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For Richer For Poorer to tackle poverty

A report into poverty in the Oxford Diocese is hot off the press. For Richer for Poorer aims to enable deaneries and parishes to consider poverty and how the Bible calls us to respond.

FOR Richer For Poorer was inspired by the Rt Revd Steven Croft when he named ‘poverty and marginalisation’ as one of his three key personal priorities for the Diocese of Oxford.
The report was commissioned by Alison Webster, the Diocese’s Social Responsibility Advisor, and was put together by Jane Perry, an independent social researcher with a background in poverty and welfare research.

The findings demonstrate that the meaning of ‘poverty’ is complex. It states: “The data presented in this report demonstrate how 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 report highlights the differences in demographics in our diverse Diocese. “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.” These include city centres, like Oxford, where there are complex needs within a tight space; suburbs, where the most vulnerable may be hidden from view, and hamlets and isolated houses where residents may experience isolation and difficulty accessing health and other public services.

Ethnic diversity was highlighted in the report, with a growing gap in experience between parishes that were predominantly white and those with growing levels of ethnic diversity. The areas with very high ethnic diversity are named as Slough, Wycombe, Milton Keynes, Aylesbury Vale, Oxford, Windsor and Maidenhead and Wokingham. See the story below for how different ethnic and faith groups are working together across the Diocese.

Jane’s research states: “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…”

The report states: “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 more on the complexities of definitions of poverty, see the report, but it’s worth noting that absolute poverty is defined by the World Bank’s standard of living on $1.25 per day. Jane’s research states that this ‘absolute poverty’ means that ‘there is no such thing as poverty in the UK today’. “However absolute poverty is closely related to destitution defined by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as ‘not being able to afford to buy the essentials required to eat, stay warm and dry, and keep clean.”

“JRF estimates that 1.25 million people (184,500 households in the UK) experienced destitution at some point during 2015.” Although the Diocese of Oxford is less deprived than England as a whole, 13 neighbourhoods are in the top 10 per cent most deprived in England and 42 in the top 10 to 20 per cent, when measured by the English Indices of Deprivation 2015. 70 neighbourhoods are in the 20 to 30 per cent most deprived in the UK.
The report concludes: “For many it is relative poverty that bites hardest. ‘Only just managing’ is tough enough, but if those living close by seem to have so much more than you do, it is much harder still. Relative deprivation, in close proximity to excessive wealth, is a reality for many living in the Diocese of Oxford.”
The conclusions note the problems of the acute housing crisis and homelessness, as well as “the way much hardship is hidden by isolation or stigma.” The report concludes: “As church we need proactively to look for what is hidden, bringing reality to light.”

Building interfaith relationships with Common Good grants

SEVERAL interfaith projects across the Diocese have been supported by Common Good grants from the Church Urban Fund.

Colour powder used in the Hindu Festival of Colour. Photo: Shutterstock.

The grants, usually between £1,000 and £2,000, are for projects that build up interfaith cooperation. The purpose of the grants is to address recent and long entrenched tensions in local areas between different faith and ethnic communities.

Grants recently awarded in the Oxford Diocese:

Slough Faith Partnership – A grant of £2,000. The Slough Faith Partnership will be working with Windsor and Maidenhead Community Forum and Windsor Humanists to run a series of community events. These include a community groups showcase street fair with local groups exhibiting their work to demonstrate local diversity; an informal community picnic; a debate on diversity and social cohesion; and events for Inter Faith Week. Participants will be from Humanist, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, and Buddhist faith groups, and White British, Asian, and Afro-Caribbean ethnic groups. Funding is for street fairs, venue hire, speaker costs, publicity, and administration. www.sloughfaithpartnership.org.uk/

Banbury Interfaith Network – £1,000 for the Banbury Friendship Festival. The network is made up of Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Quaker, B’Hai, Muslim, Buddhist, and Sikh groups. A festival takes place this month, to inspire cross-cultural friendships and celebrate diversity through a day of live entertainment, food and activities. The day, involving at least 300 people, will include a walk, breakfast, discussion at a local mosque, shared lunch, presentation of the work of voluntary organisations, children’s exhibition, history walk, band music and an evening concert of music, poetry and dancing. For more see: http://tinyurl.com/ktnt2bt

Oxford Hindu Temple and Community Centre Project – £1,150 to raise awareness of the Hindu faith in East Oxford. The project aims to acquire a community centre, celebrate festivals with multi-faith communities and give school talks. OHTCCP held a one day Holi festival event (Spring Festival of Colour) in March.

Helping people out of homelessness in Slough

A CHURCH in Slough has stepped in to help a homeless charity in Slough that was itself being made homeless. Slough Homelessness Our Concern (SHOC) offers help and support for the homeless as well as a soup kitchen in the Buckinghamshire town.

Photo: Shutterstock

Slough Homelessness Our Concern (SHOC) offers help and support for the homeless as well as a soup kitchen in the Buckinghamshire town.

Graham Fletcher, the church warden at St John the Baptist Church, Manor Park, said: “The charity was given accommodation by the council and I understand that the council is wanting to redevelop the site. They approached us. Our parish has two churches, both temporary buildings built in the 1930s. One we use most of the time for our services but the other is available. It’s the hall they really want to use although they might use the church for meetings and counselling sessions.

“As a church we wanted to do our bit for the community. We were clear we wanted to help and they have agreed that they will pay for the use of electricity and so on but we won’t charge for use of the building. Letting them use it is part of our mission.”

Adeline Fleming, church warden, added: “For the past three years we have been actively participating in providing food and shelter to the homeless in Slough during the cold winter months from January to March for two nights per week. As SHOC themselves lose their home, where they provide a soup kitchen daily, we are more than delighted to reach out to the community to offer that support. The church hall environment offers a peaceful oasis. It is our prayer that people will find acceptance and hope to move forward in their lives.”

Mandy McGuire, from SHOC, said: “We provide short term crisis care and long term transformational support, not to just provide warm clothes and food but to address the issues that caused the person to find themselves homeless. We aim to help them become independent and not need our services any more. Last year we helped 36 people into work. We are extremely grateful to the church for letting us use their premises. Without use of the buildings our services may have had to stop.”

The Pilgrim Hearts Trust helps the vulnerable in Bracknell

THE Pilgrim Hearts charity based in Bracknell co-ordinates a winter night shelter, a drop-in centre and much more.

Bishop Steven at the Pilgrim Hearts Drop-In. Photo: Catharine Morris.

One man who was helped was Jim* who was sleeping in a tent when he came to Pilgrim Hearts. He was a single man and, although he had a local connection, he had no priority need. He wasn’t eligible for help with accommodation from the local council.

He managed to get a job but he had no address to give the employer, so he lied and gave a friend’s address. His next step was to try and get some long-term accommodation. He needed £2,000 for rent in advance and a tenancy deposit. The council agreed that they would give him a deposit but the arrangement meant he’d have to pay that back. The new Local Housing Allowance limits meant his Housing Benefit would not meet the monthly rent and he’d have to top this up from his wages. He also had previous arrears and debt and so the extra repayments for a tenancy deposit and rent in advance were a challenge.

Jim had no furniture or anything to set up his home. Pilgrim Hearts provided furniture and had contacts with another charity who could sort carpeting. Despite Jim having a job and being paid, there is a concern that he will go back to living in a tent as the challenges of managing his debts as well as his work and home may be overwhelming.

Jim’s situation is not unique. The For Richer For Poorer report states that high private rents make housing unaffordable to most working families. It also highlights problems with social housing. “The supply of social housing is going down as demand is going up, with a particular effect on young families because of difficulty matching jobs and housing…”

The report also mentions a perceived increase in temporary accommodation and rough sleeping and the problem of people forced to ‘sofa surf’ rather than sleep on the streets.

Elaine Chalmers-Brown, of Pilgrim Hearts said: “There is a bigger story here than just this one guy. We co-ordinated the Bracknell Night Shelter between December and March across the churches in Bracknell. We had quite a few people who were working and living in the night shelter. They may be working but they can’t afford accommodation.”

The Rt Revd Steven Croft, the Bishop of Oxford, visited the Pilgrim Hearts Trust as part of his ongoing tour of the Diocese.

*Jim’s name has been changed for confidentiality.

Factfile on poverty in the Thames Valley

  • 112 neighbourhoods were in the 10 per cent most deprived in England for Barriers to housing and services
  • 50 neighbourhoods were in the 10 per cent most deprived in England for crime. 14 per cent were in the least deprived for crime.
  • 18 neighbourhoods (one per cent) were in the 10 per cent most income deprived in England
  • 32 per cent of neighbourhoods were in the least deprived 10 per cent for employment.

    What’s next?

    THE Diocese aims to continue to explore how to be a church of and for those the Bible calls “the poor”. If you have insights and experience to offer please contact Alison Webster on alison.webster@oxford.anglican.org.

Bishops pledge to End Hunger Fast

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By Jo Duckles

THE Senior staff of the Oxford Diocese are joining the End Hunger Fast and will be going hungry for 24 hours to back a campaign to end unnecessary food poverty in the UK.

Volunteers sort food donations at a Food Bank.  Photo: The Trussell Trust

Volunteers sort food donations at a Food Bank. Photo: The Trussell Trust

They will fast during a routine meeting of the Bishop’s Staff meeting on 19 March.

The End Hunger Fast campaign is calling on the Government to ensure that:

  • The welfare system provides a robust line of defence against hunger in Britain
  • Work pays enough for employees to properly provide for their families
  • Food markets function, promoting long term sustainable and healthy diets with no one profiteering off hunger in Britain.

The campaign is calling on thousands of Christians to fast as an expression of faith during Lent to bring them closer to God and their neighbour. It is inspired by the shocking statistics that in the UK more than 10 million people live in poverty and half a million are dependent on food aid.

A national day of fasting will take place on Friday 4 April and high profile figures will be pledging a full day’s fast, resulting in a fasting chain throughout Lent until Holy Week. It will culminate with a vigil in Parliament Square on the Wednesday of Holy Week where as many people as possible will gather to stand in solidarity with UK people who go hungry, and call on the Government to act.

The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, said: “Being hungry is one of the most miserable experiences and being hungry day after day, month after month, with all its consequences of illness, weakness and inability to work, must be desperate. One day’s fast doesn’t seem much to remind myself of all that and to make me try by any means to end the scourge of global hunger.

“We celebrate the fact that Christians of all denominations are working alongside those of other faiths and none to mitigate the immediate effects of food poverty. However, whilst it is an imperative of our faith tradition to feed the hungry, our prophetic tradition also requires us to ask why the hungry have no food. We have therefore been carrying out our own explorations of the structural root causes of the need for emergency food aid, whilst also contributing to national research initiatives, through the work of our Diocesan Social Responsibility Adviser, Alison Webster, and her team.”

Alison Webster, Social Responsibility Adviser for the Diocese said: “Fasting has always been an important way for Christians to show solidarity with those experiencing injustice. As it says in Isaiah 58: ‘Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?’

“In Britain today the gap between rich and poor is growing ever wider. Adults and children are going hungry, and the use of food banks is growing exponentially. In this diocese all the indications are that low wages, under-employment, benefit reform and sanctions, and personal debt, are the root causes. Taking part in the End Hunger Fast campaign is a great way to highlight these crucial issues.”

She added:  “Over the last four months I have visited about a third of the emergency food aid initiatives in the Diocese, and have held a forum at which many more were represented. I have talked with organisers, volunteers and clients. It is clear that the economic downturn, and the choice to pursue an austerity agenda in response to it, have had a big impact on those in our communities that have little by way of an ‘economic cushion’ to protect them from crises.

“There seems to be a rapidly expanding gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, and the scary thing is that the ‘have nots’ could by any one of us. They are people in transition – from employment to underemployment or unemployment, or from one form of benefit system to another.”

Background information

1. The Diocese of Oxford is co-terminus with the Thames Valley sub-region, and therefore includes some of the most prosperous parts of the UK. It is therefore a matter of particular concern that the past two or three years have seen a rapid growth in food bank activity across our area.

2. There is now a diverse range of Emergency food aid projects across our diocese, covering towns, cities and rural areas. Projects are centred in Aylesbury, Banbury, Bicester, Bracknell, Burghfield, Chesham (Chiltern Food Bank), Crowthorne, Didcot, Henley upon Thames, High Wycombe (One Can Trust, Bucks), Milton Keynes, Newbury (West Berks Food Bank), Oxford City (Oxford Food Bank, Oxford Emergency Food, Iffley Community Cupboard), North Oxfordshire Food Bank, Oxfordshire West Food Bank, Reading (Readifood), Slough, Thame and Wokingham (NB this may not be a comprehensive list).

3. The Bishop’s Staff who are fasting are: The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard; the Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Revd Alan Wilson; the Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher; the Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd Andrew Proud; the Archdeacon of Buckingham, the Ven. Karen Gorham; the Archdeacon of Berkshire, the Ven. Olivia Graham; the Archdeacon of Oxford, the Ven. Martin Gorick; the Director of Mission, Canon Dr Michael Beasley; the Diocesan Secretary, Rosemary Pearce; and the Director of Communications, Sarah Meyrick.

4. The organiser of the End Hunger Fast the Revd Dr Keith Hebden is fasting for the whole of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday (5 March 2014) and ends on Easter Day.

5. The Diocese also has a special Lent course around Food and Fasting, which is part of our Food Matters campaign.

For more information, contact Sarah Meyrick on 07824 906839.