Personal Perspectives on the Links Between Poverty and Crime – Sunday 13 October

Personal Perspectives on the Links Between Poverty and Crime

Sunday 13 October 11-12, Blackfriars Aula

Our next meeting will seek to better understand the links between poverty and crime by hearing the stories of a victim of historic abuse and a current prisoner, who is presently in an open prison working towards the end of a long sentence for a serious gang related violent crime.

If you want to know the statistics you can search many informative web-sites. If you want simple (usually punitive) answers you can read the tabloids. But, if you want to understand the complex, personal, sometimes shocking, and sometimes hopeful stories of those most directly affected, come to our next meeting. There will be an opportunity to ask questions and engage in discussions with our visitors.

NOTE: All our lives are complicated and problems can arise. In the event of either of our speakers being unable to make it on the day their stories may have to be told on video.

Many thanks to Geoff Emerson for organising this session.

All welcome!



Children, Education and Poverty in Oxford: a summary

On 19 May 2019, a panel of three people working with young children in Oxford spoke to us about the impact of poverty on children’s education, well-being and future life chances, and about the challenges of supporting poor children and families in primary schools and in the care system.

Our panellists were:

Maggie Swarbrick, Programme Supervisor for Oxfordshire Treatment Foster Care, supporting children in care, aged 3-11, who have the most complex emotional, behavioural and educational needs

Sue Tomkys, Headteacher of St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School, Headington

Kate Stratford, Home School Link Worker, St Joseph’s and New Marston Primary Schools, Headington and Marston

This is a summary of the key points raised:

Poverty, the care system, and school

Maggie Swarbrick began with the story of Caroline (not her real name), aged 4. She was one of four children growing up in the Rose Hill area. The family struggled with poor and insecure housing, and the parents’ drug and alcohol addiction meant the children were neglected and abandoned for long periods of time, left to care for themselves. Things came to a head and the children were taken into care, and fostered in separate foster homes. This meant Caroline moving to a new community and starting a new school. She and her siblings had many skills (cooking, finding their own way around, changing nappies) but didn’t know how to be children, listen, form bonds, etc – the skills needed to thrive at school and in life.

Caroline and her siblings need consistent and individualised support from Maggie’s team at Oxfordshire Treatment Foster Care, which offers specialist therapeutic care for children with emotional, behavioural or additional needs. The team has a very high success rate in terms of children’s placements in care being successful and not breaking down (leading to further disruption, including changes in school.) Due to cuts in local authority funding, the number of children the team is able to support has shrunk significantly since Maggie began working there 10 years ago. The programme has been cut by 50% due to County Council funding cuts., despite being 80% successful in moving children on to permanent foster placements or adoption.

In school, children who have had to live with severe poverty, abuse or neglect, are often very challenging as students and classmates. Maggie encouraged us all and our children and grandchildren to practice PACE, as developed by the psychologist Daniel Hughes.

PACE stands for:

Playfulness – Acceptance – Curiosity – Empathy

School funding and the Pupil Premium

Sue Tomkys is Headteacher at St Joseph’s, a Catholic state primary school on Headley Way in Headington, which takes in children from across the city. It has a mixed intake, both in terms of family income and in terms of ethnicity and language. 72% of pupils are non-white/British; over 50% have a language other than English as their first language.

Out of 416 children attending St Joseph’s, 55 attract Pupil Premium funding (currently £1320 per child per year, £2300 if the child is in or has been in local authority care). Pupil Premium funding is extra funding for schools ‘designed to help disadvantaged pupils of all abilities perform better, and close the gap between them and their peers’. All children who are eligible for Free School Meals (that is, if their parents receive income support/benefits), or have been at any time in the past 6 years, attract the funding, which goes straight to the school and is spent at the discretion of the head teacher. Sue told us that since free school meals were introduced for all primary children by the Coalition government, it has become challenging for schools to ensure that they’re getting the Pupil Premium funding for all the children who are eligible. It’s up to parents to apply for it, and since there isn’t the incentive any longer of free lunches, it can be a struggle.

It’s important that schools are able to use the funding in a bespoke way to help individual children thrive, whether by paying for specialist support, school trips, extracurricular activities, books to have at home, etc. There is though a school funding crisis, which has meant an 8% real terms drop in funding to schools in England since 2010 (according Institute for Fiscal Studies research). As a result, more and more schools are being forced to use Pupil Premium funding for core costs, such as teaching assistants.

For children with severe difficulties, often related to deprivation and neglect, who need more support than what’s available through special need provision, there are Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), which attract further funding to pay for support. These are very hard to get, and each school would only normally have a handful of children with EHCPs.

Role of the Home School Link Worker

Kate Stratford has worked as a Home School Link Worker, funded by the local authority (Oxfordshire County Council), for the past 7 years, based at New Marston Primary School (23 hours/week) and St Joseph’s (7 hours). The role of the Home School Link Worker is to act as a contact point and support for families of children who are struggling, especially (but not only) Pupil Premium children. The Home School Link Worker seeks to remove barriers that families have that prevent children from thriving at school. It’s a very busy and crucial role, with a constantly changing case load.

While most state schools in Oxford have Home School Link Workers, there is very uneven provision across the country.

The kinds of issues Kate often comes across are:

  • housing problems, rent arrears, homelessness (see more below)
  • poor attendance
  • problems with benefits bureaucracy
  • immigration problems and lack of entitlement to benefit

Austerity, Cuts and Support Services

Kate told us that her job is made harder by the fact that there’s been a very marked reduction in the past 5 or so years in the range and number of support services (children’s centres, mental health support, parenting support, advice, etc) available to families in Oxford. For those services that are there, there are often very long waiting lists.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) is a particular problem, with a standard 2-year waiting period to get assessment and treatment. This can be an enormous problem for a child who is suffering from mental health-related problems, and for their families and the school.

Poverty-proofing the school day

Sue talked about her efforts at St Joseph’s to ‘poverty proof’ the school day. This involves ensuring that poverty among the children is taken into account in decision making, and that they are not made to feel excluded or stigmatised. The school uniform is a good leveller, and the Pupil Premium is used to pay for school uniform for children who qualify. There is a strict policy of no logos on shoes, and rules about PE kit (simple white t-shirts, no football jerseys) are strictly enforced. World Book Day has been rethought, so that children no longer come to school in costume; non-uniform days have been scaled back. There is a website offering advice and resources to schools on poverty-proofing here.

Housing & homelessness

All three panellists emphasised how serious the housing situation is in Oxford. Inability to pay or keep up with steep private rental rates, inability to buy houses, or secure council housing, results in lack of security and even homelessness. They see a direct correlation between bad housing and inability to behave, pay attention, and thrive at school. Once a family becomes homeless, the provision for them by the local authority is terrible. One father had to sleep in his car, take his children out of school and send them to live with relatives in London. Another family was housed for months at a time in the Travelodge at Peartree Roundabout, with no where to cook, and no where to buy food except fast food. Maggie told us that a whole wing of the Travelodge is rented by the local authority for homeless families, including some young people in care, who can’t get foster placements and have to live in a hotel room with a care worker in the next room

Cycles of deprivation and parents’ involvement in schools

Kate told us about families in which there are cycles of deprivation over generations. Parents who themselves struggled at school and had bad experiences of education are suspicious of the school that their children go to, and often don’t engage, making it much more difficult to help their children when they face difficulties.

While St Joseph’s has high levels of parental engagement (related to the fact that it’s a faith school where parents make a concerted choice to send their children), New Marston struggles with this – most children attend simply because it’s the local school, and getting parents involved is often very difficult.

What can you do?

  • Write to your MPs about school funding and funding for support services and children’s mental health.
  • Write to your MPs and councillors about the housing crisis in Oxford and its impact
  • Talk to the headteacher at your local schools about poverty proofing the school day
  • Volunteers with a range of local organisations supporting children and families, including Schoolreaders, Home-Start, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. See more on our volunteering page.
  • Think about becoming a foster carer via Oxfordshire County Council.

Children, Education and Poverty in Oxford

Sunday 19 May, 11-12, Aula, Blackfriars, St Giles, Oxford.

Please join us for a panel discussion in which people working with children and primary schools in Oxford will share their experiences and insights on the impact of poverty on children’s education, well-being and future life chances.

Short presentations from a panel will be followed by a Q&A.

Speakers include:

Sue Tomkys, Headteacher of St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School, Headington

Maggie Swarbrick, Programme Supervisor for Oxfordshire Treatment Foster Care, supporting children in care in the school system

Kate Stratford, Home School Link Worker, St Joseph’s and New Marston Primary Schools

All welcome!

Edward Hadas, Brexit for Catholics (and anyone who cares), 10 March 2019

Edward Hadas, economist, author, journalist and research fellow at Blackfriars, spoke on 10 March 2019 in an event co-hosted by Blackfriars Poverty in Britain Group and the Las Casas Institute. It was a highly topical talk in which he addressed the consequences of Brexit for the economy, finance, politics, the welfare state and society.

You can download summary notes of his talk and slides below.

Edward Hadas notes from Brexit for Catholics March 2019

Brexit for Catholics (slides)

2 upcoming events in March 2019

7 March 2019: Las Casas Insitute presents a Lecture by Kenneth Parker: Finding Christ in Prison: A Theologian’s Reflections on Higher Education as a Social Justice Imperative for American Catholic Universities

In Jesus’s parable of the kingdom (Matthew 25), being present to the prisoner comes with a promise: ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me‘.

Professor Parker addresses the pressing need for higher education in prisons and why Christian scholars have a special calling to engage in this work. He is the founding director of the Saint Louis University Prison Program and currently teaches in Duquesne University’s Inside-Out Program, which brings main campus undergraduates into prison classrooms to study with students who are incarcerated.

Prof Neal Hazel, Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Salford University will respond.

Thursday, 7 March 5.30pm, Blackfriars
Open to all.

Sunday 10 March 2019 After Brexit: the social & economic consequences of leaving the European Union – a talk and discussion co-sponsored by Las Casas Institute and Blackfriars Poverty in Britain Group

Speaker: Edward Hadas 

Brexit Britain will change fundamentally, possibly in quite unpredictable ways. It is important, as far as possible, to understand the natures of these changes and how they might impact on society and especially on the poor. Hadas will:

  • review the departure scenarios;
  • assess the macroeconomic impact of leaving;
  • discuss likely winners and losers;
  • reflect on the dangers to social cohesion;
  • suggest policy options to mitigate adverse impacts; and
  • signpost the new challenges facing the Church & civil society.

Edward, a Research Fellow at Blackfriars, is a former Economics Editor at Reuters Breakingviews, and former Assistant Editor of the Financial Times Lex column.

11.00am -12.00 noon, Sunday, 10 March 2019

Aula, Blackfriars Hall, St Giles, Oxford OX1 3LY


Edward Hadas – Poverty in the UK: concepts, numbers and a Christian perspective

Edward Hadas spoke to us on 13 January 2019. Below is a summary of his talk. His more detailed notes and slides are available at the bottom of the page.

Edward is a Research Fellow at Blackfriars, is a free lance journalist and financial analyst. For several years he was Economics Editor at Reuters Breakingviews, and columnist at, where in 2013 he was awarded Reporter of the Year for commentary and analysis. He is a former Assistant Editor of the Financial Times Lex column.

It may seem like a simple matter to count how many people in Britain have been poor in the recent past, and how many are poor today. A little reflection, however, shows that poverty is a slippery concept, so much so that all numbers should be treated with caution.

To start, the most obvious definition of poverty, what economists call “absolute poverty”, is hardly relevant to the UK. Almost no one lacks to goods needed for human survival – food, shelter, clothing, warmth. Even basic goods which did not exist a century or two ago – electricity, clean water and sewage, telephones, effective health care, elementary and secondary education– are available to virtually everyone.

So the only relevant sort of economic poverty in Britain is “relative”, being poor by the standards of the community. The idea is reasonable, but the social comparisons and judgements are very difficult. There is no obvious definition of the relevant community and no easy way to decide what counts as poor or as unacceptably poor. Also, in today’s developed economies, the lifestyle poverty that is typically measured is generally a less serious problem than either the poverty of insecurity, the fear that unexpected illness or unemployment could bring disastrous economic disorder, or the poverty of opportunity, the deprivation caused by poor nutrition, bad schooling, racism and other injustices.

Also, for the last few decades, he most distressing and increasingly the most prevalent sorts of poverty have not been economic. There is the poverty of indignity, for example living in an abusive household or working as a prostitute. And there is the poverty of despair – the spiritual, social and psychological emptiness which comes with broken families, mental health issues, substance abuse. This despair all too often causes new problems or amplifies existing one, and is associated with disability and early death. Disorientation and loneliness are curses of our individualistic and unreligious modern society. The problems are worst in the United States, but they should be at the centre of any British attack on poverty.

Although the numbers should not be taken as “gospel truth”, they can certainly be helpful. What do they suggest?  Basically, by the standard definitions, relative poverty is not a massive problem in the UK. The proportions of poor are comparable to those of France and other successful European countries, and looked at over the last few decades poverty has been on a declining trend. More people have jobs while welfare benefits, especially pensions, have increased overall. Unfortunately, British poverty has increased modestly in the last few years, mostly because of high housing prices and some unfavourable changes in the benefits system.

Especially weak groups include single mothers, households in which no one works and Bangladeshi households (although the trends for the last group are very positive). As might be expected, economic troubles are often material manifestations of the spiritual poverty of despair.

What should Christians make of all this? They should be grateful that absolute poverty has declined greatly globally, and angry that it is not declining faster. Closer to home, they should fight against failures in the welfare state, for example the botched Universal Credit programme, and should support Living Wage campaigns, which help the poor while doing little or no harm to anyone else. Most important, they should make use of Christian charity. Freely given time and personal care are weapons which can fight against the poverty of despair more effectively than any government plan or wage arrangement. Christian love which can soothe the deprivations of the heart.

poverty in the uk slides

edward hadas uk poverty notes for lecture

Next event: Edward Hadas on Poverty in Britain. Numbers, concepts, trends – 11 January 2019

The Blackfriars Poverty in Britain Group series of talks resumes early in the New Year:
Sunday 13 January, 11-12, in the Aula
Blackfriars, St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3LY
Poverty in Britain: Numbers, concepts, trends
Edward Hadas, a research fellow at Blackfriars, will discuss how bad the poverty problem is today, whether it is getting worse, and what can be done to help.