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Tackling Poverty Requires People-Centred Action

4th March 2013

ResPublica report author, Julian Dobson, writes for New Start magazine

In January 2013 the Greater Manchester Poverty Commission reported that 600,000 people were living in ‘extreme poverty’ and a further 1.6 million – nearly half the conurbation’s total – were at risk of sliding into poverty.

These figures were quickly forgotten by national media, but should give pause for thought. A city where half the population struggles to make ends meet is one where public policy has failed. Neither welfare nor work are enabling enough people to move out of poverty.

Incomes and standards of living have not recovered as they did after previous recessions. The Office for National Statistics recently found that net national income – the total income available to citizens – had fallen by 13.2 per cent four years after the onset of the 2008 recession, whereas in the early 1980s and 1990s it had returned to pre-recession levels at a similar stage.

More than one fifth of British workers are low-paid and the proportion is higher than in comparable economies. Nearly 10,000 more working families every month require housing benefit to help pay their rent. The Trussell Trust, which provides food banks helping people in crisis, fed twice the number of people in 2011/12 as it did the previous year.

In these circumstances, bullish talk of economic growth and investing in infrastructure is not enough: the benefits will take too long to reach those living in and on the edge of poverty. Neither is it enough to expect the policies of localism alone to make a difference in our most deprived neighbourhoods. We need localism that creates work and opportunity, rooting recovery in the communities that are most crying out for it.

This means rethinking our approaches to work and welfare. My new report, published by the think tank ResPublica, is called Responsible recovery: A social contract for local growth. The title takes the current political debates about fairness and places them in the context of real people’s lives, arguing that reciprocity and contribution must be at the heart of any sustainable recovery, and that government policy needs to enable all to contribute to the best of their resources and abilities.

The report takes the ‘sustainable livelihoods’ model that has been tried and tested in the context of international development, and picks up on work by Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty to apply it in the UK. It views the journey out of poverty as a shift from surviving to coping, from coping to adapting to change, and from adapting to accumulating.

New Start magazine Article

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