1. It is important at this stage of the discussion to make an important clarification. The purpose of this discussion is not to make comments or suggestions relating directly to the core message of the Church, but to provide a practical suggestion as to how to deal with the social manifestations of poverty and its social causes.
2. There are three key issues Totton is facing, all related in some part to poverty. These were income, education, and crime, and all three feed upon each other. What can the church do? The answer is not simple or straightforward. It requires the church to adopt the principles it uses in many other countries around the world in what it defines as mission, and that is intervention.
3. At the heart of the Holy Trinity Brompton message is bringing the Christian message to those in need in order that society can be transformed. At the heart of the solutions provided here is the same message, but it goes further. It does not just deal with the needs of individuals, which are important, but it attempts to deal with the underlying problems. The reason why is simple. Poverty in this country is cyclical. You may save people from the cycle, but the problems continue for others to become trapped in.
7.2 Poverty and Social Mobility
4. With the three key issues facing Totton all argued to be related to poverty, the most important question to ask is what is meant by the term poverty? The answer is not straightforward because poverty is not a condition but a measurement and because of this it is defined and identified differently depending on what the organisation providing the definition is wanting to prove.
5. The World Bank determines that an individual is facing poverty if their income falls below $1.90 per day (Compassion UK, 2019), which is the level of income they have determined is necessary to buy the basic essentials to live. The UK Government define a family that are in relative poverty as having a household income that is below 60% of the national median income and a family in absolute poverty having a family income of below 60% of the median wage set in 2010/11 (Tunstall, et al., 2013, p. 4; Belfied, et al., 2014, p. 5).
6. The purpose of setting the threshold of poverty at a fixed level is simply to enable governments to focus their resources on specific groups or areas. However, there are serious issues with this approach.
7. The first is that the threshold is linked to a measurement of income that varies from year to year. As a result, those individuals or families that have an income close to that threshold could find themselves both in and out of poverty.
8. The second is what happens to a family or individual when their income exceeds the threshold. Do they automatically become wealthy and are their needs met?
9. The third is that inflation erodes the effectiveness of a family or individual’s income, meaning that the level of income may exceed the poverty threshold but their ability to buy the essentials is reduced.
10. A counter-definition of poverty, one that does not link poverty to a fixed level of income, is used by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. They define poverty as.
‘when a person’s resources (mainly their material resources) are not sufficient to meet minimum needs (including social participation).’ (Allsopp, et al., 2014, p. 7)
11. The effect of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation definition is that it switches the focus of defining poverty from how much income is being brought into a household to what are the needs of the household and are they being met (Hick & Lanau, 2017, p. 4). However, it is not without its problems, more specifically the age-old problem of how needs and niceties are defined, especially when the needs of each household are going to be different.
12. How then do you identify who is in poverty? The simple answer is that it is not legally possible, unless each individual household agrees, to identify individuals or families who are encountering poverty. Therefore, it is only possible to identify the level of poverty within a given area.
13. How then is poverty measured. There are the surveys and reports produced by charities such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Trussell Trust who provide a network of Foodbanks around the country. The difficulty with this type of information is that it does not generally identify the level of poverty in each area. With the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, using official statistics, can estimate the level of poverty and with the Trussell Trust it can only indicate if there is an increase in demand for their services.
14. There are then the official government statistics. These include the official data from the Department for Works and Pensions on the level of benefit claims in a given area and the annual Family Resources Survey; the Indices of Deprivation produced by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government; and the National Census produced by the Office for National Statistics. Whilst the official statistics are not without their problems, the data produced is based on hard evidence which allows for a better evaluation of what is happening in each area.
15. Whilst the definition used by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation explains what poverty is, it assumes that the inequalities that result from poverty, which are discussed later, are caused by the lack of income and no other factors. To comprehend the mechanisms of poverty it is necessary to understand what lies at the heart of the problem.
16. French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu believed that inequalities were being created within society through the inappropriate use of power to control social networks, or fields as Bourdieu called them. Bourdieu argued that those who controlled each field, which could represent a particular aspect of society, were creating the rules, or how the social network operated, in order to maintain their control on power (Riley, 2015) and ultimately their control over resources.
17. This line of argument though has an intrinsic problem within it. It follows the ideas of Max Weber who argued that power could be defined as
‘A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do.’ (Martin, 1971).
18. The definition implies that there is a relationship between A and B (Fox, 2000) and that this relationship is such that B is allowing A to control the relationship either through respect of that person’s position within an organisation or society (Faulconbridge & Hall, 2009); through fear (coercion) (Sagi, 2015); or some element of reward for B in the relationship (Sagi, 2015). This ultimately means that A is ensuring that the policies and practices within that field are controlled by them, by defining what they mean and how they operate (Faulconbridge & Hall, 2009; Sagi, 2015).
19. The complication of using Weber’s definition of power is highlighted by Foucault who argues that power is not confined to one person or organisation but is found everywhere (Foucault, 1980; Fox, 2000; Allen, 2004). Therefore, by implication, everyone and everything has power. This may sound counterintuitive, but it is not. In the example Weber gave, person A can only exert power over another if person B gives them authority to have power over them, they relinquish their own power to control their actions or lives.
20. If it is accepted that poverty is caused by not having enough resources to meet the needs of an individual or family, and that the ultimate cause of that lack of resources is determining who has the power to control those resources, then it is important to ascertain how that power is functioning.
21. One line of thought suggests that it is Capitalism that is ultimately dictating the levels of poverty within the country, through the commodification of the individual (Steed, 2016). Whilst Steed explained as clearly as he could how Capitalism achieves this commodification, his concern was on how that commodification affected the individual’s view of themselves within society. He was not addressing, and could not, address all the issues created by the economic system.
22. The principles of neo-classical economics, which underpins Capitalism within the United Kingdom and the United States, are complex. One of the economic textbooks used when obtaining my Open University degree, provides this diagram (Figure 3.1) of the principles of a ‘market economy’ (Brown & Dawson, 1998).
Figure 7.1. Principles of a Market Economy (Brown & Dawson, 1998, p. 42)
23. What Brown and Dawson are trying to explain within this diagram is that in this world, there is a finite limit to everything that we need whether it be food, clothing, housing or even a job (Scarcity). Because of this, we all as individuals or businesses or even states, must make a choice as to what we deem to be important and then decide how those resources are going to be allocated, usually through trading, and how much should be paid for those resources.
24. There are several theories and concepts that underpin this model, but in respect of Steed’s argument, the one of interest is the concept that businesses must maximise their profit. Steed focused on the need for a business to minimise the cost of its products, and this automatically means that individuals become a production or overhead cost, which ultimately must be recovered from the sale of the product.
25. Commodification occurs because each worker ultimately must be purchased, and the laws of supply and demand come into play. Simply, if the supply of workers with the right qualifications and training is low, then the price paid for those workers will go up. In the same way, if the supply of workers is high, then the price paid for those workers will go down (the argument used by many in the debate over immigration).
26. There are consequences from this commodification. Steed highlighted one consequence surrounding how businesses treated their workers and the resulting lack of self-worth felt by many in society. Another consequence is poverty. Every individual, to obtain work, must have some form of skill that can be sold, either to an employer or to a customer for some form of remuneration. The wage or salary obtained by the individual, will as already mentioned, be dependent on the level of qualification held; the demand for that type of worker; and the ability of the business to maximise profits dependent on the price the business can obtain for its product.
27. This type of demand and remuneration creates inequalities that are all connected with how much money the individual earns. Simply, the more money someone has, the more power they have, either within the business, where they can direct how the business operates, or as a consumer who can buy the products being produced.
28. The driving force for this inequality is the education system, which must provide the skills required for an individual to sell themselves in the jobs market. The problem, certainly through the 1960s and 1970s, but probably beyond, is that pupils have been segregated by ability within their infant school years, and this segregation has remained with them all the way through to secondary school (Kerckhoff, 1993).
29. Kerckhoff established that in secondary schools it was the teachers who had the most influence on the final direction of individual pupils, directing them either into academic, skilled, semi-skilled or non-skilled work. This influence was not solely based on academic ability, but also on the socioeconomic background of the individual pupil. Therefore, anyone wanting to progress beyond their designated skill set and increase their ability to earn more, could only do this either through the type of work they entered, such as an apprenticeship, or through further education, such as night-school.
30. The concept that a business should maximise its profit and the commodification of individuals is not the only aspect of neoclassical economics that can introduce poverty. Neoclassical economics suggests that there are two types of unemployment that are present within an economy. There is the transient, which occurs when businesses naturally reduce staffing levels, where individuals find themselves unemployed for a short period of time before finding further employment. Then there is the underlying level of unemployment, which occurs either due to ill health or lack of qualifications, where individuals remain unemployed for long periods of time.
31. Neoclassical economists argue that the way in which governments should design their unemployment benefit system, in order to deal with the underlying level of unemployment, should be in such a way that it encourages those receiving the benefit to seek work (Trigg, et al., 1998; BC Campus, 2019).
32. The idea of utilizing work to escape poverty is not a new concept for neo-classical economics, as it has its origins from Martin Luther in the 16th Century. He believed that work was pleasing to God (Kahl, 2005), creating the idea that poverty and lack of work was wrong. This idea was taken up by other religious groups, including the Calvinists and the Church of England, and has dominated government policies, including the introduction of workhouses in the 19th Century.
33. Today, the concept that work enables people to escape from poverty continues through the introduction of the Universal Credit benefit system. The benefit was introduced as a way of incentivising work, through reducing many of the welfare benefits into one, and ultimately reducing the cost to government (Adam, et al., 2007).
34. The drive for a reduction, austerity, in the expenditure of government (Pettinger, 2015), was introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer following the 2010 election. The argument was that the United Kingdom had been borrowing to much to meet normal government expenditure, and that the only way in which to reduce this borrowing was to cut government expenditure. The debate as to whether or not the severity of George Osborne’s planned budget cuts were sensible are not of importance, suffice to say that concerns were raised as to the logic of the austerity measures (Van Reenen, 2010).
35. What the Coalition Government were very good at, was creating a discourse that would allow them to carry out the introduction of the Universal Credit system, that was acceptable to the majority of the British public, and was not seen as a Conservative attack on the poor to give to the rich (Rotik & Perry, 2011).
36. The Secretary of State for Works and Pensions, together with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had to create a discourse within the media and society, suggesting that the benefits system was broken, and, that it was paying out too much money, resulting in those receiving benefits not being incentivised to work (Wigan, 2012).
37. The effects of these changes on those receiving benefits has been well documented and will not be discussed here. What is of importance though is to discuss how the system under which Universal Credit operated created those effects on people.
38. The old-fashioned job centres of the 1970s and 1980s were places where not only did individuals register as being unemployed, they were places where jobs were advertised. With the reduction in staff within the job centres, caused through the austerity measures, this part of the role of the job centres was moved online.
39. Similarly, with the introduction of the Universal Credit benefit system, to ensure that costs were kept down, the application process was made an online system. There was the belief that a large proportion of the population were not only computer literate but had access to a computer and the internet.
40. Computer literacy can be defined ‘as an individual’s ability to operate a basic understanding of the operating system to save, copy, delete, open, print documents, format a disk, use computer applications software to perform personal or job-related tasks, use Web browsers and search engines on the Internet to retrieve needed information and communicate with others by sending and receiving emails’ (Gupta, 2006). To ensure that those who did not have access to a computer or internet could claim, staff were available within the job centres, together with elements of the civil society, to give assistance.
41. Reliance on others to complete the application process added additional delays to receiving the benefit, which had an automatic five-week delay in the first payment being made, which it was argued was to bring individuals into line with the normal practice of being paid monthly. There is debate as to whether this assumption is correct (Thompson, et al., 2019), but regardless of that, the delay exists. This was placing claimants in serious financial difficulty.
42. Poverty was also being introduced through the manner in which the rules governing Universal Credit were being implemented, which were resulting in claims being disallowed or penalties being imposed on claimants for not complying with the rules (Haddad, et al., 2017).
43. Whilst having a job can alleviate the initial hardships of poverty, a low skilled and low paid job does not remove the individual or family from poverty itself. It is generally agreed and argued that the process known as social mobility can remove an individual or family from poverty.
44. Social mobility can be defined as ‘an opportunity structure’ which ‘promotes social mobility if it allows people to escape poverty while limiting the degree to which those who grow up in privileged homes get advantages throughout their lives.’ (Beller & Hout, 2006). Simply, it is where the sayings ‘it is not what you know but who you know’ and ‘money talks’ hold true and prevent those from poorer backgrounds from escaping from their poverty.
45. At the centre of the process by which social mobility operates is education. Equal access to education enables an individual to gain the appropriate qualifications or training to obtain a well-paid job and moving up in society, for example moving away from a rundown housing estate. However, equal access to education does not automatically mean that everyone will become socially mobile. The individual must be highly motivated to overcome some important social obstacles.
46. The first is the role of the father in an individual’s growing up. If, for example, you grew up in a Welsh mining town or village, the father of the family would expect their sons to work in the mines. This influence would be powerful and to overcome that influence would require a lot of effort on the part of the son, because the ability and willingness of the father to help the son to learn a new skill or academic subject would not be present.
47. Secondly, the influence of the local neighbourhood can influence social mobility in two ways. The stigma attached to certain key housing estates can affect the ability of an individual to obtain a well-paid job, and the condition of housing in the neighbourhood can also influence the mental health and wellbeing of an individual.
48. Thirdly, for an individual to move socially upward, they must push someone else down socially. They must overcome the well-structured and well entrenched class system that has operated within this country for centuries. The question is whether the individual being pushed down will accept that change in position willingly.
49. How can the church help in promoting social mobility? At this point it is important to introduce the concept of the civil society. It would be easy and reasonable to assume that civil society means society in general, our community, any group that may share similar practices, understanding or beliefs (Coleman, 2006; Shaw, 2008). That assumption though would be incorrect.
50. Up until the English Civil War between 1642 and 1651, the Monarch could directly control their subjects. Following the English Civil War, that power and authority was transferred to the Parliament, the Government, and the departments of State.
51. A space, a gap, between the Monarch and the citizens of what is now the United Kingdom was created which was filled by the State, who could then control how the citizens of the country behaved and how the country’s resources were collected and distributed. A good example of this was using the Church of England as a means of controlling what the population believed, and, ultimately loyalty to the Crown and Parliament. Those that did not except this were imprisoned.
52. During the Industrial Revolution that gap was further filled by business, who were also able to control how the citizens of this country behaved, either through work or through the purchasing of goods and services, or as Foucault describes it, economic agents (Dean & Villadsen, 2016).
53. It has been argued that using capitalism as the economic model for this country, a fracture in the traditional bonds within communities was created. This was manifesting itself through inequalities within society, more especially the creation of the class system. As a result, whilst more people within society were able to have ‘a say’ in how their society developed, not everyone could, because they did not have the correct status or more importantly the money (Flyvbjerg, 1998; Pakaluk, 2002; Edwards, 2014; Jezard, 2018).
54. To address these inequalities within society, a developing array of groups and associations such as trade unions; charities; and football clubs, now called the civil society, developed in order to mediate between the State, business and the community, in addition to trying to repair some of the fractured bonds within those communities (Pakaluk, 2002; Edwards, 2014; Jezard, 2018).
55. Albiston (2018) argues that through the process of mediation between the community, business and government, civil society has the ability to set the agenda for society as a whole. This can be seen through the work of the Trussell Trust, who have brought to the attention of everyone the issues faced by those receiving Universal Credit.
56. How effective these organisations are is open to question with Walzer (1990) suggesting that the inequalities cannot be removed because they are a hope that has not yet been realised, and Flyvbjerg (1998) suggesting that these inequalities can only be resolved within the courts.
57. There are risks for these organisations operating within civil society, especially when challenging government or business, which the Trussell Trust have experienced. The main risk was argued in Cloke et al (2017) where it was suggested that one possible consequence of the government being placed under pressure because of Universal Credit, is for the government to concede that the poor will always suffer through austerity and that food banks are necessary to treat the casualties of such policies. The result is that government justifies its austerity measures to reduce government expenditure and justifies food banks as society caring for itself.
58. It is not surprising that organisations such as the Trussell Trust have publicly criticised government policy. However, those criticisms initially fell on deaf ears because most food banks could not, and probably still cannot, prove exactly how big the problem is.
59. In a House of Commons research document (Downing, et al., 2014), the number of people receiving food parcels from the Trussell Trust was reported. However, it was made clear at the end of the report that the issue with these figures was that it was not possible to establish how many had been referred to the food bank more than once (Loopstra & Lalor, 2017, p. 8).
60. If the church can be viewed as part of the civil society, irrespective of what some church members might argue, how can the church influence social mobility generally. There is the obvious role of highlighting the inequalities that society, neighbourhoods, families, and individuals find themselves in. However, in highlighting those inequalities the church must not follow the route the Trussell Trust took by just detailing what was happening, but they must present to those creating the inequalities well-reasoned arguments that can be understood as to why their actions are either wrong or are having unintended consequences. This therefore requires well trained and educated church members.
61. The church should also be reaching out to their neighbourhoods by providing strong motivation to anyone who wants to progress within society, by providing the ‘who you know element’ of getting a well-paid job as well as the money in order to achieve it.
62. The church also has an important role currently to assist the neighbourhood it is in to recover from the Coronavirus pandemic and the confinement of the nation. It needs to be able to communicate to the neighbourhood in ways it can understand, of which music is one such method.
63. At the heart of the original plan St Winfrid’s had adopted was the idea that music could be used as a tool to educate young people. St Winfrid and the parish, historically, has played an important part in the music of the church and teaching.
64. Isaac Watts, although born and brought up in Southampton, was taught by John Pinhorne, the vicar of this parish and Rector of All Saints, which was situated on the corner of East Street and High Street Southampton.
65. If Isaac Watts had not been educated with the help of John Pinhorne, who had to be taking a risk teaching a non-conformist, then we may not have the music we have today or the type of church we have today. Education is, therefore, not only important in changing the lives of individuals, but also changing the society and world that we live in.
66. Fittingly, at the heart of any work that St Winfrid carries out in the future should be music. Not just teaching music, but allowing individuals and groups, within reason, to be able to express themselves.
67. The Index for Multiple Deprivation revealed that poverty was revealing itself within Totton in three ways. The first was through education.
68. The Index and the underlying statistics suggested that problems were occurring within the two secondary schools within the town, whereby a significant proportion of children were leaving school without the required level of qualification in English and Maths.
69. What the statistics and data are suggesting is that there is a stronger emphasis on those who are deemed disadvantaged, from poorer families. The results suggest though that this approach is not, in and of itself, working, probably because of the social factors that may be influencing the ability of children to learn.
70. A casualty of the 2008 financial crisis and the austerity measures that ensued was the demise of evening classes, or what was known as night schools. These enabled people to learn new skills and obtain qualifications that they did not obtain from school.
71. If reliance is placed by the schools on parents being able to help their children learn, which has certainly come to the fore in the Coronavirus pandemic, then it is important that the parents are given the opportunity to learn themselves. And the best way for the church to become involved in transforming society, in association with the schools and colleges, is through the provision of night school or evening classes.
72. However, teaching and helping parents is not enough. During the Coronavirus crisis, concern has been frequently raised about the gap in learning between those children from poor and wealthy backgrounds. The focus of attention has therefore been, and to an extent quite correctly, for the schools to reduce that gap. However, if reducing that gap leads to nothing, then why should those children from poorer backgrounds bother?
73. The church therefore needs to become involved in how our schools are operating in two ways. Firstly, by ensuring that there is a representative of the church on each governing body. In this way the church can challenge and hold to account, not forcefully, the schools and what they achieve. Secondly, by engaging with the pupils in such a way as to give them hope for the future, explaining to them that if they do not achieve fully at school, then there are always other ways to achieve the same objective.
74. Ironically, to achieve this later point also requires the congregation of St Winfrid’s to be educated, or already have the knowledge and experience. That, however, using the traditional models, would require financing. True, some money would be required, but trying to adopt a business approach to raising funds, or trying to apply for grants is not appropriate, as at some stage the financing would cease.
75. What is proposed here is that experienced people from around the world, are asked to come and serve within the church, as ordinary members of the congregation, and to carry out the teaching of the congregation and neighbourhood in their own time.
76. The Index also revealed that poverty was being manifest through income. How can the issue of income poverty be adequately dealt with by St Winfrid’s? The answer in part is education. But it is also important to understand what those families facing income deprivation or poverty are dealing with on a day to day basis, and here I write from personal experience.
77. The simple answer is anxiety. The parents will not know exactly how they are going to make ends meet, but more importantly could be having arguments either with each other or with the children over why they cannot have some of the basic items that they see many other children have. In the event the parents have borrowed money, there comes the added pressure of creditors chasing outstanding debts. What should be remembered though is that this does not just affect those on benefits but families with an income of £24k.
78. The current answer to this problem has been placing reliance on foodbanks and for campaign groups to argue with governments. However, these cannot help everyone or achieve success. The answer lies in our nation’s past. Everyone in the local neighbourhood, or village, knew everybody else’s business. Whilst in the past it may have led to gossiping across the garden fence, for the church it should be a means of church members establishing what the needs of their community are and finding ways of trying to resolve them either individually or corporately as a church.
79. However, some of the issues faced by society cannot be resolved through simple acts of kindness. There is the need for the church to become involved in areas such as mental health and poverty, not just dealing with the physical or mental manifestations that reveal themselves in society, but actually holding to account, not arguing, with our political leaders and businessmen, working with them to find ways in which to deal with the issues that our society faces.
80. That will need members to be well informed and trained. Normal operational models would require paid experts to come into the church. What this report is suggesting is that St Winfrid advertises both nationally and internationally for experts in their field to come and live in the community, work in the community, and more importantly teach and advise church members by being part of the church.
81. The final key area the index identified was Crime. Police in Montgomery, Alabama, tried addressing the problem of crime by allowing pastors to enter a crime scene, after being given adequate training, allowing them to minister to victims and offenders if required (The Atlantic, 2013). In the UK there are the Street Pastors who perform a similar role, and it may be, with approval and cooperation from the police, that Street Pastors could attend some of the crimes that occur in our community.
82. But there is more a church can do. In advice given to churches in Essex, the Crime Prevention Tactical Advisor made this statement.
‘It is gratifying to note, however, that a crime committed against a church, place of worship or its contents continues to affect the very core of our society. Churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike feel a sense of outrage and it is on that factor that we can base our response to this particular area of crime. When offences are committed frequently, they can become "acceptable" and apathy can develop. It is incumbent on us all to do everything within our power to prevent this.’ (Essex Police, 2014)
83. How then can the church develop this underlying perspective that society must at least have towards church buildings. How can that be extended by the church? The answer must be to be in the public domain, once again holding the police and other authorities to account, but more importantly for church members to become involved more directly in the social issues, whether through work or voluntary organisations, and reporting them back to the church in order that the church can establish what appropriate action it can take, and carrying that action out.
84. Yet there is more that can be done, especially through music. In 2018, the Garage Youth Club, which is funded by Totton Town Council, conducted a review of resources available to young people. Over 2,000 young people indicated that they wanted ‘free space’ where they could have ‘free oxygen’ and space to ‘flip out’ (Garage, 2020). What the Garage team indicated was their concern over how the young people of Totton would come out of the current crisis.
85. It is known that music has beneficial effects on young people (Hallam, 2010; Hallam, 2015) and it would be reasonable to conclude that the benefits of converting St Winfrid to a centre where music is once again at the heart of its mission, is essential in helping not only young people but everyone in Totton to overcome the current Covid-19 pandemic.
86. There will be no quick fixes for the new team coming to St Winfrid Church. They will have to support the members who have remained and at the same time reach out to a community that will be broken. But if the right action is taken then the results could be a transformed town and ultimately spreading out to a transformed nation.
87. Central to any solution must be prayer. This is not the type of report which can or will delve into the theological importance of prayer, but, and this may sound cynical, if the Church believes in a God that can do anything, then it seems logical to call on that help.