I attended a meeting a couple of days ago where members of the church community from Maghull, led by Maghull Baptist Church, gave interested local councillors a briefing on the survey they had conducted within the past year about community views on various matters.
The survey, which 380 people had responded to in detail, covered a wide range of matters – social, economic, crime, environmental, community facilities etc. and I think it fair to say that there were no really big surprises in the results presented to us. However, it was fascinating to hear a perspective from the religious community (and I say that as an atheist) about their engagement with the Maghull community.
One very interesting aspect for me was with regard to debt, housing and food bank issues that came out of the survey. To me these 3 things are linked and I would like to see some further in depth work done on them by Sefton Council in particular because of our straightened economic times.
Food banks are now a regular feature of media comment and they are being set up across the UK to assist folks who are really struggling to feed themselves and their families but trying to find out what the underlying need is for them, at least in my part of Sefton Borough, is like pulling teeth. I have asked Sefton Council on a few occasions to let me have some stats as to the need for, referrals to, take up etc. for food bank use in the 3 wards that make up the East Parishes part of the Borough but so far with nothing coming back to me.
However, this churches survey, which was conducted in one part of Maghull rather than across the wider community showed that of the 380 respondents 3 (1%) had made use of a food bank, 1 of debt counselling and 2 of housing advice. At face value these are all lower figures than I would have expected to see bearing in mind that the area of Maghull selected would be the one with the lowest average incomes in general terms. BUT when you look at the more detailed figures things seem to be different in that an additional 4% would use a food bank and 12% may use one.
My point here is that this is matter for which we need better data so to fully understand what is going on. The fact that the Council does not seem to know and that it took local churches to provide some stats does not fill me with a great deal of confidence in the Council.
Is it really the case that up to 17% of the 380 people surveyed may at some point need to use a Food bank because if you add up the 1% who have used one to the 4% who would use one and the 12% who might use one that is the figure you come to?
And this is in the context of Maghull and the East Parishes part of the Borough not yet having a formal operating food bank in terms of one of the Trusell Trust type that is now the generally accepted format for them. One is being set up though by the local churches who have obviously been acting as a more informal food outlet for those on hard times as the religious community has indeed done for generations. Despite being an atheist I a have often admired and supported the Salvation Army in their work to help those who have the least in our society.
So, what did I learn from the presentation by the churches? I suppose I learned that we still don’t know enough about poverty in our communities, even in relatively affluent ones like Maghull and that is not exactly something to be proud of is it.