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Challenging poverty together

By Sasha Deepwell

This week we’re joining organisations from across England and Wales to take part in Challenge Poverty Week, raising our collective voice against poverty.

One of the founding reasons GMHP members first came together, almost ten years ago. was to find joint ways to address poverty in our communities. Together we house more than 1 in 5 people across the city region, and we recognise that we are in a unique position to have a significant impact in addressing poverty and inequality in the communities we serve.

Last year the pandemic exposed the deep-rooted inequalities running across society. The COVID 19 mortality rates were 25% higher in Greater Manchester than the rest of England. The Black Lives Matter movement forced us to acknowledge and confront the intractable realities of structural racism. And our own work on inequalities, highlighted how much further we need to go to be truly representative of our customers and communities.

A legacy of inequality

The inequalities were there before the pandemic of course. Greater Manchester was fractured by inequalities in health, wellbeing, employment and pay, skills, school readiness, child poverty and more with Greater Manchester too often falling below national averages.

It’s the same story in many former industrial towns and cities, where the transition from the industrial past has left a legacy of inequalities where growth and wealth has not always benefitted those in greatest need.

Greater Manchester Poverty Action estimate that there are 620,000 people living below the poverty line in Greater Manchester and during the pandemic, more than 4,500 additional children in Greater Manchester became eligible for free school meals. Too many people are struggling to pay the bills, put food on the table and achieve their potential. It’s clear that poverty is damaging the lives and restricting the opportunities of too many people in the communities we serve.

This makes for a bleak read. But the pandemic also brought out the best in people. Public compassion has come to the fore, communities have pulled together, and there has been strong action against injustices such as child hunger and racism. New partnerships have been forged and public services, housing providers and the community and voluntary sectors have worked together with the people they serve.

Once in a lifetime opportunity

I believe we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to harness the compassion and togetherness that we have uncovered during the pandemic and get going again together.

This week as part of Challenge Poverty Week, we’re launching our new poverty pledges which continue to build on the vital work we are already doing to alleviate poverty amongst our customers and tackle the inequalities and other root causes of poverty in our communities. The pledges cover our six priorities – reducing inequalities, social inclusion, employment and skills, housing and homelessness, social value, and fair employment. They will ensure we take a comprehensive and consistent approach to alleviating the immediate burden of poverty, but also address the fundamental causes of poverty.

We believe this starts with our base contribution as a sector of the provision of a safe, decent, affordable home. We are investing in our homes and services to ensure this is provided to all tenants and are working with them on a joint approach towards tenant voice. We are committed to ensuring that we co-design and co-deliver with customers, as landlords working together in a coalition of the willing and with communities and other stakeholders.

We will also deliver the new homes people need, making a substantial contribution towards reducing homelessness, and provide homes and neighbourhoods we can all be proud of for tenants and residents.

In the last three years GMHP members developed 5000 new homes in Greater Manchester, over half of which were for social and affordable rent. Through our GM Housing First, GM Housing Partnership, RSAP and Let Us projects, collectively across GMHP we’ve also helped over 800 rough sleepers and homeless households into secure homes, providing the support they need to move forward.

A springboard into work

As well as a decent home, people need a good, stable income. The Greater Manchester Independent Inequalities Commission found that Greater Manchester’s employment rate is consistently below that for England, and the unemployment rate higher. We know employment and skills support can be a springboard into work or better paid and more secure work and away from poverty. As well as delivering on social value and on employment and skills opportunities, we aim to be employers of choice in our own organisations by paying the real Living Wage and signing up to the GM Good Employment Charter.

Last year our members helped 7700 residents towards work, supported 600 apprenticeships, and secured 230 kickstart placements for young people at risk of long-term unemployment. Our money advice teams also worked extremely hard to keep more money in our customers’ pockets. Last year money advice teams across our partnership helped thousands of tenants secure over £22m in unclaimed benefits and grants they were eligible for.

We know that there is much work to be done in tackling the deep-rooted inequalities in our communities which mean that wealth and opportunities don’t currently benefit everyone, so our pledges focus on developing our work around social inclusion both as employers and as housing and service providers. We are committed to deepening our understanding of inequality and to organisational change that will lead to improved outcomes for groups facing barriers to progression, including those on low incomes.

A city region that works for everyone

Last year we surveyed members to understand how we are tackling inequality within our own organisations and collaboratively. We uncovered lots of good work and intentions to address inequalities but we learnt that we have a lot more to do and are using the findings to sharpen our focus on tackling inequalities.

The link between poverty and health has long been recognised. Through GMHP’s Covid-resilience plan we are committed to supporting people into the zero-carbon and digital sectors, with an emphasis on opening doors for more women, disabled, care leavers, older people and BAME residents into these growth industries.

We are fortunate to have a clear vision and strong leadership from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. As we look to the future, we want to help bring about a city-region that works for everyone, where the economy serves the people, and everyone has a voice.

The government has promised to build back better, and we have a real chance to do things differently. We can’t allow a recovery which puts some on a fast track to wealth while others are left behind. I am hopeful that we can harness all the sense of community and compassion that has come from the pandemic and get going again together. We can open up opportunities for people to reach their potential and continue to provide affordable, safe, decent housing so that together, we can challenge poverty.

Sasha Deepwell is GMHP lead for inclusion and Chief Executive of Irwell Valley.

We can’t allow a recovery which puts some on a fast track to wealth while others are left behind. I am hopeful that we can harness all the sense of community and compassion that has come from the pandemic and get going again together.