Every year, The Big Issue looks back on its Changemakers, the people who are doing everything they can to make change that positively impacts society. To thank them, we reflect on their hard work and direct readers to learn about all that they have done.
Poverty is still an issue today, even in modern first-world societies. The pandemic has only made the fight against poverty harder, but there are people and campaigns dedicated to tackling this problem.
These are the Changemakers that are taking on poverty in a big way.
Legacy benefits campaigners
At the start of the pandemic, ministers increased Universal Credit payments by the equivalent of £1,040 per year. But they did not – and resisted repeated calls to – increase payments to those on legacy benefits, including Jobseekers Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
These welfare payments, which are gradually being replaced by Universal Credit, are claimed largely by disabled people, who faced soaring living costs in lockdown, including deliveries and private transport to appointments in an attempt to stay protected from the virus.
The fierce campaign, supported by groups including Disabled People Against Cuts, Z2K and the Disability Benefits Consortium, culminated in a legal showdown. Four disabled claimants are behind the court action, including Philip Wayland, Lynn Pinfield and two people choosing to remain anonymous.
On November 17 and 19 last year, solicitors told the High Court that the Department for Work and Pensions is guilty of “unlawful discrimination”. A judgment is expected in January. Philip Wayland lives in Essex and spoke to The Big Issue about his case.
Why did you decide to test the government’s decision in court?
I felt that someone had to do something. It was a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, a really serious global illness, and the people the government chose not to give that £20 boost to were sick and disabled people who can’t work. Every time a policy decision is made it’s the people who are the most vulnerable who are hit hardest. And after 11 years of that, you can no longer pass it off as a coincidence. It’s disgusting and morally bankrupt.
How was your experience making ends meet during 2021?
We had to shield due to my mum’s underlying health conditions, meaning we needed shopping deliveries, and that alone is a few extra quid each time. A few extra that we don’t have. [In March 2020 he was paying £49 per month for electricity. Now his bill has increased to £124 per month.]
Between my payments and my mum’s pension we are able to cover the basics, but it wouldn’t take much for me to end up in foodbank queues like everyone else.
How does it feel to be waiting for the court to decide on your case in 2022?
It does weigh on you a bit, knowing you’re trying to help about two million other people. Ultimately it’ll be up to the solicitors and the judge but it is daunting, especially for someone like myself who struggles with a lot of parts of life. But the support networks and messages from the public have really helped.
Universal Credit campaigners
When the government increased Universal Credit payments by £20 per week at the start of the pandemic, it was set out as a temporary measure. But experts recognised that the increase barely compensated for years of benefits freezes and rising living costs.
The campaign to make the increase permanent was driven by hundreds of organisations and individuals as one united force. Among those with the loudest voices were the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Human Rights Watch, the Trades Union Congress, Turn2us, Generation Rent, Labour MPs Jonathan Reynolds and Stephen Timms, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the Institute for Public Policy Research.
They secured an extension of the policy in April 2020, when payments were due to be cut. Chancellor Rishi Sunak moved the deadline to October 6 2020, and the cut went ahead despite fierce condemnation from across the political spectrum. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation analysis showed it was the biggest overnight cut to basic social security since the Second World War.
Despite that bitter defeat, which foodbank staff say has driven demand for emergency parcels, the unprecedented effort put the UK welfare system on the agenda. The group will continue to pressure ministers to reinstate the increase in 2022 and reform the benefits system to better support people struggling to make ends meet.
Reproductive health problems are among the most difficult conditions to receive diagnoses and treatment for, with people facing waits of up to a decade for doctors to pin down the source of their issues.
Dr Golnoush Golshirazi, a Cambridge University graduate, has endometriosis – which can cause excruciating pain and impacts 1.5 million people in the UK. After several years fighting to be heard by doctors as her symptoms impacted her life, she created ScreenMe, which allows home-testing for hormonal abnormalities and nutritional deficiencies which can indicate reproductive conditions.
End Child Poverty coalition, Scotland
A hard-fought win for campaigners in Scotland means children in low-income families will receive extra support in 2022.
Tireless efforts by Scotland’s End Child Poverty coalition, led by activists including the Poverty Alliance and Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, secured a pledge from Nicola Sturgeon to double the Scottish Child Payment (SCP) as families were plunged into a cost of living crisis.
The SCP is worth £10 a week to around 100,000 children in low-income families and is currently given to kids younger than six. It is due to be rolled out to under-16s by the end of next year.
And after intense pressure, the Holyrood government caved to activists’ calls to double the payments to £20 per week starting in April. It will go some way to mitigating the effects of the universal credit cut and will “loosen the grip of poverty on the lives of thousands of children,” said Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance.
James Anderson, Depher CIC
James Anderson set up social enterprise Depher CIC in March 2017 after he stopped an elderly man being conned out of £5,500 by a plumber. Since then, the organisation has assisted more than 20,000 families in need, and helped vulnerable, older and disabled people get free or heavily subsidised emergency plumbing and heating services.
Depher hit the headlines in 2021 when it was struggling for donations and Hugh Grant gave £10,000, then a further £5,000 to its GoFundMe appeal. Anderson told The Big Issue he hopes to get charity status for Depher in 2022 and expand to every town and city in the UK.
A teacher in Leeds, Bex Wilson spent 2021 on a mission to help local kids in poverty – and has her sights set on doing even more good in 2022. Wilson founded Zarach, a charity providing children in low-income households with beds and basic essentials, when she discovered a pupil and his siblings had been sleeping on the floor because the family could not afford a bed.
Demand for the charity’s help soared in lockdown as the pandemic drove people deeper into hardship, and Zarach has given at least 1,400 beds to children to date. Wilson also published a children’s book, Zed Ted, highlighting the important of sleep for kids’ health – and will make sure something as basic yet essential as a comfortable place to sleep is on the agenda for children’s welfare in 2022.
Darryn De La Soul, co-founder of MiFoodbank Margate
In response to the Covid crisis created by lockdowns in 2020, John Finnegan and Darryn De La Soul set up Margate Independent Foodbank as inequality widened in Thanet. In 2021, they did additional fundraising as they moved to new premises in the seaside town and opened a community supermarket. The shop provides low-cost or free products as well as a place where people who are struggling to make ends meet or get advice can come for support. They are hoping to be able to provide foodbank services again in the near future.