A season of darkness and a winter of despair: The need for Church Action on Poverty has never been greater

New Year’s Message 2012

2012 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of Church Action on Poverty, and the need has never been greater.  May 2012 be the year in which society starts to be run again for the benefit of all its members and not just for the benefit of the rich.

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times …
it was the Season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair.

Dicken’s classic novel A Tale of Two Cities, may be a story of the French revolution, but never more relevant than to our current age.  As we enter 2012, the prospects for society at large, and for those struggling on its margins in particular, are bleak.  We face an economic crisis, unprecedented in any of our lifetimes:  For many it will indeed be a season of darkness and a winter of despair.

The economic crisis is unprecedented

Make no mistake.  The economic crisis we all face as we enter 2012 is unprecedented.  But those who are already struggling to make ends meet will suffer most.  For them, there is no belt left to tighten.

A simple but harsh choice: To heat or to eat?

Last year there were an estimated 25,700 excess winter deaths in England in Wales.  As a result of the massively increases in food and fuel prices, matters are likely to be much worse this winter.  Over 6 million households are now facing fuel poverty. For many thousands this winter, it will – quite literally – be a matter of life and death.

A lost decade

We are in the middle of the most prolonged squeeze on household incomes in modern times. Average household incomes – already stagnant for the past decade – will fall by more than 7% over the next three years.  For many this will mean an exercise in belt tightening and cutting discretionary spending – but for those who are already struggling to make ends meet, there is no discretionary spending to cut.

Goodbye Woolworths, hello Moneyshop

Consumer spending – a key driver of the UK economy – is now a busted flush.   For the past decade, we have all been living beyond our means.  [i]Some may say that this is no bad thing.  But as consumer spending goes west, so will many of the businesses that are reliant on it.  As Mary Portas revealed, it spells the end of many a High Street.  For communities already on the edge, it spells a descent into even deeper financial exclusion.  Only the Pound shops, Charity shops and Payday Lenders remain.

And then there are the spending cuts…

We are not all in this together: The cuts hit the poorest hardest

We are now facing an unprecedented six years of cuts in public spending, as a consequence of dramatically lower growth forecasts announced by the Office of Budget Responsibility at the end of November.   In spite of the Coalition’s commitment to protect the poorest and most vulnerable, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has demonstrated that the impact of these cuts will clearly fall disproportionately on the poorest.

An analysis by Church Urban Fund, shows that the impact of tax/benefit and spending measures announced up to March 2011 (ie not including the impact of the latest Spending Review) will fall more than twice as hard as on the poorest as on the richest 10%.

The 1% and the 99%: For whose benefit is the economy being run?

The Occupy movement’s focus on the 99% and the 1% is no mere rhetorical flourish.  The UK is now more unequal  – in terms of the gap between rich and poor – than at any time for at least the past 50 years[ii].  And, as the OECD reported in early December, the income gap is rising faster in UK than any other developed nation.

Inequality and the Common Good

As the Catholic Bishops Conference said as far back as 1997: “There may come a point at which the scale of the gap between the very wealthy and those at the bottom of the range of income begins to undermine the common good. This is the point at which society starts to be run for the benefit of the rich not for all its members.”

May 2012 be the year in which society starts to be run again, for the benefit of the Common Good.

Building a Just Society: Church Action on Poverty’s vision for 2012 and beyond

Church Action on Poverty will not be sitting on our laurels in our thirtieth year.  The need has never been greater to ‘go upstream’:  To challenge the structures and systems which throw so many into the stream of poverty – whilst allowing others to enjoy untold wealth.

In 2012, Church Action on Poverty will be launching an ambitious programme for the next 10 years: We will be seeking to secure the resources to build a movement rooted in local churches and communities across the UK, to challenge injustice, tackle inequality and bring about positive change on issues which affect them most, locally and nationally.

  • Narrowing the gap between rich and poor:  Giving a voice to those not heard and holding those in power to account
  • Developing socially and financially resilient communities.
  • Mobilising the power of faith groups to challenge inequalities in income, power and life chances, and to contrast this with our understanding of what a ‘Good Society’ should be.
  • Seeing the organisation’s role within a broader movement for change, by forming partnerships and alliances with a range of organisations
  • Developing a sustainable financial model, including achieving greater engagement with individuals and Churches during our 30th year, and through diversifying our income sources.

I hope you will join us!

Niall Cooper
National Coordinator
December 2011

[i] As far back as 2002, consumer spending was only sustained by borrowing against the value of an over-inflated housing market (to the tune of a staggering £300bn over five years to 2007).  

[ii] The 1% doubled their share of national income between 1970 and 2005, from 7% – 14%.  That trend has continued in spite of economic crisis. Executive pay increased by a staggering 49% last year, whilst the bottom 10% of earners saw their pay barely increase at all.   The ‘average’  chief executive of one of Britain’s top 100 companies now ‘earns’ £4.2 million – 145 times as much as the average worker.  The rich have seen their tax rates fall over past 30 years, both in headline terms, and as a result of huge levels of tax avoidance.  Corporate tax avoidance is now estimated to cost the taxpayer anything from £35 billion – £100 billion a year:  A sum large enough to outweigh the total cost of planned spending cuts.

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