In a guest blog, Revd Katy Thomas, a Methodist minister from Wilmslow in Cheshire, writes about her experience of arranging a meeting with her MP last month.
At the Methodist Women in Britain Conference earlier this year, Rachel Lampard from the Joint Public Issues Team spoke about Universal Credit and the way in which it was having a negative impact on some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society. She challenged us to get involved in ‘craftivism’, expressing our concerns through sewing messages on a napkin. I don’t think I had sewn anything other than a button since I was at school, but decided to give it a go!
We were then invited to post them to our local MP or arrange to give them in person. Spurred on by those from my churches who had also attended the Conference, we arranged to meet our MP, the Rt Hon Esther McVey.
In September, five of us who had been at the Conference hosted a meeting where we had the opportunity to share our concerns about Universal Credit with our MP.
The embroidered napkins presented to Esther McVey MP
I admit to feeling slightly daunted at meeting our MP, who happens to be the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, but she made us feel at ease. We had to do our homework before the meeting and found very helpful reports and guidelines on the JPIT website. We were glad to have had some advice from Paul Morrison from JPIT too.
We were each able to ask a question and express our genuine concerns. We covered a range of issues, including the long wait for Universal Credit payments, punitive sanctions, and people losing money that is needed for food. We highlighted the 52% increase in use of foodbanks where Universal Credit has been rolled out, in contrast to the 13% rise nationally. We shared our anxiety about families on benefits having to pay up front for childcare, leading to debt – 40% claimants of Universal Credit are having financial difficulties.
We were impressed that Esther McVey spent an hour with us, listening to our concerns and explaining to us some of the complexities of the area and aspects which they are still working on.
I am really glad that Rachel Lampard challenged us to voice our concerns, reminding us of Jesus’ call to stand up for the poor and the marginalised. We may not have changed our MP’s view on the subject but we did our best to highlight our concerns.
We ended the meeting by presenting the MP with our napkins with the sewn messages for her to take away. I think that Esther and her secretary were impressed at the effort that had gone into creating them.
What are the areas of our society that concern you most at the moment? Why not write a letter to your MP, or even better, get together with others from your church and arrange to meet your MP?
We might not think that we will make a difference, but every voice counts.