Why don’t we just…
focus on turning the tap off poverty?

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Late last year the homelessness charity I work for – Mustard Tree – launched a new monthly giving campaign to support our core services. The focus is on thinking differently about combatting poverty with a preventative approach or ‘how we can turn the tap off, instead of just bailing out the bathwater’.

As many readers of Big Issue North will know, and many of its vendors too, it can only take one piece of bad luck for an individual or family to be plunged into crisis. Soaring rent, energy bills and inflation is now exposing how many people across Greater Manchester were barely coping before the economic fallout of a pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. At a recent Mustard Tree open day, all the clients attending were facing either a County Court Judgment (CCJ) for debt or were at threat of eviction.

Whilst the focus in the media is on crisis response and food banks, we know that people coming to our own ‘Food Clubs’ are looking for a long-term solution – based around a hand-up, not a handout.

Things like food banks, or our own Food Club, are important but they are really a stop-gap solution to the cost-of-living crisis. Food helps with the initial panic, but our clients, and other people in similar situations, need opportunities to address debt, rent arrears, and find ways to increase their income. Big Issue North offers one way of doing this, and the Mustard Tree meets this challenge itself through our support services, courses, classes, debt advice and the Freedom Project (our life-skills and employability training placement). We are also an accredited Real Living Wage employer – a crucial movement at a time when even people in work are having to turn to food banks for support.

We need to think differently about how to help people facing poverty – it’s not only about a food parcel in an emergency, but also about creating opportunities for people to change their lives for the better.

Our monthly giving campaign (named ‘High Fivers’, as the ask is to donate £5 a month), came amidst a significant rise in demand for our services – from Food Club to financial support. A monthly donation will help fund our preventative work – it could pay for a Freedom trainee’s travel expenses to get to their work placement, for example. It could help fund a support worker’s salary. It could contribute towards a qualification to help someone get into employment.

We also realise that the ask comes amid pressures on many Third Sector organisations feeling the impact of the economic downturn more immediately, both in terms of income and demand on services. According to the Civil Society, a proclaimed cost-of-giving crisis has prompted one in seven (14%) people to say they will cut back on charitable donations to help manage their bills.

Our hope is that enough people who can afford to join the High Fivers campaign will do so, if it means one less pint or takeaway a month. It’s an amount that many won’t even notice leaving their account – but can make all the difference for someone facing hardship.

It’s an opportunity to be part of something and to help people build themselves up at a time when there are so many ways to fall down.

Jack Barton is the Mustard Tree’s Communications Manager. Find out more about the Mustard Tree and the campaign by visiting mustardtree.org.uk/donate-money

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