John Sentamu: Time to show compassion and care for those living in poverty

For the past few weeks, the Yorkshire Post Christmas Communities in Need appeal has sought to remind us of pensioners, families and homeless people who are living in poverty on our doorsteps. It has asked us, its readers, and local businesses to donate money to help small-scale community projects battle on behalf of those living in hidden poverty across Yorkshire.

The appeal has targeted pensioners who can barely afford to heat their homes even with winter fuel allowances. It has discovered people who rely on food parcels and free hot lunch clubs to ward off malnutrition, despite having worked in Yorkshire their entire lives and are struggling to survive on 97.75 a week state pensions.

The appeal has also focused on the plight of families trapped in low-paid work, who rely on handouts for food and heating.

For those who have donated, your contribution has helped to make a real difference to transform people's lives – the Government is even giving pound-for-pound match-funding for each donation – but what happens after the appeal ends?

Many people in Yorkshire in these tough economic times face uncertainty in their jobs.

Even the public sector and established international companies are laying off workers – something that was unimaginable just a few months ago.

At a time like this, we need regional investment, support for our businesses and encouragement for ordinary workers.

However, cuts to funding for local organisations is putting this at risk.

I have seen the great work in this region done by regional agencies like Yorkshire Forward – we need to be careful that the destruction of such bodies does not turn us into Yorkshire backwards!

We need to ensure we do not lose that passion and expertise that has turned our region into one of the most competitive in the country.

The latest figures show that 13 million people in this country are living in poverty.

Of these, 5.8 million are in deep poverty with household income at least one-third below the poverty line – this is the highest proportion on record.

However, unemployment is not the only measure of poverty. The number of children in low-income, working households has never been higher with 2.1 million living in a household with at least one working adult.

This compares to 1.6 million children living in poverty in low-income workless households.

Let me underline that point for you: 57 per cent of all children in poverty have at least one parent going out to work.

There has been a lot of rhetoric spouted about "lazy" people on benefits who choose not to go out to work, but what about those individuals who do go out to work in low-paid jobs that can still not afford to put food on the table for their children?

With more than half of all children in poverty belonging to working families, with VAT rising to 20 per cent as of January 4, 2011, with unemployment figures rising and with the wider measure of underemployment also increasing, it is difficult to see how anything other than another large rise in poverty can be expected during 2011.

We need to value individuals. We need to value the contribution made to society and we need to be very careful not to condemn individuals – or entire areas – to the scrapheap.

We need to see all workers being paid a living wage, and proper investment going into education and training courses for all young people no matter where they live.

The lost productivity of unemployed young people is costing the UK economy an estimated 155m a week and there are 232,000 young people in the UK who have been unemployed for 12 months or a longer period. The strong causal links between youth unemployment, educational underachievement and crime cannot be overlooked.

There are many families and in some instances whole communities in which people are suffering from neglect and sheer lack of love. It is very tempting for us to 'Blame Someone Else'. It is an all too familiar scene for social workers, closely followed by the police and gangs of youths to be blamed. But the problem of taking the approach of 'Blaming Someone Else' is that we never take responsibility for anything. At least part of the solution to any problem lies with us.We need to do something to help.

When times are tough, we often look around us to our friends and family to help us through. But how much more incredible is it when we receive help from the unlikeliest quarters, from those who apparently have little to gain from their actions.

The story of the Samaritan in the Bible commands us to help those in need – no matter if they are a stranger, or from a different background to ourselves.

One of the lessons of the present turmoil is the recognition of our interdependence upon each other.

At Christmas, we are reminded that God invested himself in the most unpromising way – in humanity at its weakest and most vulnerable.

We are reminded too that the coming of God offers us the opportunity to begin anew.

This grace is freely given and joyfully unregulated.

It calls us to active compassion, to care for our neighbours and for those living in our communities in need. The endless supply of God's grace in a constantly demanding world offers us all a route to a more hopeful future.

Dr John sentamu is the Archbishop of York