A golden thread of hope

Good SocietyChurches and community groups across the UK are talking about what makes a Good Society, and how we can work together to make it real. Church Action on Poverty is  hearing from these conversations what a Good Society would look like in neighbourhoods and communities, and what is preventing it from taking shape. Amanda Bickerton, our National Community Linkworker, shares what we’ve heard so far.

Some issues are unique to specific geographical areas, but a shared narrative is emerging rooted in shared values, hope, faith and a sense of justice.

The over-arching, recurring theme is inequality, both economic and geographical, and the sense that a Good Society is not an unequal one. A workshop participant in Sheffield was very clear about economic inequality:

“This is our choice – if we are the sixth or seventh richest country in the world then there is money – it is how we choose to share it.”

In Newcastle-upon-Tyne the reality of the ‘North/South divide’ is clear:

“England south of Doncaster seems like a different country, and the North East is a poor relation.”

People speak about food banks with a mixture of admiration for the work that they do, and discomfort that there is a need for food aid in a country as wealthy as ours. In Sheffield, the link between inequality and food aid was clear:

“Food banks are good, but we have to avoid the trap of becoming just sticking plaster for this increasingly unequal society. We need to tackle extreme wealth to deal with extreme poverty.”

A workshop participant in Greater Manchester said bluntly:

“Food banks are a sign that our society has failed.”

There is concern about changes to social security benefits, and the impact on individuals and communities of sanctions, delays and reductions in income:

“The safety net of the welfare state is being eroded by cuts to benefits”
(workshop participant, NE England)

In Greater Manchester, a participant said:

“All citizens should have access to enough income to enable them to live with dignity, either through paid work or through a properly functioning welfare safety net.”

Increasing ‘in-work’ poverty is seen as a real barrier to a fairer society, particularly the prevalence of zero-hours contracts and low pay. In Greater Manchester a participant said:

“Employees should be protected by contracts, not just treated as units of labour.”

In Huddersfield, the wider impact of low pay is recognised:

“Tackle poor wages, which affect life choices.”

A universal theme across the country is a lack of confidence and trust in politics and politicians. There is also a real desire to change this. In Newcastle-upon-Tyne the view was clear:

“Politicians are seen as corrupt and people perceive that voting makes no difference.”

In Sussex, the issue was about honesty and trust (or a lack of thereof) more widely:

“We need an honest society where businesses and financial institutions deal honestly with their customers and we have a government we can trust.”

In Greater Manchester, there is the suggestion that

“Politicians should demonstrate morality, thoughtfulness and care in decision-making.”

In Huddersfield, a simple but powerful statement that

“We need politicians we can trust”

and in Sheffield, a question:

“Would politicians like to volunteer to live in conditions created by their policies?”

There is a golden thread of hope that shines through in all of the conversations too. In Sussex,

“Kindness is the key, encompassing all other gifts. It should undergird everything we seek to do in the community.”

In Greater Manchester, the view, echoed across the UK, is

“True faith needs to be followed by firm action”.

There is an assumed connection between faith, community action and campaigning in many responses: as a participant in South Tyneside said,

“Love is demonstrated through actions which express our concern for others”.

Good Society

If you want your church and community to be part of this Good Society conversation, visit our website, or contact Amanda Bickerton at amanda@church-poverty.org.uk or on 0161 239 9321.

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