Funding story: The forgotten white working class

Some of the UK's most deprived white communities have felt neglected, but funders are starting to notice them.

Six years ago, John Prescott, then Deputy Prime Minister, declared: "We are all middle class now." But today there is still a class divide, and many working-class communities - particularly white ones - feel dispossessed and vulnerable. What are funders doing about this?

After former welfare reform minister Frank Field gave its annual lecture this year, the Allen Lane Foundation decided to identify projects working with young white men. "It's an issue that's resonated with our trustees," says Tim Cutts, executive secretary of the foundation. "We want to look beyond traditional youth work at direct interventions."

For other funders, though, focusing on the white working class is nothing new. Last year, a report funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation highlighted the poor performance of working-class boys in school, and in 2006 a project co-funded by John Lyon's Charity and the City Parochial Foundation focused on white working-class girls.

These funders also support groups that could be thought of as at odds with white working-class communities, such as migrants and refugees.

"We work on poverty and fund wherever poverty resides - not along race lines," says Bharat Mehta, chief executive of the CPF. The foundation's work in Bellingham, south-east London, goes back over a decade, and the Bellingham Community Project has had what Mehta calls "an astonishing regenerative effect" in one of the most deprived communities in England.

"Certain white working-class communities can be inward-looking, which has a detrimental effect when it comes to issues such as academic achievement, employment and types of behaviour," says Mehta.

The foundation is now funding a project to tackle one of these issues head-on. The Preventing Racist Violence initiative is working in a number of different areas, including Thamesmead, where Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993.

However, funders stress that this new focus will not squeeze out the other communities. "We remain absolutely committed to our current priorities and our work with our current groups," says Cutts. "There's going to be no effect on them at all."

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