Social housing tenant Universal Credit claimant Manchester writer Gary Knapton
Universal Credit | Increasing Poverty | Homelessness | Debt | Causing Poor Health | Early Death
- Higher housing costs.
- Social housing privatisation has impacted low-income families and pensioners.
- Poor quality jobs.
- Lack of social mobility.
- Cuts in families’ financial support.
- Poor health.
- Poverty catastrophically restricts people’s day-to-day lives and opportunities.
- Deterioration to physical and mental health, healthy life expectancy.
- Destitution and debt affect health and well being.
Source: Households Below Average Income (HBAI) and Family Resources Survey (FRS) 2016/17 (JRF Analysis)
Note: Subtotals may not sum to totals due to rounding except figures for persistent poverty which are taken from Persistent Poverty in the UK and EU: 2015 (2017) Office for National Statistics Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/personalandhouseholdfinances/incomeandwealth/ articles/persistentpovertyintheukandeu/2015
From Under A Cloud On Heartbreak Hill
A free social media book about the new British social underclass.
Here is a Manchester Universal Credit claimant and writer reporting the truth.
‘It strikes me that media effortlessly promote their version of the
type of people we are and what universal credit does for us. But no
one knows how it feels and tastes and smells, and what the sense
of hope and shame and despair, and how it really is to be on this
benefit. But people like me do.’
Extract - Father Shaun
Immediately to the south Briar Hill - all but adjacent to the markets that serve the precinct is the Catholic church of St James. It was opened in October of 1975 and is also designed in the modernist style. St James was built to replace a church by the same name that was demolished in 1973 in the redevelopment of the local area. The predecessor had served the local community for nearly one hundred years - first opening its doors in 1875. The first priest there, Father Saffrenreuter, was also a priest to the Salford workhouse. Somewhere underneath the concrete and tarmac of Briar Hill and its surrounding buildings lay an intricate network of foundations of terraced streets - one of which was called Church Street.
The church of today, if you look carefully, contains clues as to this history. The stain glass window and a collection of statues inside have survived the redevelopment and are now living links to the Victorian past. The house where the Father’s reside - and where I’ve often enjoyed a cup of tea and the offer of biscuits, even cake, is another piece of the continuation. Such a building is known as the Presbytery. We are left with a juxtaposition of architectural styles as is so often found in
British towns and cities - yet here is found within one building alone - as the old priest house connects inwardly by a corridor to a superb modernist chamber of worship. As Mass is due to begin, the Fathers emerge from the corridor into the left-hand nave, by the organ grinder and then swiftly walk across the front and up onto the chancel to commence the service. My favourite features of the church are its “bell” - which sounds authentic but is actually a loudspeaker on the roof playing an audiotape of a ringing bell and the Mater Dei shrine to the front end of the right-hand nave - another link to the past. The full name of the demolished church was actually Mother of God & St James - and Mater Dei is the Latin for “Mother of God”. The exposed brickwork on the interior generates a distinct modernist feel to the whole experience of taking Mass there.
I am not Catholic. I was baptised in a Church of England church - and so if you are inclined to worship in a Catholic church without faking it, there are various processes and ceremonies built into the service as it unfolds, where you get to declare your authentic status. My mum, who is Catholic, has taught me over the years, by providing handy little pointers when I have fallen foul of the traditional rules.
The most obvious ceremony would be conversion - by becoming a Catholic. This is called Confirmation. I refuse to “become” a Catholic in this way as it would demolish my past and my real story. It would entitle me to engage in Mass in a fully inclusive fashion as if I had been born a Catholic. This re-writing of history and papering over the contradictions of my behaviour in favour of a more pleasing personal presentation really offends my sense of authenticity and reeks faintly of image management.
Yet by crossing my arms and by placing each hand on opposing shoulders when I queue up for a blessing, by forsaking the Holy water wash on entering the church and by being open and honest about my religious status, the church next door lovingly creates a space for me to join in its practices.
I’ve attended Mass at quite a few Catholic churches over the years, but St James is uniquely noteworthy. It is usually busy with a lively mix of people from Briar Hill and the streets that fall away from it. All ages. All ethnicities. Exquisitely turned out families of Afro-Caribbean origin in their Sunday best. Strapping local lads covered in tattoos adorning closely shaven hairstyles and toying with their phones, having just clocked off a night shift. Children running around. Babies being held. Whole four-generation family chains commanding aisle to aisle benches. Young married couples leaning into each other to share a hymnbook. Polish, British, Spanish, Baltic, Jamaican,
Ghanaian. It’s pretty awesome. If you think churches in this country are on the slide - and they are
- here is one that creates quite the opposite impression.
Father Shaun has been working in Salford for fifteen years and the vibe he has created in his church is probably the most noteworthy quality of all. There’s a tension in church gatherings - particularly Mass - between relaxed and formal. Between engaging and spectating. The urge to “be on your best behaviour” is a throwback to a disciplinarian and stricter, more rigid past - and although humility and reverence are obviously vital attributes, they can spill over into a fear or at least a discomfort that still runs through many people when they take their pew. In some churches I visit, this makes for a very wooden service where the sharp corners of ceremony drown out the gentle curves of personality and creative expression. A childish obedience is not what is required of churchgoers. More precisely, an adult emotional submission and intellectual engagement are required.
There’s a practical necessity for quietness and order which runs up against the modern values of individuality and personal freedom. So, as church numbers are dwindling, how do you pull people into line without sending them packing? In a fast, noisy, always-on world of peak privilege and individual entitlement - how do you get people not just to be quiet for a short while but to genuinely listen to your sermon - not just to hear your words but somehow to muster up enough concentration and effort to intuit the message that lay beneath the words? The menu is not the meal,
Father Shaun always leaves me feeling deeply appreciative of all the obstacles he faces since he appears so effortlessly to overcome them. He will tell jokes, make people smile, referring to members of the congregation by name, mid-sermon. He will ad-lib and yet he will command an utmost respect from everyone in the house. Some parts of Mass are about citation and paying lip service to mantras, hymns and responses. But Shaun will always add colour to these parts of the programme by making key points in his own style. Using his own words and telling a very unique, personal story - calling on local tales for analogy and really making the point of why we are all gathered in his church. Bringing the Mass to life.
Only somebody who has every facet of the more serious side of this art mastered can relax into informal, light-heartedness and good humour without losing reputation for their command of the more challenging parts of the work and this is Father Shaun indeed.
For me, nothing caps the sense of community here on Briar Hill, nothing brings it all together, quite like receiving the holy blessing from Father Shaun on a Sunday morning when I stand before him, head bowed, my posture indicating that I have no Catholic affiliations, while he gently places his hands upon my head and states “God bless you, child” and then swiftly mutters “Good to see you Gary, mate.”
I am never urged or pressured to consider conversion - even when I am sat in his Presbytery drinking tea and putting the world to rights, blaspheming as I do with a healthy dose of “God knows” and Jesus!
I first encountered Father James while working out on the free weights in my gym. I was on the smith machine. He was doing bench presses.
James is in his twenties and as a young man of the church was still learning the ropes at that time. He’s a good soul. A deeply conscientious man who gave every second minute of the day to the higher cause. He really knows his stuff and his sermons at Mass when I attended were carefully prepared, articulated, inclusive and effective. He was great to listen to. Like Shaun in this respect, yet equally the individual.
When our friend Richie died, James turned up at the funeral to lend a hand. He doesn’t drive and this was a little out of town but James made it all the same. If he wasn’t burying someone or marrying somebody he was doing Chaplain work at the University or deep in thought of how to make next week’s Mass the best it could be. He’d invite me round for tea and ask my advice on something he was involved in. One week he was counselling a sex addict. The next he was investigating measures for effectively getting people to turn off their phones in church - not by so bluntly as telling them, but by considering how changes to the order of the service, time slots or flow of traffic through the church and the way worshippers were greeted on entering the building might assist in the matter. James was forever thinking of how to make things better in non-confrontational ways. Often, in the middle of our discussions, he’d jump up, grab a pen and scribble something down into a large notepad if we’d broached a subject that he considered worthy of fuller research later.
If he was giving a speech at some society he was unfamiliar with or working on a cornerstone event within the church calendar he would freely disclose how nervous he was. He made me laugh when, having delivered a very confident, smooth and charming talk or sermon he would turn up afterwards with no idea of how he had come across.
“Was I alright?” he’d inquire.
He was still learning his trade so his self-awareness was still formulating. But he was never alright.
He was always first class. He seemed destined for the calling. A natural.
About eighteen months after we met, James took a parish in California, US, and these days I see him only occasionally when he pops back for a week or so. He’ll WhatsApp me ahead of the flight and should I see him in the street, we hug.
Father Shaun and Father James are upstanding, decent, compassionate, dedicated, authentic men and I love them both dearly.
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