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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Sunday, December 10, 2006
    London broke
    I like a London break once in a while and last week was exceptionally enjoyable, for spending time with valued friends and their friends, and family, for dipping into some of that city's current cultural offerings (London: A Life in Maps at the British Library, Spamalot at the Palace Theatre), and for the more serious business of attending the National Poverty Hearing.

    That was fascinating, having been at the previous National Poverty Hearing ten years ago and involved in other local ones since (blogged about here). It brought home just how much the Labour government had changed things for those living on or below the breadline. The minimum wage was the most evident adjustment for which the poverty lobby had been calling - unheard - for years before 1997, but positive steps have been taken in many other areas too. There is no doubt that over the past decade anti-poverty campaigners have been listened to. And though UK poverty issues still don't feature at all at election time even the main opposition party now feels it necessary to engage in them (Oliver Letwin was one of the speakers at Westminster Central Hall last Wednesday).

    That's not to say there's so much more to be done: the Minimum Wage is far beneath the Living Wage, for instance. And the government's aim to eradicate child poverty by 2020 is looking shaky.

    I was struck most forcibly by two presentations. A group of London schoolchildren described very clearly the traumas of being poor in the unforgiving school environment (which brought back memories of how we used to taunt and scapegoat the 'scruffy' kids and the ones who got free meals). Ice and Fire presented an extract from their Asylum Monologues, which simply and powerfully voices asylum-seekers' experiences of UK 'hospitality'. Which cannot be called that until the laws change. I guess I'd known before that the government actively creates deprivation among asylum-seekers as a disincentive to others, but it took ten minutes with The Asylum Monologues for the truth, and absolute immorality, of that to hit home.