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Frank Field, anti-poverty campaigner, dies, aged 81

24 April 2024


Lord Field of Birkenhead

Lord Field of Birkenhead

TRIBUTES have been paid to the politician and peer, anti-poverty campaigner, and influential churchman Frank Field, who has died, aged 81.

A statement from Lord Field’s office, issued on Wednesday morning, said: “It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Frank Field, Lord Field of Birkenhead. Through a long battle with cancer, Frank Field remained resilient and engaged with life until the end. He will be enormously missed by his family and wide circle of friends.

“Frank was an extraordinary individual who spent his life fighting poverty, injustice, and environmental destruction. His decency and faith in people’s self-interested altruism made a unique contribution to British politics. After forty years of dedicated public service, Frank will be mourned by admirers across the political divide. But above all, he will be deeply missed by those lucky enough to have enjoyed his laughter and friendship.”

Lord Field was the MP for Birkenhead for 40 years. In 2018, he resigned the Labour whip because of what he called the party’s “toleration of anti-Semitism” and a “culture of nastiness, bullying, and intimidation” (News, 31 August 2018). He left the House of Commons after the 2019 General Election, and entered the House of Lords in 2020.

Before entering Parliament in 1979, he had worked for ten years as director of the Child Poverty Action Group. He also served as a member of the General Synod, and chaired the Cathedrals Fabric Commission and the Churches Conservation Trust.

Broken Rites, a support group for divorced and separated clergy spouses and partners, was founded after Lord Field, in 1983, invited people to write to him to tell of their experiences (News, 23 June 2023).

The joint lead bishops for church buildings, the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, and the Bishop of Ramsbury, Dr Andrew Rumsey, issued a joint statement paying tribute to Lord Field for his work as an MP and as chair of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England, from 2006 to 2016.

“Under his leadership, the Commission played a key role in shaping major development works at cathedrals including Norwich, Blackburn, Durham and Wells; supported the installation of innovative works of art at St Paul’s and Liverpool; and approved the installation of the first solar panels on cathedral buildings in Bradford and Gloucester. He also helped to secure £40 million of funding for Anglican and Catholic cathedrals under the government’s 2014-18 First World War Centenary Cathedral Repairs Fund. 

“This role followed earlier periods as a member of the General Synod of the Church of England; a Vice-President of the National Churches Trust; Chair of the 2011 King James Bible Trust; and Chair of the Churches Conservation Trust. He was also a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee from 2002 until his death.

“To each role he brought an inquiring mind, a keen sensibility, a drive for action and a deep commitment to the Christian faith. We honour the memory of Lord Field and give thanks for all that he contributed to the work of the Church of England, and to wider society. We extend our deepest condolences to his family and many friends. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.”

The Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Julie Conalty, expressed her sadness at the news of Lord Field’s death, but said that his had been “such an inspiring life well-lived. He leaves a legacy of anti-poverty community projects in Birkenhead; the tragedy is that they are needed now more than ever.”

The Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Mark Tanner, described Lord Field as “a courageous servant of so many in this area and across the nation, and an example to many of public service. His family and friends are in my prayers.”

The Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said that Lord Field’s death was “a profound loss to politics and to our nation. Frank dedicated his life to being a voice for the most vulnerable and marginalised people in the country”.

The Shadow Faith Minister, Baroness Sherlock, wrote on social media: “Giving thanks for the life of a politician who never stopped being outraged by the prevalence of child poverty in a rich country.”

Sir Tony Blair, in whose Government Lord Field served as Welfare Minister, from 1997 to 1998, described him as having “integrity, intelligence, and deep commitment to the causes he believed in. He was an independent thinker never constrained by conventional wisdom, but always pushing at the frontier of new ideas. Even when we disagreed, I had the utmost respect for him as a colleague and a character.”

The Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, said that Lord Field “was neither cowed by the establishment or whips — which made his campaigns against hunger and food poverty, for climate change and the Church, even more effective.

“He was the driving force behind Parliament’s commitment to prevent slavery and human trafficking within our supply chains. Having worked with him on the modern-slavery advisory group, and made him its chair, I am in no doubt his efforts saved many lives nationwide from this shameful criminal activity.”

The chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, Alison Garnham, described Lord Field as “a steadfast, highly successful and diligent campaigner against child poverty. It is largely down to Frank that we have child benefit today — a truly towering achievement. He gained support and respect from across the political spectrum and defined the concept of the ‘poverty trap’ — now commonly used to describe the difficulties for working people of getting better off while claiming means-tested benefits because of the high rate at which benefits are withdrawn as earnings rise. 

“As CPAG director, Frank also helped pave the way for the minimum wage, free school meals and rent allowances for low-income families, all fundamental social protections. Frank was a true champion for children and low-income families and with child poverty at a record high today, families need his like as never before.”

Read an obituary here

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