Poverty in Manchester and our shared hopes for Devolution

CEO of Mustard Tree, Adrian Nottingham’s speech at the Lord Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast on March 3,  2016.

“Working in the charitable sector often gives me cause to reflect on my own dreams and aspirations, as well as my hopes for this city.  Devolution will bring the opportunity to reach out and engage, releasing a huge wealth of talent, inspiration and innovation from our citizens that are not currently actively contributing to Manchester’s growth and prosperity.

I would echo the reflections of Tony Lloyd, that “faith without works is dead”, but that there are no good works without faith, without a moral purpose. Indeed, the religious teachings of the New Testament make clear God’s plan to bring life and wholeness to his Creation, teaching us the lesson that we only thrive and are in health when every part plays an active role. But we are faced with an ever visible problem which divides us all.

Poverty, inequality and disadvantage exist and blight the lives of an increasing number of our fellow citizens. A large proportion of the charitable sector is engaged in work to alleviate poverty, inequality and disadvantage. At Mustard Tree, we work with those who live below the minimum standard of living set by society as a whole; those who may live in a damp home, who cannot afford to heat their homes adequately; who may regularly miss a meal because they cannot make ends meet. Those who endlessly worry about paying the next bill and are likely to be in arrears; those who despite having a family member in work may still need to resort to accessing a food bank. Those who, despite their best efforts cannot see a way out of this trap.

Today there are a growing number of Manchester residents who are finding that the glue of poverty is getting stickier and the climb out of poverty is getting steeper.

Sadly poverty levels are increasing and the inequality gap is getting greater with social mobility noticeably decreasing. Only 1 in 8 children born into a low-income household will ever escape that situation, and it is a tragic truth that for too many, demography determines destiny

As a result we are not benefiting from the talent, inspiration and innovation that is being locked away  and we are all the poorer and weaker for it. The one word that encapsulates all of Mustard Tree’s work and mission is ‘progression’ and Mustard Tree measures its success in lives that have been transformed from net receivers to net contributors. I believe the single greatest attribute of the 3rd sector is therefore its connectedness. It is a bridge into lives and across communities – a living connection. And the chartable sector as a whole in Greater Manchester counts over 14,500 organisations, tallying an annual income of £1 billion, contributing annually a huge £1.7 billion to GM economy, with 23,500 full time employees and 350,000 volunteers.

Can we use this opportunity that Devolution presents to reach out to the margins to bridge the gap between those who participate and those who don’t? And we, the 3rd sector, rightly use the language of partnership to describe almost all of our relationships. If we can bring the marginalized to the table, giving them a voice, making room for them to play their part, then Manchester can only be the stronger for it.

I want to highlight one initiative that is being developed at present, the Manchester Homeless Charter. The Charter is a high-profile set of principles that establish how Manchester deals with homelessness and how homeless people are treated. During the consultation period for the drafting of the Charter, more than 50% of those consulted had lived experience of homelessness: an example of how we can give a voice to the marginalised in the planning of future services and developments. The Charter will engender a broad sense of community responsibility for the issue of homelessness, and make it easier to involve all of our partners in the various new and established projects aimed at preventing and tackling this terrible problem.

My hope then going forwards is for a more inclusive society, a fairer and more equal society. For a society which is listening, nurturing, affirming and inspiring, and above all for a society where everyone is given the opportunity to play their part. Devolution offers us great opportunities and I look forward to realising them with you all.

I thank the Lord Mayor and all colleagues here for their kind attention.”