Rhetoric on poverty which does not add up to action

The rhetoric of some in government and some in the churches is not adding up in factual and practical terms, Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu told the Church Urban Fund (CUF) 'Tackling Poverty' in Leeds today (18 April 2012).

Carla Roth and I are attending the conference on behalf of Ekklesia, as part of a project with CUF on exploring innovative approaches to community transformation.

Dr Sentamu pointed out that in a recent CUF survey, 93 per cent of church leaders say that engaging with people living in poverty is important for a healthy church, but only 44 per cent see it as crucial to the churches' mission overall. There is a credibility gap here.

Likewise, Dr Sentamu referred to a former government housing minister who talked on television of shortage of affordable housing as "a rumour of homeless people" without apparently realising the contradiction and irony involved. Similarly, it is easy for people in power to miss the truth and point about poverty and inequality.

A churches community development website called www.howtohelp.net has been developed through the Church of England by Dr Hilary Russell and others.

Dr Sentamu was challenged at the 'Tackling Poverty Together' conference to encourage interfaith and extra-denominational action on poverty; to ensure that all dioceses of the Church of England pay a living wage; to press wealthy churches not acting on poverty to make a contribution; and to push for the re-establishment of a Social Justice Commission with similar terms to the one set up by the late Labour leaderJohn Smith.

He responded by supporting collaborative work across boundaries of faith, saying he would ensure a living wage in his own diocese, urging those churches remote from poverty to step in the shoes of others, and saying that a fresh language was needed to address in today's conditions the concerns that Smith's Commission took up.

Ekklesia is also supporting and advocating the work of the Poverty Truth Commission (PTC) in Scotland – which seeks, in practical ways, to ensure that those living at the sharp end are central to policy and change-making.

* Church Urban Fund – http://www.cuf.org.uk/

* Poverty Truth Commission – http://www.povertytruthcommission.org/

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(c) Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.

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