An article by Ellen Teague in The Tablet reports from the National Justice and Peace Quarterly meeting and how Fr Chris Hughes has led calls for every Catholic Diocese and institution to pay the living wage to their employees.

There were chilling reports on poverty in Britain and calls action to tackle it at Saturday’s quarterly Zoom meeting of the National Justice and Peace Network (NJPN) of England and Wales. At the end there was a call for Lent to be less about giving up and more about doing something positive and working for social change.

Fr Chris Hughes, a priest of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle and the Diocesan Representative for Tyne and Wear Citizens, addressed the issue of in-work poverty. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported in 2022 that more than two-thirds of working-age adults in poverty live in a household where at least one adult is in work.

The north-east has the highest levels of poverty in the country. Fr Hughes spoke about the pressure low-income families, saying they report “we can just about pay the bills but have no time for our families”. He said that paying the living wage is part of the answer and called for every diocese and Catholic institution to do this.

He added, “Out of 22 dioceses of England and Wales, only four are accredited living wage employers – Westminster, Brentwood, Birmingham and Hexham and Newcastle – and we want more accredited living wage employers in our dioceses.” He said most dioceses now have policies on the environment, but not on social justice and urged that a policy be developed and priority given to the living wage initiative.

Sarah Bryson, senior community organiser of Tyne and Wear Citizens described it as “wonderful” to work with the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle on various campaigns. One campaign, “Just Change”, for example, has helped pupils receiving free school meals to gain access to unspent money. Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust in the north-east reconfigured its IT system whereby pupils can now roll over unspent money. She said the campaign has given secondary school pupils from low-income households improved access to food and she called for this to be a national campaign.

Also attending the meeting were representatives from other diocese including Southwark, Arundel and Brighton, Nottingham and Cardiff, as well as members of justice and peace agencies and religious.

This report uses extracts from the article by Ellen Teague that was first published in The Tablet (online) on 28 February 2023, read it in full here.