The Church Urban Fund, set up in the aftermath of the landmark 'Faith in the City' report in 1985, is urging Londoners to back an initiative to tackle poverty in the capital.
The move comes in the run-up to a general election where economic issues are likely to feature heavily - but not always with consideration of the needs of those left out by the system.
“The shocking statistics divide London into a city of two halves,” says Tim Bissett, CEO of Church Urban Fund (http://www.cuf.org.uk/).
He continued: “It’s a city where 41 per cent of children - that’s 650,000 - live below the poverty line, which rises to 44 per cent in the inner city. The most deprived boroughs of Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham and Islington all have their fair share of wealthy residents rubbing shoulders with their poorer counterparts in streets that are worlds apart.”
Bissett added: “Nobody is saying that solving the problem of London’s ‘dispossessed’ is going to be easy. Despite billions being spent by the Government, the situation in London has not changed in over a decade, but this is where grassroots community projects can make a real difference."
The call to action has been set in motion by the London Evening Standard newspaper.
Writing in the Standard, investor and homelessness campaigner John Studzinski declared: “Saving the world starts in London by saving the people on our doorstep.”
The Church Urban Fund has been seeking to tackle poverty and exclusion at a grassroots level for the last 22 years.
The charity's work takes place in the most deprived communities across the country.
Many of the projects supported by CUF are in London because of the high concentration of poverty and marginalisation in the city, a spokesperson explained.
Numerous individuals and churches, motivated by their personal concern, strong convictions and desire to see things change, have been supported financially and practically by CUF to meet the needs of the people around them.
The work they have established reaches out to the homeless, unemployed, asylum seekers and prostitutes; people in need who are on their doorstep, says CUF.
Sue Peake, Community Development worker at the Springfield Community Flat project in Lambeth, is one of the people who have taken the call to action on London poverty seriously.
The Community Flat supports young people and families in one of the poorest areas of the city. “We see it in people’s faces that they’re giving up hope,” Ms Peake explained. “We’re here to provide them with a different future and the opportunity to become part of a community.”
Overcoming prejudice is an important part of breaking out of poverty, especially for young people from poor families who feel written-off at an early stage, says CUF.
“Our young people didn’t want to be stereotyped as NEETs [not in education, employment or training], as people who were deliberately not in training, whilst in fact they had never been exposed to any opportunities to learn,” explains Fredric Mandy, Manager of the International Christian Care Foundation in Dagenham.
He adds: “We gave them help when no-one else wanted to, providing them with training and work placements to help them make a better tomorrow for themselves.”
For many children, tomorrow looks very bleak. Superkidz is an initiative which has been working on some of the toughest estates across London, including the notorious Ferrier Estate in Kidbrooke which is hit with violent crime.
Helen Russell, Superkidz’ Project Manager is helping young people from the estate to value and believe in themselves: “We are helping children to reach their aspirations, meeting the need for children and their carers in a society that has left them behind.”
London also has the UK’s highest proportion of refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom face poverty, poor mental health or homelessness.
“For refugees and asylum seekers, going through British asylum system can be a traumatic process,” comments Colette Joyce, co-ordinator of the St Mary Magdalene Centre in Holloway.
She continues: “The main thing we do is teach English to people who have no knowledge of the language and who aren’t able to speak or write. We try to build a supportive community here where people can come and feel safe. We also provide people with support contacting benefits agencies, doctors or solicitors when they need them.”
Sue Peake adds: “At Springfield Community Flat, we try to respond to the expressed needs of the people in the area. We are dealing with the real needs of unemployment: poor education and poor healthcare, the things that put people in severe poverty.”
Many of the projects say that support from the Church Urban Fund has made a real and tangible difference to their work and what they are able to achieve.
The New Hanbury Project in Spitalfields provides hands-on, practical training to people recovering from homelessness, addiction and long-term unemployment. Sheona Alexander, who manages the project, said: “We rely on people like CUF who allow us to have real freedom; it’s not constraining like government funding and it helps us to keep our identity. Without CUF funding we wouldn’t be here. It makes a huge difference; without this kind of donation we wouldn’t be able to operate as we do. It’s vital, and has made an amazing difference.”
Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, commented: "The scandal of poverty in a rich society, not least in its financial and political capital, is rightly seen as a major challenge by people of good faith, whether they regard themselves as religious or not."
He continued: "The action of community groups on the ground, together with backing from organisations such as the Church Urban Fund, is making a real difference to people's lives. This needs to be matched by clear political and policy initiatives to address poverty, exclusion and inequality in society.
"The political parties are likely to become preoccupied with bashing each other and trying to hoover up support based on self-interest. But politics isn't primarily about parties, it's about participation in making power accountable and changing society for good. The call to shared action against poverty in London is a signal as to what the real agenda is," Barrow said.