Dr Joseph Forde writes for the blog this week. He is Chair of Sheffield’s Church Action on Poverty Group. He researches and writes on welfare and Christianity and is author of: ‘Before and Beyond the ‘Big Society’: John Milbank and the Church of England’s Approach to Welfare’ (James Clarke & Co, 2022).
How can Christians best contribute to the Let’s End Poverty campaign, launched on 14th October, 2023? This is already a diverse, growing movement of people united behind a vision for a UK where poverty can’t keep anyone down! More than 30 organisations have already thrown their weight behind Let’s End Poverty, which is rapidly developing into a major anti-poverty pressure group in the run-up to the next General Election. We considered the opportunities for growing this campaign as part of the ‘Building Dignity, Agency and Power to End Poverty’ conference, organised by Church Action on Poverty, and held in Manchester on November 8. During the conference, I was fortunate to participate in a stimulating discussion focusing on how we might harness the support of the private, business sector to achieve our vision of a UK free from poverty, by using overlapping values as a way of harnessing their support, and that is the theme of this article.
How can we end Poverty?
When it comes to campaigning on social justice issues, as well as addressing their causes, Christians in the UK have historically been good at contributing to, and harnessing the support of, the voluntary sector. They remain active across a wide range of charitable projects that are focused on improving the lives of the least well off. Christians have also been good at harnessing the resources of the state sector and contributed substantially to the founding of the post-war welfare state settlement via books such as Archbishop William Temple’s seminal ‘Christianity and Social Order’ (Temple, 1942). What is more, they have provided volunteers for state run welfare providers such as the NHS, and have campaigned successfully for additional resources to be made available for them.
There have also been some notable examples of how Christians have harnessed the resources of the private, business sector in support of their charitable activities. For example Cadburys, the chocolate maker, founded by a Quaker family, provided workers with good quality housing, in stark contrast to the way many industrial workers in other parts of the city were forced by their employers to live in poorly-built, back to back, slum houses. Moreover, a member of our discussion group told how the Cooperative Group in the UK has ― throughout its history― made a sizeable contribution to local charities each year, seeing this as a vital part of its purpose and wholly in line with its business ethos. Within our discussion group a consensus was building that Christians should focus more on securing private sector support for projects such as Let’s End Poverty.
Overlapping values promotes a win-win outcome, where private sector businesses can see if their commercial interests align with the goals of the Let’s End Poverty campaign. We feel confident about this due to the example of the Living Wage Campaign. This campaign,which is supported by Church Action on Poverty, seeks to secure a minimum living wage that reflects current costs of living realities for all employees. The campaign has been going for more than twenty years and provides accreditation to employers committed to paying a real living wage, based on living costs, which is higher than the government’s National Living Wage. Almost seven thousand employers are now accredited and, thanks to the campaign, £1.3 billion pounds has been put back in the pockets of the lowest-paid workers, over the years.
The Living Wage Campaign has always focused on the advantages to the employer of paying a living wage. These advantages include a more committed workforce, leading to better staff recruitment and retention and lower staff absences. Of course, there were benefits for their employees too: more purchasing power, often resulting in more stable domestic arrangements, and enhanced opportunities to engage in leisure activities. This is an example of how overlapping values can be used successfully to harness the resources of the business sector, in ways that can help to reduce poverty levels in the UK. The Let’s End Poverty campaign can learn from this.
This example also sits within a wider shift in business values in the UK. At the conference, I shared how financial expert and former Bank of England chief Mark Carney makes a powerful case for businesses to adopt this kind of approach in his most recent book, ‘Values: Building a Better World’. His argument is values-based and holistic, highlighting the need for businesses to be mindful of the context in which they operate, which affect poverty in the UK. Carney advocates a values-based, holistic, strategic, contextually focused approach to business strategy; one that will result in better business outcomes and a more sustainable and ethically justifiable contribution to the wider society in which businesses operate.
By taking an overlapping, values-based approach to harnessing the support and resources of the private, business sector for campaigns to reduce poverty, Christians can tap into levels of resource that would otherwise be lost to their cause. Our discussion group concluded that Christians should never fall into the trap of thinking that private businesses cannot embrace an agenda that advances social justice issues, such as ending poverty, because of their need to generate profits. That remains equally true when seeking to harness the support and resources of the private, business sector for campaigns to alleviate and finally bring an end to poverty in the UK. Rather, there was a consensus in our group that a key challenge moving forward, is to persuade the private business sector that it is in their interests to identify the overlapping values that they have with a campaign such as the Let’s End Poverty.
Joining the Lets End Poverty Campaign
Anyone interested in joining the Let’s End Poverty campaign, either as individuals or as an organisation that is committed to achieving that goal, should access the Let’s End Poverty website for further information at tis link, https://letsendpoverty.co.uk/
W. Temple, Christianity and Social Order (1942) (London, Shepheard-Walwyn, 1971)
2 M. Carney, Values: Building a Better World For All (London: William Collins Books, 2022)