The grassroots are tackling poverty but they need help

The UN report leaves no doubt that many low-income Londoners have an unacceptably poor quality of life with serious implications for their physical and mental health. This should shame and concern us all as a society.

Destitution, malnutrition, slum housing are all back but with unfamiliar and worrying characteristics - systemic in-work poverty and widespread hunger were unknown in late 20th century Britain. Unfortunately, government policy is unlikely to change while Brexit dominates the political landscape, so how will we tackle this crisis? 

Fortunately, resilient and enterprising communities are digging themselves out of holes where nobody else seems able to. Small to medium charities and social enterprises - often founded by local people - are leading the way. Many have lost considerable amounts of statutory income while being overwhelmed by demand from people left without essential services. The organisations that have survived have become more efficient and resilient. Many are adept at working in partnership with local residents and aim to address the newer manifestations of poverty affecting local communities. 

Public services - sometimes lacking the capacity to guarantee even a basic safety net - are increasingly looking towards collaboration with other organisations and civil society to uncover new resources and deliver new models of support.

Effective responses are developing through necessity and look quite different to traditional public or voluntary sector provision. Public services - sometimes lacking the capacity to guarantee even a basic safety net - are increasingly looking towards collaboration with other organisations and civil society to uncover new resources and deliver new models of support. 

This makes sense. It requires expertise, influence and resources of all kinds to help the family where both parents work but which is being pulled into poverty by high rent. Likewise the disabled person who’s been judged fit for work but whose mobility scooter has been taken away. And what about primary school pupils whose physical and mental health is suffering due to food poverty? 

At Trust for London we’ve long believed that all stakeholders, but particularly those with lived experience of poverty and inequality, have an important part to play in our grant making. We are proud that those with firsthand experience have influenced some of our most innovative programmes.

For example, the Living Wage Campaign was started by parents in low-paid cleaning jobs battling for their families’ quality of life. Currently, Strengthening Voices Realising Rights (SVRR), co-funded with City Bridge Trust, invests in organisations led by Deaf and Disabled people. Disabled people sit at the heart of the programme’s design, execution and evaluation. SVRR aims to promote equal rights and community inclusion by increasing accessible user led advice services for disabled people while improving the resourcing and profile of campaigns driven by their experiences and concerns. And our brand new Commission on Social Security led by Experts by Experts is being steered by individuals who themselves have direct experience of navigating the social security system.

This work is challenging but acknowledges the same truths as the Special Rapporteur who “witnessed tremendous resilience, strength and generosity, and heard stories of deeply compassionate work coaches, local officials and volunteers, neighbours supporting one another, councils seeking creative solutions and charities stepping in to fill holes in government services”  Moreover “the good news is that many of the problems could be readily solved if the Government were to listen to people experiencing poverty, the voluntary sector and the local authorities....” For now, the grassroots themselves are working to find solutions.