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UK News

Politicians urged to work with churches and Christian groups to tackle root causes of poverty

by Donna Birrell

Politicians and policymakers should examine the work of churches and Christian action groups if they want to tackle the root causes of poverty in the UK. 

That is the conclusion of research led by Coventry University's Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, which found that Christian groups serve a broader audience than their name suggests and have built direct relationships with disadvantaged groups, gaining valuable insight into the causes of poverty.
Dr Chris Shannahan and Dr Stephanie Denning, spent three years working on an Economic and Social Research Council funded project entitled "Life on the Breadline".

The project analysed the scope and impact of Christian engagement with urban poverty in the UK in the context of austerity since the 2008 financial crisis.

The research, conducted across the UK with national and regional Church leaders, shows faith groups are running social action projects, campaigning and looking at wider causes in an attempt to tackle the structural issues surrounding the causes of poverty.

Dr Shannahan said: "We have found that churches and Christian action groups have relationships with excluded and disadvantaged communities that politicians might not be able to reach.

"This is not about Christians working with Christians, but Christians working with everyone, across the whole of society and we want policymakers to try and partner with these groups when it comes to issues relating to poverty, because the churches and groups are on the ground, trusted and have track records of helping."

He told Premier that the nature of Christian social action in our communities is a valuable resource for policymakers:

"The church remains a major force in the UK. Churches are rooted deep in local communities up and down the land, they are much more deeply rooted than policymakers and politicians. The church provides immense invaluable pastoral care, support and immediate help for people who are hungry, living out those gospel mandates to feed the hungry and preach good news to the poor.

"Many of the headlines in the mainstream media about the church focus on attendance at Sunday worship. But what we have encountered is an immense amount of Christian action on poverty, which is far more varied than many people might imagine - the food bank, the soup kitchen, the Breakfast Club, the night shelter. We've also encountered churches who are campaigning, first for structural change, for political and economic change, for a living wage, for a universal basic income for housing justice. "

Dr Shannahan says they have also developed an anti-poverty charter which they hope congregations will sign up to in order to think about what it means to act upon poverty in their local area.

Dr Denning believes increased communication is key - highlighting how Notting Hill Methodist Church developed links with local and national government in the aftermath of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.

She said: "They did not just care for people who had nowhere to lay their head with food and shelter, but they also campaigned with local and national government for changes to the quality of social housing."

The team is now working with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty to develop a joint event in Parliament about the findings.   

The team is now working with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty to develop a joint event in Parliament about the findings.   

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