Churches speak up on poverty in Sheffield

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Churches across Sheffield have joined forces to fight poverty in the city’s communities.

Specially-trained volunteers met residents in the city’s deprived neighbourhoods to hear how changes to the benefits system will affect them.

The interviews, carried out in Longley, Manor, Broomhall, Southey and Dinnington, revealed some people on low wages had been pushed into debt and many had been forced to look for other sources of help such as food banks.

The question topics included how households get by, what role benefits and tax credits play in their lives, and how residents are likely to be affected by the forthcoming changes to benefits.

One interviewee told their researcher: “If you look at the benefits system, I feel like I want to cry.”

The ‘Listen Up!’ research was collected over 18 months thanks to a partnership between the Diocese of Sheffield and Church Action on Poverty.

One of the researchers involved said: “It may be hard to cope with the powerlessness, the anger it evokes in you, self-knowledge, discomfort about inequality that you are part of, feelings of guilt about what you have compared to others. But this is real and true about the society we are part of and it is important that this is revealed.”

Jane Perry, project facilitator, said: “Poverty is both political and personal.

“Listen Up! challenges people from our churches to go out and listen, firsthand, to how changes in welfare and challenges to living standards are affecting people in their communities.

“But not just to listen and go away unchanged, but to take action. In sharing their stories we hope others, including politicians and policy makers, will be inspired to do the same.”

The findings of the initiative were revealed at a Poverty in Sheffield Today conference, run by Sheffield Church Action on Poverty, the People’s Assembly for Sheffield and the Sheffield Equality Group.

Coun Mazher Iqbal, Sheffield Council’s communities and public health spokesman, said after the event: “It is shocking to hear all the examples of how people in our city are suffering.

“It is also impressive to see the resilience with which the people involved in Listen Up! respond to the extreme hardship they face.

“Sheffield is in the process of updating and refreshing its Tackling Poverty Strategy. The partners to the strategy are committed to being influenced in their decision-making by the needs of people in Sheffield, the evidence about what works in tackling poverty and what people in Sheffield tell us.

“The Listen Up! Project is a welcome addition to our existing knowledge.”

The report is available at www.sheffield.anglican.org/listenup or www.church-poverty.org.uk/listenup.