You haven’t heard from me in this blog yet. I am visiting CSAN for two weeks with an EU project in order to get to know Caritas in UK. I work for Caritas in Germany, namely for the Caritas Association for the Diocese of Aachen – Aachen is in the very west of Germany close to the Belgium and Dutch boarder. We do political lobbying, communications and campaigns, networking and we offer services and advice for our member organisations… so pretty much the same as CSAN.

Caritas Germany is often referred to as the biggest employer (after the state). And indeed there are organisations in the Caritas network which run big services and residential, as for example nursing care homes for older people, hospitals, children’s residential homes, counselling services, supported housing for disabled people and so on. However, all the different member organisations are legally and economically independent.

During my time in London I had the chance to visit some members of CSAN to get an insight in their work, so for example the Cardinal Hume Centre in Westminster. They are doing amazing work by providing housing and support for young people. In Germany homelessness is an issue, too, in some German cities there is a high rent for flats and houses, but obviously nothing compared to London! It is a good thing that CSAN tackles the topic ahead of the general election in Many 2015!

A second visit brought me to the Catholic Children’s Society Westminster. The charity runs the St. Francis Family Centre, which offers services like nursing activities for children and families – surrounded by social housing and a view on the skyline of Canary Warf I knew from the sightseeing I did the days before I started work at CSAN – what a contrast! We spoke with Rosemary who told us about the challenges facing families in the area, and then it was time for a very noisy lunch with the school kids. As our visit fell on a Friday, fish and chips were on the menu – my favourite British meal!

I also spent a day in the Cornerstone Day Centre in Manchester, which provides help and support for homeless people and people experiencing hardship. We were shown around the Centre, met the receptionist, the cooks, the barber and many more volunteers and staff and I was impressed by how passionate they all were about their work. A dinner together with staff and guests was a valuable experience and in talking to some of the people I could feel how thankful they are for the warmth they experience there.

These moments make it clear for me again: no matter in which country you are – Caritas makes a difference.

Welcomed by David Singleton, the National Executive Director of Faith Action, Clare (our Communications and Media Officer) and I, slightly awestruck by the beautiful conference room in Church House, Westminster, began a day of asking and answering the question ‘Is faith too significant to ignore?’

Faith Action is a network of faith based and community organizations serving their communities by delivering services such as childcare, health and social care, housing and welfare to work. Faith action is an organization which supports, and is supported and run by, people of many different faiths – there were delegates at the conference from the Bangladeshi Women’s Association, Jewish Care, The Salvation Army and many others, including CSAN member organization Irish Chaplaincy.

One of the first to speak was the Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, Shadow Minister of State Employment and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society. Stephen Timms argued that it is faith groups have the capacity and the resources to really make a difference to the lives of the most disadvantaged in the UK. However, Timms explained that there are many people who feel uncomfortable with faith groups as they expect evangelization and exclusivity, whereas in reality faith is one of the greatest motivators for social action, not evangelization, and therefore faith groups provide need where it is greatest. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society has developed a covenant for faith groups and local authorities to sign; the covenant is a joint commitment between faith communities and local authorities to a set of principles meaning that local authorities are confident in using faith groups as providers and advocates. The idea is that is covenant can be adopted by local authorities and faith based organization across the country so to unlock the potential of faith groups, aiming to remove some of the mistrust that exists and to promote open, practical working.

Laura Marks, founder and chair of Mitzvah Day gave an interesting talk explaining the significance of Mitzvah day, a Jewish festival devoted to giving a day in the service of others. However, Laura emphasized that it is not simply about the one day a year, but that the initiative is to do something in that day which can then continue throughout the year. Mitzvah day is a day to celebrate social action and to bring people, of all faiths, together in their fight against poverty and oppression.

In the afternoon, after a number of seminars including those on whether faith is good for mental health and how to take faith into the public square, the theme of the discussion turned to that between faith and politics. A particularly encouraging and dynamic talk came from Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham, Jon Cruddas. Mr Cruddas’s speech focused on the sense of common good and a shared life and duty to others that is central to all faiths and, what he believes, should now become the centre ground for politics and all social action. The climax of his speech was the assertion that to be truly radical in the current climate is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing, painting the future for our national story a picture of shared humanity.

The day ended with a panel discussion – the panel was asked exactly why, for them, faith was too significant to ignore. The members of the panel described the power of faith to give personal, community and national resilience, the ability of faith organizations to identify and respond to need fastest, the motivation that faith gives people in their very core, the influence of faith beyond its own members and the truth that it is faith that people turn to in times of the most desperate need.

Through the day it was emphasized that faith groups have resources, they have volunteers and they have skills to tackle poverty and injustice. However, it is motivation and resilience that faith truly gives people to promote human dignity and create a world of shared humanity and a sense of common good that means it is, most definitely, far too significant to ignore.

Author: Amy Pether, Network Researcher

Network Researcher, Amy Pether, accompanied CSAN’s Chair of Trustees Bishop Drainey on a recent visit to CSAN members – read on to hear about their day and the great work of the charities they visited…

Wandering through the luxurious St James’s Park and Westminster area of London on Wednesday 8th October, overrun with professionals in suits, stylish offices and trendy coffee shops, I came to the Cardinal Hume Centre, a historic convent which is now a thirty-two bed hostel enabling people to gain the skills they need to overcome poverty and homelessness. Westminster council writes that services in Westminster met more than 1,500 new rough sleepers last year, meaning that amongst the wealth and success of this area of London is real need and absolute poverty.

I, a new addition to the CSAN team, was to accompany Bishop Terry Drainey as he spent a day visiting a few members of our network to mark the beginning of his time as the Chair of the CSAN Board of Trustees.

On arrival at the centre, after the obligatory tea and chat, Bishop Terry and I were given a full and enlightening description of the wonderful work that the centre embarks on. As well as being a hostel, the centre provides advice and support on many aspects of life, for example, income – we saw a job club in action in the centre’s computer rooms, where the focus we were told was on ‘quality of job applications, not quantity’, though this is made extremely difficult by harsh benefit sanctions. The centre also gives housing advice in order to prevent homelessness from happening in the first instance, and learning services for those for whom English is not their first language. Many of the people who the centre sees are immigrants and therefore advice on legal status is an important part of their work. The centre also emphasises the importance of the family and provides family support – an example of this is the nursery which was a very joyous and heart warming final visit of the tour.

The Bishop and I then headed to the underground, travelling to the depths of north London, to visit St Joseph’s Pastoral Centre, which seeks to enable people with learning disabilities to participate fully in society through the church and their community. The centre provides a whole host of activities and courses – from pottery classes to an internet cafe, from horticulture to a drum studio. Touring the centre, and joining staff and students for lunch, was an extremely uplifting experience; though busy and reasonably hectic, there was an ultimately relaxed and familiar appeal to the centre – everyone knew each other by name and the staff responded to individual students with touching compassion and understanding, even when having to be rather stern! It was explained to us that without the centre the only option for the people who attended would be to stay at home and watch the TV, becoming less able to interact, without ever realising their own gifts and talents, and therefore becoming increasingly frustrated and withdrawn. The centre, it seems, provides an extremely necessary service and, in their own words, gives ‘lifelong learning and celebrates the gifts of all people’.

As the day came to a close, Bishop Terry had his final meeting where he was told about the work of the Jesuit Refugee Service, while I returned to my desk both uplifted and encouraged by the wonderful work of the members of the CSAN network for the most vulnerable, marginalised and needy in our society.

A bright morning in Birmingham, plenty of expectation in the air ahead of key speeches on the economy, work, civil service reform, communities and local government.

Patrick and Helen attended The Centre for Social Justice fringe with John Glen MP, PPS to Eric Pickles and Housing Minister Brandon Lewis, on long-term investment in the housing market in order to support social mobility.

It was a busy morning for John Glen MP as he was in a lunchtime fringe held at the Birmingham Christian Centre on malnutrition and the impact of food poverty in the UK, where Clare represented CSAN. Alongside Mr Glen on the panel was chair Julia Manning, CEO of 2020health, Guy Mason of Morrisons, Adrian Curtis of The Trussell Trust and Patrick Butler, Social Policy Editor at The Guardian. During questions, CSAN stressed the importance of careful and considered language when talking about people receiving food aid and asked about the next steps from the APPG on hunger and food poverty following their summertime inquiry to which CSAN provided a response. Adrian Curtis thanked CSAN, for its “amazing work” saying that Caritas is an “amazing organisation”. Mr Glen then said that the APPG hopes to produce its response by the end of the calendar year.

The afternoon then saw the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Minister for Cabinet Office and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government take to the stage in the Symphony Hall. CSAN was particularly interested to hear Iain Duncan-Smith, who talked about the Government’s continued reforms to the welfare state which “will now mean it pays to work”. He declared that “no social justice can be about leaving people trapped in dependency”. Read CSAN’s response to the lowering of the benefit cap

As Monday morning and the second day of the Conservative party conference in Birmingham is in full swing, a quick review of CSAN’s first day at conference.

Arriving at the ICC and joining with colleagues from the Catholic Education Service, we took our seats in the Symphony Hall to listen to Ruth Davidson MSP, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, who talked passionately about the union – both the fight and the future. William Hague, Leader of the House, gave his last address to the conference, looking back over four decades as a Conservative and paying tribute to the party that he predicts to win with a majority at the next election.

Patrick and Helen attended the ResPublica fringe, Restoring the Welfare State, which set to lay out the Conservative vision for welfare and was led by the Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud. Meanwhile, Clare attended The Children’s Society fringe on supporting children and young people learn to save, a recommendation from their Debt Trap campaign, of which CSAN is a supporter. Robin Walker MP chaired the panel which included Mark Lyonette of ABCUL and Sir Hector Sants of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Task Group on Responsible Credit and Savings. As with many fringe events, it was encouraging to see ecumenical groups side-by-side with decision-makers and associations.

With speeches from the Chancellor, Iain Duncan-Smith and Eric Pickles and fringes throughout, it is set to be a busy second day at conference.

Last week, I attended Community Information Session on Social Housing run by Hackney Council.

Organised by Sustainable Advice in Hackney, the session covered the council’s new lettings policy, who is and who is not eligible to be offered social housing, the criteria residents need to meet, the checks the council makes on applicants and how the council decides who has priority for social housing. The session was, naturally, specific to the borough of Hackney but also was designed to cover social housing applications in general.

Nathaniel Mathews, Senior Housing Solicitor at the Hackney Community Law Centre, gave a summary of the recent developments in the new Lettings Policy of May 2014 and then John Isted, Projects and Legislation Team Leader and Asma Bhol, Medical Assessment Team Leader, both from London Borough of Hackney, talked about their work in social housing.

John led us through the system of allocation that the council uses: dividing people into Emergency, Urgent, Priority, Homeless, General and Reserve bands. Currently Hackney council has 10,297 households waiting to move and 1500 properties on its books. The ways of assessing priority is, as described by Nathaniel, “like a game of chess”, a complex system of points and scores.

Of course, with so many people and so few properties, those with higher need than others should be prioritised. But this has to happen critically, carefully, without misrepresentation.

However it was some of the language used by council representatives to describe applicants that, I feel, signalled a shift backwards towards that Victorian type of language of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor.

At the event, the description “intentionally homeless”, the warning “we’re watching those types of people” and the observation “those types of people are creeping through” clouded the legitimate assessment work taking place.

I spoke to the Cardinal Hume Centre, a member of CSAN on this issue of language. The Centre provides housing support for homeless young people: “here at the Cardinal Hume Centre, we believe that one of the most difficult issues faced by our clients who are homeless or in danger of becoming so, is the lack of clear and objective information about their housing rights and options as well as the rapidly changing benefits landscape. We are also finding that more and more people are coming to us depressed and disheartened from being treated as a number, as a unit, as a statistic but rarely as a human being.”

Authorities need to speak with professionalism and with accuracy. We’ve got to ensure that the language used – however off-the-cuff or generalised – does not end up adding further to a discourse that targets, scapegoats and misunderstands.

Author: Clare Skelton

Last week I was shopping in a small shop, the express store of a very well-known national supermarket. This shop is the closest to the CSAN office and I’ve come to know the faces of the security man, the lady on the check-out.

On this occasion, I was served by a young guy who, responding to my enquiry as to how his day was going, replied “tired, man, I’m so tired”. He looked it too, the skin beneath his eyes blotched and transparent.

We joked if it was down to a late night and he laughed: “I wish! I’ve been working all hours” and he went on to explain that he worked forty hours a week in the supermarket, three nights a week delivery-driving from 10pm until 2am and Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights flyering on the streets to promote a nightclub. “I’m nineteen”, he said to me, “I need the money”.

I walked away from the shop with my purchases, trying to work out how much sleep a week that young man was getting, whether he was able to explore interests and passions in his spare time, if he had a family or other people dependent on him that he needed to support. What if one of those jobs fell through, or if his hours were to be cut?

I spoke to Paul Callaghan, Contracts Manager at St. Antony’s Centre of Church and Industry in Manchester. The Centre supports men and women in and out of work through partnership with employers, community agencies, parishes and chaplaincy groups.
I asked Paul whether the experiences of the young man were reflective of a wider trend. He replied that those young people he works with who are in work consider themselves lucky: “they are adopting the kind of approach that if they are out of work at all, they’ll fall back into a cycle. They see friends or family stuck in long-term employment, or maybe they have been themselves, so people who are in work are striving to be in continual employment.”
“The past three of four years have seen a level of insecurity that people feel they need to maximise potential income. But we need to ask, if you’re working three jobs and cumulatively you’re working sixty, seventy hours a week, and that’s still not enough what are you being paid?”

We discussed how latest government reports and media articles state that unemployment is on the decrease – but that if this young man is to be an example of a modern kind of employment that would be feeding into these statistics. Yet this could hardly be considered as a positive type of work that gives any sort of dignity.
What sort of working life do you have if you wake up not knowing whether you’re going to have to work a twelve-hour shift or whether you get no hours at all? “This lack of cohesion”, said Paul, “is really disruptive; everybody needs a structure and the fabric of normality in working life”. I thought back to my desk, my to-do list, the familiarity of the CSAN team around me, the responsibility I have in my role.

“People are scrabbling around for any scrap of work to generate some kind of income because there is no stability or guarantee that will lay a solid foundation” Paul continued.
And what about quality of life both now and in the future? Surely, being forced to work three jobs for little money will affect confidence and self-esteem in the long-term? Paul agreed: “it does end up scarring people. This is one of the many hidden costs of austerity – we can all tighten the purse strings to some degree, but what you can’t stop is the cumulative impact of that emotional wear and tear on health and a sense of belonging.”

Author: Clare Skelton

Yesterday, Phoebe, Becky and Clare met at the beautiful Lumen URC situated just south of Euston and Kings Cross. Away from the busy streets and rushing traffic, the Church felt like a quiet haven. We were there to attend the Jesuit Refugee Service photography exhibition, entitled ‘Come and See’ and displayed in the church’s gallery and cafe space.

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) worked with not-for-profit organisation Fotosynthesis to produce and curate work by a group from JRS. Over a 12 week period, nine participants from different countries were guided through practical workshops to record, display and share their lives and experiences in London through photography.

Around the walls of the peaceful gallery were images from Sebastian, Helen, Momodu, Osman, J and Soledad. We were especially moved by Sebastian’s photograph of his open hands; the text he had written to accompany his image read “hands are important. They do everything for you. Fingerprints are a way to identify people and to control borders”. It was interesting to reconsider how even small and normal things are imbued with greater importance and significance when one is transitory. Similarly, a photograph of the iconic London ‘Mind the Gap’ logo was accompanied with the words “when I see this sign it has a deep meaning to me. I can’t go anywhere. I connect it with my life because of the situation I am experiencing”. We also found ourselves discussing the deeper implications of the phrase “my papers” for someone navigating complex asylum processes.

Afterwards, we met with Kate from JRS for a coffee and to discuss the exhibition. Kate explained that the workshops involved basic camera skills, a visit to a gallery to see how images are curated as well as street work in Wapping (around the Hurtado Centre where JRS are based), the City and around the participants’ own lives.

Kate added “JRS never try to speak on behalf of people, we do when they are unable to; but not here”. It was inspiring that these images that were not the typical ‘portraits of a refugee’ as I’ve seen so often in galleries and glossy Sunday supplements. This project instead is about giving ownership to the participants: about being a photographer, not the photographed, the creator and not the controlled.

Maybe we’ll never look at the Mind the Gap sign or pass through Border Control in quite the same way.


Welcome to the CSAN blog where you'll find our views on policy, news from the network and thoughts from the team.

Check back regularly to keep up to date with our work and don't forget to leave us a comment or follow us on twitter to let us know what you think!

Posts are by the policy and communications teams.

RSS feed

The RSS feed provides users with an easy way to follow the blog. More about RSS