26 May 2021

Life on the Breadline Project

Sarah was starving. Her parents, both of whom worked, did not have enough money to pay for their utility bills as well as food that week.

Deacon Eunice Attwood, Church at the Margins Officer in the Evangelism and Growth Team, looks at a project that has been exploring how austerity has affected Christian engagement with poverty in the UK and the theological motivations which underpin it.

In early summer, a friend of mine who is a teacher told me about Sarah,[1]  a ten-year-old child, who had been caught stealing bread and cakes from the local supermarket. The shop had rung the school and Sarah was asked to explain why she had stolen the bread and cakes to my friend, her teacher. The answer sadly, was, as my friend suspected, Sarah was starving. Her parents, both of whom worked, did not have enough money to pay for their utility bills as well as food that week. My friend went on to say, this was becoming an increasingly common occurrence amongst the children at her school. The school had developed a strategy in partnership with other agencies to support struggling families, whilst recognising that many of their families, due to the stigma of poverty, found ways of surviving which understandably avoided others knowing of their desperate circumstances. 

Can you begin to imagine the trauma of her parents living in such an uncertain environment? Sadly, this experience is prevalent in the UK, where, even before the pandemic, poverty affected 14.4 million people including 4.5 million young people.

The pandemic has highlighted pre-existing inequalities. We have been confronted with the truth of the devastating impact of poverty on people’s lives. In facing the truth, we also have an opportunity, to ask, what justice would look like for Sarah and her family? If we took the words of Jesus about poverty, seriously and literally, how might Christians respond?

Understanding Christian engagement with poverty is at the heart of the ground-breaking research done by the Life on the Breadline project. The three-year project has been exploring how austerity has affected Christian engagement with poverty in the UK and the theological motivations which underpin it.

The Life on the Breadline website offers a great range of conversations, podcasts, and resources on the impact of poverty, race, austerity. Dr Chris Shannahan asks an important question ‘how can people of faith best respond to poverty, caring is invaluable, but more needs to be done.’

If you would like to learn more about the Life on the Breadline research, you could join: 

  • The Life on the Breadline on-line conference: a two-day online conference with the Life on the Breadline project team as the culmination of their research into Christian responses to UK poverty in the context of austerity.  The conference takes place on Thursday 24th and Friday 25th June. Find out more and book here.
  • A webinar from  7-8.30pm on Tuesday, 20th July with Dr Chris Shannahan, from the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, at Coventry University, which I will be hosting with Paul Morrison, Policy Adviser, Joint Public Issues Team.  To register click here.
  • A webinar from 7 to 8.30pm on Tuesday, 15th June, on the pandemic and poverty in the UK A conversation between justice campaigners and the wider church on the impact of poverty. To register click here.  

[1] Name changed to protect anonymity.

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