Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The sing thing Some years ago I used the example of a popular tv series called Unsung town, about the formation and experience of a community choir in a low income area, as an illustration of community development. The point is echoed in the following research question, which formed the basis of a compelling recent report: Does a singing group in an area of disadvantage contribute to community and personal development in that area; and if so, how? The report is called The heroes inside: building communities in community choirs. It’s an evaluation of the ‘Vocality’ programme run by Making Music and Sound Sense, and all credit to them and their funders for setting up eight projects and taking the trouble to evaluate them properly. Here’s one, personal response to the question: “The voice is such a personal thing, and I’ve noticed that there’s something confidence building about ‘being heard’ by other people, and getting a real sense of achievement, and relying on each other. Some of them knew each other a bit before coming, but they definitely got to know each other much better. And they got better at articulating themselves, and being creative, and making decisions.” Here are some quotations that reflect the benefits: ‘it’s all about fun, expressing, enjoying’ ‘life skills, wellbeing and physical health Improvements’ ‘to come to something for a positive experience’ ‘new in that other things hadn’t quite sparked their interest’ ‘feeling a bit more secure with those around them on the street. Breaking down barriers in terms of perception of other people’ ‘respecting and honouring other cultures’ ‘made us feel visible.’ Sounds like CD to me. And here’s what the researchers conclude – note the significance of time (described in the report as 'the big problem') and diversity of CD skills: Singing groups can have a large impact on the wellbeing of participants in a relatively short space of time (though sample sizes were too small to show statistical significance), as well as deliver a range of other benefits to the participating organisations and the wider community. It is possible to create sustainable singing groups in very challenged communities, provided that sufficient time is spent in developing relationships and support from local people, and partnerships with local organisations and community workers. The qualities needed by the singing leader for such groups are diverse, embracing far more than just music al skills. Participant numbers for singing groups in challenged communities can be quite small at the outset, but this can still have a strong impact, and form the basis for a sustainable group to continue. This work can take a long time to generate momentum, and short-term project funding may not be appropriate. There is a powerful case for singing groups to be established in disadvantaged communities. Further research is needed to examine different models of delivery.
Surprise! The bedroom tax might just be a scam This morning the Indy published evidence that the bedroom tax is what they call a ‘big lie’. ‘The Government’s justification for its controversial “bedroom tax” has been debunked by new figures showing that up to 96 per cent of those affected have, in effect, nowhere to move. The figures published today in The Independent expose the false argument behind ministerial attempts to spin the move as ending the “spare-room subsidy”, and confirm campaigners’ claims that it merely penalises poor people... More than 19 out of 20 families hit by the bedroom tax are trapped in their larger homes because there is nowhere smaller within the local social housing stock to take them.’ No surprise there. Once again we have the prime minister and the minister for work and pensions exposed as deeply unpleasant people, more concerned to demonstrate their readiness to make things worse for people in poverty than to come up with policies having some kind of rational justification to improve our society. But this still constitutes news and good journalism. The important point about this story is that you are likely to have missed it. I haven’t carried out a wide search, but it’s striking that there is no mention of it on the BBC website. The Beeb, inevitably cowed by accusations of anti-government bias, is not going to carry a story like this, any more than the right-wing press will do. And so this inventive government is allowed to carry on with its evidence-free, grotesquely malicious and repressive policies, because most people don’t really notice, and some even believe them to be doing their best. The bedroom tax is a device whose unambiguous effect will be to increase and deepen social exclusion in a pretty straightforward way. That's never been in doubt. Unfortunately the perpetrators of this bizarre legislation apparently do not have the intelligence to understand that inequality is much more expensive for a society than is equality. What they do have is a stupefying arrogance that enables them to ignore and deride people who would point that out to them.

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