we engage with different cultures; politics (food poverty, gifting food, inequality, starvation as a weapon, self-starvation as a political tool, sustainability, food security), and spirituality (fasting, eating, mysticism, bread of life, manna from heaven).
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.
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."
Words by Alison Webster.
- 999 Food — an overview of food aid and food banks in the Diocese of Oxford.
- Emergency Use Only — a report on understanding and reducing the use of food banks in the UK, by the Church of England, Oxfam GB, Trussell Trust, and Child Poverty Action Group.
Find out more
- 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.
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 cannot afford sufficient data or a wifi subscription. 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 straight-forward 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 digital technology.
- UK Consumer Digital Index 2021 - a study looking at the digital and financial lives of people in the UK
Find out more
- 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.