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Poverty in the UK: Change For Good

Written by: Safeia El-Jack | 22nd May 2023
8 min read

Poverty in the UK

On 11th May 2023, we hosted the third instalment of our micro-conference series: ‘Change for Good’ – free online conferences tackling society’s biggest challenges through behavioural science, creativity and collaboration.

We were joined by nearly 100 people registering from a whole range of organisations working in poverty reduction in the UK. A platform for change-makers, we always share our content and encourage you to share it too.

A special thank you to our expert speakers who have also given permission for their slides to be shared. You can find the full recording and slides below.

The major talking points from Change for Good: Reducing Poverty

“Poverty means not being able to heat your home, pay your rent, or buy the essentials for your children. It means waking up every day facing insecurity, uncertainty, and impossible decisions about money. It means facing marginalisation – and even discrimination – because of your financial circumstances (JRF, 2016).”

According to House of Commons Poverty Statistics (2022), at least 10 million people in the UK are estimated to be living in relative poverty, including nearly 3 million children in low income households. We know living without adequate income to fulfil basic human necessities and needs such as warmth, shelter, nutritious food and adequate clothing, impacts upon physical and mental health and quality of life. Ongoing psychological stresses of living in low income can cause family and relationship strain, and deprivation has been consistently associated with increased morbidity and mortality.

What did we cover?
Ghost Signs: Poverty and the Pandemic

Author Stu Hennigan, kicked off proceedings with a reading from his book Ghost Signs: Poverty and the Pandemic.

When lockdown came in 2020, Leeds librarian Stu Hennigan volunteered as a food-parcel delivery driver. His trips through the eerily-deserted streets took him to some of the poorest communities in the city. Literally a lifeline for people who had been living on an economic knife-edge for years, Ghost Signs is his first-hand account of the poverty he encountered. Starting his reading, Stu explained;

“Over the course of five months working Friday to Monday, I drove approximately three and a half thousand miles around the city, with the work taking me into the heart of some of the most disadvantaged estates and onto the doorsteps of some of the city’s most vulnerable people. Many of the scenes I saw were horrifying. And in some parts of the city I was confronted by levels of deprivation that are unbelievable in the 21st century.”

“I saw first hand the effects of austerity, and how the savage cuts that started during the Cameron years have left local authorities floundering, financially unable to occur and lacking vital services when a disaster of the scale hit their communities. I visited people living in slum houses that should have been demolished decades ago, denied decent housing by the eternal victim of private profit that allows landlords to become rich while people on low incomes live below the poverty line. I saw communities torn apart by drugs and crime, generations of families living on benefits because they were born in places where aspiration is low, and social mobility is practically non existent. I met adults who were literally starving. I saw parents struggling to provide basic necessities for young families, encountered children who looked at everyday food items like they’re extravagant birthday gifts.”

Ghost Signs is out now and available Bluemoose Books

Professor Jim McManus, President of the Association of Directors of Public Health

Professor McManus provided a valuable overview of the Local Government Association and Association of Directors of Public Health 2023 Annual Report: Supporting Communities in Difficult Times. His presentation made clear that the cost of living crisis is a public health emergency.

He explained that absolute life expectancy has stalled, absolute poverty for some has worsened, relative life expectancy and poverty has worsened, geographical disparities have worsened and social gradients are more pronounced. In the words of Michael Marmot (quoted on 9th May 2023),

“The poor are becoming poorer. Deprived communities are the most in need, whilst receiving the least support – we need urgent action to protect health.”

Focusing on actions that we can all take to make a difference, Professor McManus outlined six waymarkers for change.

Professor Jim McManus’ slides can be seen via the link below and you can follow him on Twitter @jimmcmanusph

Mapping the interconnections between local poverty support providers

Our next speakers, Kerry Murphy (public health manager – health inequalities and poverty, Wakefield Council) and Dr Kate Questa (Magpie research associate) built on the LGA and ADPH’s annual report finding that the voluntary sector is increasingly recognised as a foundational partner in delivery and strategic planning.

Their presentation outlined how Magpie supported Wakefield Council and partners to understand how local organisations were working together to support people living in poverty, or at risk of living in poverty, in the district.

The research created a better understanding of current breadth and models of local anti-poverty provision and identified current and emerging unmet need. In addition to identifying best practice, generating insights and informing strategic planning for the Council, the report created a resource that everyone in the local area could contribute to and access.

Kerry and Kate outlined the methodology and findings from the research and highlighted key lessons for anyone conducting this type of work;

For more information about this project please contact us. You can download the full report and methodology here.

How organisations can work with service users and learn from lived experiences

Our final presentation, from Chris Barnes (National Service User Involvement Lead for Change Grow Live) and Tom Salmon (Magpie) introduced how Magpie supported a national charity to hear, represent and involve people using drugs and or alcohol to inform organisational strategy and national policy agendas.

Change Grow Live services are disproportionately found in areas of economic and social deprivation; 38% being of the top third most deprived areas. Most of the people the charity supports are more affected by the cost-of-living crisis as compared to the general population.

Service user involvement has rightly climbed the policy agenda in recent years. As Dame Carol Black outlined in her 2021 independent review for the government, which set out a range of recommendations on drug treatment and recovery;

“Increased funding will not improve services unless the commissioning process is strengthened […] This process will be enhanced by co-production with people with live experience of addiction.”

Change Grow Live Commissioned Magpie to take a behavioural science approach to create a toolkit to support its teams to work with service users and to use the data to inform our regional and national decision making. Since publication Change Grow Live has received 104% more feedback in the last 3 months compared to the same three months in 2022.

Read the full guide Change Grow Live_ Service User Guide Working Better Together, published with permission from Change Grow Live.

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