Churches galvanise for public action on poverty and homelessness

By staff writers
January 23, 2008

Church agencies in Britain will be combining efforts during Poverty and Homelessness Action Week, from 26 January to 3 February, to highlight both the human face of inequality and the need to make it a public policy priority.

The groups involved in a series of high-profile events and public hearings - similar to recent ones on asylum - are Church Action on Poverty, the Church Urban Fund (a Church of England initiative), Housing Justice and Scottish Churches Housing Action.

The focus follows on immediately from the centenary Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, illustrating the fact that the search for community is general as well as particular.

The coalition points out that one in five people is still living in poverty in this country, according to measures of both relative and absolute deprivation.

UK government statistics and data indicates that 12.7 million people, some 22 per cent of the overall population, are impacted by poverty in the UK. They include 7 million adults, of whom 3.1 million are parents, 3.8 million children, and 1.8 million pensioners.

Housing is a major concern. 526,000 families, including 900,000 children, live in overcrowded accommodation. More than 80,000 homeless families are also in temporary accommodation awaiting rehousing.

There are currently 1.6 million families stuck on local authority housing waiting lists.

Housing Justice CEO Alison Gelder declared: “Churches rightly pay lots of attention to poverty and hunger in the third world but often fail to appreciate the extent of the problem at home.

She added that it was "a scandal that in this the fifth biggest economy in the world more than one in five people are living in poverty.”

Speaking on behalf of the coalition, Gelder continued: “We hope that the Poverty and Homelessness Action Week events will cause Christians to reflect on the situation here in the UK. For most people in poverty in Britain it is not about literally being homeless or having no money but about not being able to fully participate in society.”

She continued: “The hearings will provide a voice for the experiences of people at the margins of society such as families having to endure cramped overcrowded accommodation, asylum seekers who are suffering destitution, disabled people having to live in inappropriate housing and families forced into debt in order to afford everyday items.”

In addition to the poverty hearings churches will be marking the Action Week with special services and events such as "sleep outs" to raise awareness and raise money for local services.

Poverty and Homelessness Action Week is the first stage in a larger, year-long national campaign, says its organisers and promoters.

The wider aim is to raise awareness and gain commitments from all political parties to eradicate poverty in the UK.

Ms Gelder concluded: “The evidence we gain from the hearings will feed into our campaign to get the government and opposition parties to include pledges to end poverty in their next election manifestos. The government is already committed to ending child poverty, we would like to see this extended to ending all poverty.”

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