CTE Head of Operations, Ben Cross, writes…
The first national Dignity For All Conference was held in Leeds on Saturday 10 June, and was organised by Church Action on Poverty, the Joint Public Issues Team, and The APLE Collective. The Conference brought together more than 100 people from a wide range of CTE national Member Churches, partner organisations and backgrounds. The focus: an end to UK poverty.
“It felt like there was a real coming together with a shared vision, agenda and passion to make change happen in their lives and their communities,” said one of the organisers, Church Action on Poverty’s Niall Cooper.
One of the key messages from the event was the importance of hearing from those with lived experience of poverty, and understanding more about the impact this can have on their lives. We heard powerful testimonies from a panel of their perspectives about navigating a complex benefits system, which some felt “doesn’t always treat people with dignity” and “made decisions about us, without knowing us”. We also heard experiences of barriers in the system, navigating the ‘digital divide’, the challenges of living with mental health issues, and how food, fuel and period poverty can have the effect of taking away someone’s sense of dignity.
Your Local Pantry Network’s Development Coordinator, James Henderson said, “The theme of dignity is just so important and resonates across so many different groups… We want to be hearing more and more from those with lived experiences of poverty. The answers are out there – Jesus never did to people, he hung out alongside people and saw the humanity in everyone. Everyone has agency, power and the solutions to the problems we face.”
Interactive and practical workshops offered delegates the opportunity to explore topics such as ‘Speaking truth to power’, ‘Food and Dignity’, ‘Agency and Participation’, Self Reliant Groups, the place of the church amongst those ‘living in the margins of society’, how the church can amplify the voices of people with lived experiences of poverty and inequality, and the part the UK Church can play in affecting social change.
The conference organisers also emphasised that the upcoming General Election is an opportunity for Christians. “I want to see our churches really grabbing hold of the opportunity to say ‘We’re not happy with a society where poverty exists, and we expect something to change’.
“The church should really be at the forefront of that movement to say ‘We’re not going to put up with this any more. What can we do differently? What can our political leaders do differently?'” said Joint Public Issues Team member Hannah Fremont-Brown.