'From Poverty to Prosperity': Reflections on GMPA Conference

Earlier this month End Furniture Poverty attended ‘From Poverty to Prosperity’, a conference hosted by the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit at the University of Manchester and Greater Manchester Poverty Action. This conference was designed to examine whether it is possible to do more to tackle poverty at local- and city-region level, with a particular focus on Greater Manchester.

 

EFP spoke on a panel focussed on tackling living costs for low income residents. We spoke about some of the lessons from the Our House experiment and were keen to stress the need for alternatives to high-cost credit and expensive Rent-to-Own stores. As always, it bears repeating that people should not be forced to overpay for the essential items – not luxuries but essentials – and should not be forced to pay a premium just because they cannot get access to mainstream credit. GMPA’s own calculations estimate that households across Greater Manchester are forced to pay an extra £218 per year on white goods because of the poverty premium. Things don’t have to be this way.

 

Below are a number of thoughts from the day’s debates and discussions.

 

Collaborative working is the way forward

As the effects of years of cuts and austerity continue to be felt in communities across the country, the stripping back of support services has led to an increasingly fragmented system of support – and left swathes of vulnerable people in danger of falling through the cracks. Organisations like Greater Manchester Poverty Action may provide a model for the kind of model we need moving forward to ensure we are effectively tackling poverty. Being able to harness the efforts of the multitude of organisations who are working to alleviate and eradicate poverty into a single collaborative approach, rather than well-intentioned but ultimately piecemeal work, can allow efficient, effective anti-poverty action that makes a real difference to as many households as possible.

 

Devolution presents a massive opportunity to change how we tackle poverty

The transfer of power from Westminster to local ‘city regions’ under the control of elected mayors has provided the potential for a massive shakeup for politics in the UK. Devolving decision making and, crucially, finance to these new authorities gives them new teeth to tackle problems such as poverty on a localised level – allowing room for bespoke initiatives and programmes, rather than a centralised, one size fits all approach. Some initiatives were highlighted on the day, including Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s ‘Good Employment Charter’ and schemes that offer grants to organisations who pay their employees the Living Wage.

 

It was apparent from the conversations we had on the day was that there is a definite need for clear leadership on poverty at a city region level. This new devolution is still at an embryonic stage, but moving forward, we could see a huge impact in how we tackle poverty in our communities.

 

Lived experience must be an integral part of poverty solutions

One theme that kept coming up over the course of the day was the importance of lived experience of poverty when it comes to drawing up solutions. It can be easy to get lost in the statistics when discussing poverty – some are truly shocking – but we cannot lose sight of the people behind the numbers. Anti-poverty strategies that fail to take into account the day-to-day reality that people living in poverty face, or ignore the effects it will have on people’s mental health and self-worth, can only serve to exacerbate the problem. It’s one of the reasons that television makes our list of Essential Items – because poverty is about more than just material needs – and is often otherwise ignored by ‘experts’ who have never actually experienced poverty themselves.