Sheffield churches unite against poverty
10th December 2014
The impact of welfare reform in more deprived communities in Sheffield has “squeezed people’s income, pushed some into debt and made many look for other sources of help such as the food bank”. This was one conclusion from the findings of a church-run research initiative into poverty in Sheffield.
The Diocese of Sheffield has been working in partnership with Church Action on Poverty, over the past 18 months, carrying out research into how changes to the welfare system are being experienced by the people affected most.
Findings from the project, known as ‘Listen Up!’, were released for the first time on Saturday, 29 November at a conference on ‘Poverty in Sheffield Today’, run by Sheffield Church Action on Poverty, the People’s Assembly for Sheffield and the Sheffield Equality Group. The conference aimed to find ways of reducing poverty in the city.
Churches, because they live and breathe in every place, are very well placed to help gather stories. Listen Up! involved volunteers from five church-based groups trained to interview local people in a mix of communities in and around Sheffield. Residents of communities in Longley, Manor, Broomhall, Southey and Dinnington had conversations with volunteers on topics including: how the household ‘gets by’, what role benefits and tax credits currently play in their lives, and how they are likely to be affected by the coming changes. Conversations were carried out in a systematic and structured way; usually with people living on low incomes. They were then analysed to reveal both the situation in their local area and themes which are common across the city region.
One of the researchers said: “You will be challenged and changed through Listen Up. It may be hard to cope with the powerlessness, the anger it evokes in you, self-knowledge, discomfort about inequality that you are part of, feelings of guilt about what you have compared to others. But this is real and true about the society we are part of and it is important that this is revealed”
Volunteer researchers concluded that while people are often ‘resilient and resourceful’ they are often chronically short of money and plagued by debt, while already facing many other difficult problems in their lives. Many of those interviewed were concerned about the further changes that Universal Credit would bring and the over-reliance of the government on using technology to navigate the benefits system. More than one person thought the welfare reforms were needed, but in a different way; one resident of Sheffield Manor said “if you look at the benefits system I feel like I want to cry”. A resident of Broomhall commented: “It is really hard the changes they have put on people. Why don’t they leave their comfy homes and try living in my flat? Why don’t they take from the rich rather than the poor?”.
Jane Perry, facilitator for the project, said:
“Poverty is both political and personal. Listen Up! challenges churches to go out and listen, first hand, to how changes in welfare and challenges to living standards are affecting people in their communities. But not just to listen and go away unchanged, but to take action. In sharing their stories we hope others, including politicians and policymakers, will be inspired to do the same.”
Councillor Mazher Iqbal, Cabinet Member for Communities and Public Health also attended the event, he commented:
“It is shocking to hear every example of how people in our city are suffering. It is also impressive to see the resilience with which the people involved in Listen Up (and others we’ve spoken to throughout our consultation) respond to the extreme hardship they face. Sheffield is in the process of updating and refreshing its Tackling Poverty Strategy. The partners to the strategy are committed to being influenced in their decision making by the needs of people in Sheffield, the evidence about what works in tackling poverty and what people in Sheffield tell us and how this adds to our understanding of need and what works. The Listen Up! Project is a welcome addition to our existing knowledge, which has been gathered through engagement and consultation by partners.”
The full report has landed all the doorsteps of all Sheffield MPs this week for further action. It can also be downloaded below.