Last night I attended a conference hosted by Reading Borough Council aimed at tackling Poverty in Reading. Over 200 people were in attendance at the town hall and the Christian engagement / response was self evident.
Their working definition was helpful because poverty is relative: "Individuals, families or groups in the population can be said to be in poverty when they lack the resources to obtain the type of diet, or participation in the activities, living conditions and the amenities which are customary (or at least widely encouraged or approved) in the societies to which they belong. Their resources are so seriously below those commanded by the average family that they are in effect excluded from ordinary living patterns, customs and activities."
To put numbers on that, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation was quoted as saying that the minimum income to meet the cost of living for a couple with two children in 2013 is £36,060.
The official poverty threshold is 60% of the Median income ... so in Reading a couple with two children who have an income of less than £19,000 is below the poverty threshold.
In Reading, 6400 (21.8%) of children are living in poverty ... it costs around £160 to bring a child up to age 18 and meet their minumum needs. 40-50% of children growing up in areas of Whitley, Katesgrove & Caversham are in poverty.
4,780 pupils in Reading are eligible for the Pupil Premium (additional funding given to schools so they can support disadvantaged pupils).
Men in Whitley have a life expectancy 8.5 years less than those in Earley.
6000 households in our town are estimated to be in fuel poverty (where a household spends over 10% of its income on fuel bills).
The changes to Council Tax Benefit, Housing Benefit Under-occupation Reduction (bedroom tax) and the introduction of Universal Credit, the Benefit Cap and the new Personal Independence Payments (replacing the disability living allowance), are all expected to create further churn in the poverty cycle.
And to finally ground it all ... about 10:30pm last night I chatted with a rough sleeper outside Blockbuster in leafy Lower Earley. He had set up his bed next to his wheel chair, he was 28 and had a brittle bone syndrome. He was cold and I felt helpless.
But together we are not helpless ... and we have our part to play.