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Archbishop Calls For Action On UK Poverty

Image courtesy of the Church Urban Fund

Saturday 25th June 2011

The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu has called for action to be taken to address UK poverty levels. He spoke out as churches up and down the country prepare to hold services marking “Poverty Sunday” on Sunday 26 June,

Writing for the Guardian newspaper the Archbishop said rising poverty was not necessarily linked to unemployment levels, stating there was a “significant problem in our country where even those who work hard are not able to put food on the table for their families”.

The Archbishop also called on people to “be generous not only with your wallet, but with your time, your words, your actions”.

Full text of Guardian article follows...

What is Poverty?


In a time of economic downturn, it is vitally important that we do all that we can to support those in genuine economic need. We must be ready to stand alongside them. We need, together, to rediscover the springs of solidarity.


We have heard much talk of “the Big Society”, but if we want to transform our nation for the better in practical ways, then we have to start by valuing the contribution that every individual can make to our wider society.


Whether you are a company director, the person who empties the bins, or someone who volunteers their time to help other people, your contribution in the community needs to be recognised as important and worthwhile. We need to be careful that we do not perceive the worth of people simply by the amount that they earn.


Poverty levels in Britain are growing rapidly. The Save The Children Fund published a report this month entitled ‘Telling it Like it Is’. The report contained stories from children and young people about the reality of growing up in poverty in the UK within low income families.


In the UK at the moment we are seeing pockets of deprivation where the impact of poor housing on neighbourhoods, low health provision and poor levels of educational achievement are having a profound effect on communities. 


The report looked at how major policy issues affect the lives of ordinary families – this ranged from the lack of affordable activities for young people in local communities, the poor upkeep of areas where often hazardous rubbish is present, damp and cramped housing, and the effect of living in jobless households. 


There is no doubt that poverty makes people’s lives shorter and more brutal.  It is not about just being on a low income and going without – it’s the perpetuating cycle of being denied power, respect, good health, education and housing, basic self-esteem and the ability to participate in social activities. 


Whilst governments have pledged to halve child poverty by 2010 and eradicate it by 2020, the reality is that the number of children living in poverty is expected to rise over the next couple of years, and efforts by political parties of all colours have not managed to narrow the wealth gap.


Britain has 1.6 million children living in severe poverty and this nation has the lowest social mobility compared to the other 12 most advanced western countries.  Severe poverty is classed as a family getting by on less than £134 a week for a lone parent with one child, or £240 per week for a couple with two children.


These families cannot afford the cuts in welfare, or the increases in VAT and inflation. Worklessness compounds the risk of severe poverty, however, while it may be easy or convenient to characterise people living in poverty as choosing not to work, we should note that 680,000 of the children in severe poverty live in households where at least one adult is working.


Therefore there is a significant problem in our country where even those who work hard are not able to put food on the table for their families.


Children have little chance of escaping the poverty they are brought up in, and if this is combined with low aspiration and low levels of educational attainment, it further reduces the skills being made available to employers in these areas and impedes wider economic growth. A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that child poverty costs Britain at least £25 billion a year.


Does it really have to be this way? Big Society or not, a good society is shaped around the dignity and infinite worth of each human being. For me this springs from God's bold investment in humanity — when, in Jesus of Nazareth, "though he was rich he became poor so that we might become rich".


Can it be right that we now live in a country where some councils want to ban soup kitchens and stop volunteers offering care and support to the homeless? We can judge the health of a nation by the way it cares for its vulnerable.

This Sunday (26th June) is “Poverty Sunday” where the Church Urban Fund is encouraging people to put time aside to think about people in poverty and what we can do to take practical steps to tackle poverty as a society.


I’d like to challenge people to call for justice for those living in poverty. Be generous not only with your wallet, but with your time, your words, your actions. We need to remember that poverty isolates people, reducing their ability to engage in social and community life.

This article originally appeared in the Guardian, 25 June.

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