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The Big Issue Changemakers of 2023: Cost of living crisis

As inflation and energy prices soar, it’s grassroots organisations who are holding up the safety net for those trapped in poverty. These are the changemakers who will continue this vital work in 2023

Ray Barron-Woolford at his community hub phonebox

Ray Barron-Woolford runs a community hub, Under the Rainbow Bridge, from a phone box in Deptford. Photo: Andy Parsons

Association from Citroën

As the cost of living crisis rages on, these are The Big Issue’s Changemakers doing all they can in 2023 to support people all across the UK who are struggling to make ends meet.

Find the rest of the series on the links below and pick up the magazine from your local Big Issue vendor.

Fans Supporting Foodbanks

Fans Supporting Foodbanks kicked off in the UK in 2015, founded by Liverpool supporter Ian Byrne MP and Everton fans Dave Kelly and Robbie Daniels. Since then it has grown to a network of fan-driven food banks across the UK, demonstrating the power of communities to stand together in solidarity through the bleakest of times, no matter what team you support. In Scotland, Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow have been co-operating, with Gers Foodbanks and Celts Supporting Foodbanks pooling resources.  

Fans Supporting Foodbanks
Fans Supporting Foodbanks

Andy Harris of Celts Supporting Foodbanks

What was 2022 like for you?  

This was the year we got started in Scotland – it was good in the sense that we were able to get going and get off the ground. People thought it was a good thing that not only were we supporting food banks, but also helping change the perception of football fans. Through working with different organisations, you realise how widely used they are. We now officially have more food bank branches than McDonald’s. If there’s anything that tells you that something’s deeply wrong in this country, there it is.  

Why is your work needed? 

During the cost-of-living crisis, we saw that in terms of food poverty and food insecurity, Scotland and all of the UK was in the most dire place that it has been for the last 12 years of this government. A right to food was needed regardless of the crisis, but that was the spark that finally put us into action.   

What are your plans for 2023? 

Long term we want to have a branch in every club in the Scottish Professional Football League. There’s 42 clubs in it – but that’s a marathon not a sprint. First of all the plan is to continue to grow as an organisation, continue supporting the communities we’ve been supporting since we started, and to continue campaigning for a right to food so that food banks can finally become a thing of the past.  

Charlotte White, Earlsfield Foodbank

Charlotte White
Charlotte White, Earlsfield Foodbank

White has been shining a light on the reality of food banks in 2022 with her regular Diary of a Foodbank Manager for The Big Issue, but she’s also putting pressure on government to rethink food aid. Working with former changemaker Sabine Goodwin, she is pushing for a cash-first policy. Food parcels don’t lift people out of poverty, they just keep people going another day. And White, more than anyone, knows that needs to change. 

What was 2022 like for you and Earlsfield Foodbank

It was incredibly challenging. Numbers kept going up and up and we had to work much harder to meet demand. Two things were especially alarming: 1) the level of suffering when people first visit – we’re regularly seeing people who haven’t eaten for days and are literally starving, and 2) the rise in the number of working people needing support.  

Why is your work needed? 

Because of the lack of a safety net. When things go wrong in people’s lives there’s no cushion at all now, people can be plunged into deep poverty very quickly. Take the five-week wait for the initial Universal Credit payment – that’s a long time to go with no money. The cost-of-living crisis has exacerbated the situation, but the problems were there long before. The cracks in the ceiling have been growing for a long time (and ignored); now the ceiling’s falling down.

Earlsfield Foodbank
Earlsfield Foodbank

What are your plans for 2023? 

We’re focusing on giving advice. We have Citizens Advice, the Family Action WellFamily Plus service and St Mungo’s onsite. Food banks can only ever be a sticking plaster – the root causes of poverty need to be addressed. 

Home Community Cafe

Home Community Cafe
Home Community Cafe

This cafe and social enterprise in South London – recently awarded the ‘Cafe of Sanctuary’ award for its work supporting refugees – doubles as a multi-use community space. It runs a variety of events: from befriending groups to creative arts sessions. During lockdown, the cafe adapted to being a food hub, playing a key role in supporting people through an unpredictable and scary time. The team is committed to making an even bigger difference in 2023.  

Tripe Marketing Board and Ray Barron-Woolford of We Care food bank

Earlier in the year we featured Ray Barron-Woolford on the cover of The Big Issue to highlight the work he was doing with his community hub in Deptford, South London. Just a few months later, Barron-Woolford’s We Care food bank was looking at permanent closure after it received a £33,000 energy bill estimate for 2023. But it was saved by a Robin Hood-style fundraising odyssey, after a group of friends calling themselves the Tripe Marketing Board (TMB) stumbled across an accidental goldmine in the world’s fifth-biggest company. 

The TMB use the name to promote their self-published books. One such book is Forgotten Yorkshire and Parts of North Derbyshire and Humberside. On Black Friday Amazon reduced its price from £10 to 99p. However, it was still paying the TMB full royalties for each sale. 

“We noticed that we got a couple of sales at 99p and it was full commission. So we thought, well, yeah we’ve got to do something with this,” said Paul Etherington of the Tripe Marketing Board. 

After using the group’s 21,000 followers as a sounding board to find a suitable partner to donate to, Etherington and Barron-Woolford struck up a deal that £2 a copy would go to We Care for the duration of the deal. Social media, neighbours and friends were all roped into the effort to buy as many 99p copies as they could. In the end, 7,468 copies were sold and £16,443 raised. That money saved the food bank, allowing it to cover rent and bills for next year, and also buy food. 

Barron-Woolford can now relax a little, though he’s looking at ways to change operations to run fewer fridges and use less energy in 2023, because, as he noted,  “it would be obscene for all the money we’ve raised to be given to the energy providers”. 

Katie Barry and teachers at St George’s Primary School, Gainsborough

There was no starker illustration of the cost-of-living crisis than when a primary school saw the need to open a food bank to support its pupils and their families. Katie Barry, headteacher at St George’s Primary School in Lincolnshire, saw children return to school during the pandemic cold and hungry as higher living costs bore down on families. Barry and her staff set up a food stall, which hands out 680kg of food every fortnight.  

Katie Barry and staff
Katie Barry and teachers at St George’s Primary School, Gainsborough

“I can’t separate the social side from teaching and learning,” Barry explained. “Children will never be able to concentrate if they’re hungry, or if they’re cold, or if their toes are sticking out the bottoms of their trainers.” 

St George’s has one of the highest deprivation rates in the country, with around 75 to 80 per cent of its children eligible for the government’s pupil premium funding for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Barry chooses not to use the words “food bank”, explaining: “I’ve always thought that label was a barrier. For families who come, it probably hasn’t even dawned on them they’re using a food bank. They just think the school puts on a food stall every fortnight.”  

“The trouble is, it costs us,” Barry said. The charity FareShare supplies the school with food packages, at a cost of £320 a time. The school gets charitable grants to cut the costs and Barry insists she won’t use the school budget for it. But “it all adds up”. 

It’s not just families who are struggling – teachers are also facing their own problems. Some staff had to switch off their heating in February last year because they couldn’t afford it. The school’s work is a sorry indictment of the UK’s worsening poverty record, but Barry and staff are determined to plug the gaps for low-income families for as long as the support is required. 

Pregnant then Screwed

March of the Mummies
March of the Mummies in London, October 2022

“Stop sending mothers into poverty,” reads a placard held by Valeria, a protester who’s turned out to the ‘March of the Mummies’ protest. She’s one of the 12,000 who’s turned up at these coordinated protests across the UK – all organised by Pregnant then Screwed – to demand government reform on childcare, parental leave and flexible working. The three core demands they put forward are quality, affordable childcare for all (the UK has the second most expensive childcare system in the world), flexible working as default and ring-fenced, properly paid parental leave (the UK has the third-worst ranking maternity pay and the least generous paternity leave in Europe). “Have you had enough yet?” the organisation asks. They have. Now they’ve decided enough is enough, and they’re taking a stand. 

Darren McGarvey

Darren McGarvey
Darren McGarvey. Photo: Peter Byrne

“I would like to be part of a movement that brings class politics back into the mainstream,” writer McGarvey told The Big Issue. McGarvey speaks with unflinching honesty on trauma, addiction and poverty. Last year, he was one of the four speakers chosen for BBC’s Reith Lectures, delivering a rousing address in Glasgow. McGarvey also released his second book, following his 2017 Orwell Prize-winning Poverty Safari. In The Social Distance Between Us: How Remote Politics Wrecked Britain, McGarvey draws links from poverty to the hostile environment; Grenfell to homelessness – making the case that the unifying theme between these is the distance between decision-makers and those on the receiving end.

Money A+E

Award-winning social enterprise Money A+E works to provide advice and education to disadvantaged groups, ethnic minority communities and young people across London. Their work is based on the principle of peer support, with service users recruited as staff and volunteers. They run a range of initiatives: from money workshops where they enable participants to identify and achieve goals and enhance money management skills, to providing money coaches who provide one-on-one support on topics such as debt and benefit entitlement. Money A+E’s work is rooted in an understanding that there needs to be a societal shift towards economic justice too – in the past, they’ve been involved in campaigns from calling for stricter consequences for unethical behaviour from debt collectors to addressing high-interest levels on loans from payday lenders.  

Jojo Sureh, Cook to Care

Cook to Care is tackling food poverty and providing programmes for young people and prison leavers. It was founded in March 2020 by Jojo Sureh, a charity worker with experience of homelessness, to help people during the pandemic. Initially Sureh self-funded Cook to Care, preparing meals in her kitchen and delivering them across South London by foot or taxi. Word spread and a few months later a team of 35 volunteer cooks and couriers were on board, and Cook to Care was providing 1,000 nutritious meals for 200 people. The project will be crucial in plugging the gaps that leave people going hungry in 2023. 

Will Poulter

Will Poulter
Will Poulter. Photo: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

Actor Poulter is at home in front of the camera, from his role in 2019’s Midsommar to his upcoming 2023 feature in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3. Away from the glow of Hollywood though, he’s been using his influence to take a stand against societal inequality through his work with charity Turn2us. Turn2us helps people in financial hardship gain access to welfare benefits, grants and support services. “Lots of people have to work a great deal harder against a harder set of circumstances,” he told us. “More and more people are being forced into poverty, 14.4 million adults; 3.6 million children, in the UK. Those figures are really shameful.”

Enough is Enough

Campaign group Enough is Enough sprang up last year as panic around the cost of living grew. Founded by trade unions and community organisations, EiE has five campaigning aims: a real pay rise, slashing energy bills, an end to food poverty, decent homes for all and taxing the wealthiest. They’ve held rallies with big turnouts across the country, from Glasgow to Brighton, and at Christmas partnered with Fans Supporting Foodbanks to launch a food bank drive. It can be easy to feel powerless in these turbulent times, but EiE is set to help more people take action for the first time in 2023.   

Enough is Enough
Enough is Enough rally at King’s Cross, London, in October. Protests took place in towns and cities across the UK on the same day

Green Doctors / Groundwork

Teams of green doctors are visiting people living in fuel poverty to give them the tools they need to survive, offering free advice to take control of energy bills and make their homes more efficient.  

The support they give varies depending on each situation, and it’s all free. They provide ‘warm packs’ with hats, gloves and blankets. They speak to energy suppliers on a person’s behalf and make sure vulnerable people are on the priority services register. The green doctors service is part of Groundwork, a group of charities mobilising practical community action on poverty and the environment. 

Simon Parker

The Wirral Joint Service Club, run voluntarily by former armed forces chef Simon Parker, 33, is a lifeline for struggling veterans and frontline workers in Merseyside. Parker took on the old social club in 2022 and transformed it into a vibrant community hub, with a foodbank and warm bank helping veterans and the local community through the cost-of-living crisis. Parker is keen to thank those who have supported the club throughout 2022. He said: “We have been able to support veterans and the community with food, white goods, clothing and money for electricity and gas.  

“We have supported vulnerable veterans and community members with signposting and a warm, safe place, and we are constantly looking for more ways to help. The club is not just a place to have a beer, it’s a much-needed hub for veterans and indeed everyone.” 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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