Religious leaders joined UK charities on Wednesday 6 December to "challenge the myth that poverty is not real in the UK". More than 400 politicians, business leaders, and representatives of faith-based caring organisations listened while people living in poverty in Britain told their stories. The National Poverty Hearing, held at Westminster Central Hall, was the first gathering of its kind for 10 years. Organised by Church Action on Poverty, an ecumenical charity, it aimed to raise awareness of the scale of poverty in Britain and called on the government to end poverty by 2020. Several parents in low income families spoke of the hardships suffered by their children. Poor quality food, cramped housing, lack of play space, bullying at school by better-off pupils were amongst the experiences described. Asylum seekers deplored having to live on only 70 percent of the income support levied for the mainstream population. "If you make someone eat out of a bin, it is not right," they said. They called for the right to work while their cases are being processed. Niall Cooper, Coordinator of Church Action on Poverty, highlighted that, "three million adults and 400,000 children are not being properly fed by today's standards" in Britain. "About nine million people cannot afford housing that is properly heated, free from damp and in a safe and habitable condition" he continued, "and in a rich country, this is a national scandal". Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said he was "deeply moved" by the testimonies. He praised the "hugely important" role that voluntary organisations play in serving the poor in Britain. "Voluntary organisations can help so many poor people in our country to get access to the benefits that are their right," he said. The Chief Executive of the Church of England's Church Urban Fund, Fran Beckett said that, "last winter, 25,000 older people died of preventable cold related illnesses", She pointed out that up to 20,000 destitute asylum seekers are currently reliant on the Red Cross, churches and charities for food and basic essentials". She suggested "it is high time all faiths came together to condemn this". Politicians were urged to commit to an adequate wage for all people, end bad housing and homelessness and ensure that asylum seekers are allowed to work or be given access to better state support. "While some progress has been made in tackling poverty-related issues in the past 10 years, poverty continues to damage the lives of very many people" said Mr Cooper. "We need to build a movement dedicated to making poverty in the UK history" he added.
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