Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Money on our minds Today I played my part in an established neighbourhood ritual, as signatory witness with my neighbour to counting the money from charity envelopes collected. There are just fourteen houses and, remarkably, she had managed to get a response from all but one; we hit the record with well over £4 per household. The cause was a popular one, and when people decide to be generous, they are generous. Everyone seems to have money on their minds these days: how much they have, the predictability of their income, and what to do with it. And I sense that more and more people – in spite of the conspiracy of disinterest shown by most of the broadcast media - are beginning to get the message that poverty is a dominant, complex social problem. There has been a significant political shift lately, and tomorrow’s budget ought to bring some relief; but undoubtedly profound, lasting damage has been done, much of it inexcusably ideologically-driven and malicious. Some people, like Bradley Ariza who has an article in today’s Guardian, are counting calories too. As he says, ‘not to lose weight, but to try and make sure I get enough.’ ‘The problem is that as soon as we try to work our way out of the grip of the welfare state, we lose so many benefits, and incur so many other costs; transport, childcare etc. Yet instead of helping people, there seems to be this obsession with punishing those on benefits, as if being poor is some sort of crime.’ Previously: Poverty: curtains or blinkers? Political stereotyping of poverty Povertyism in policy: 'troubled families' The language of povertyism It's the povertyism, stupid It's the poverty, stupid
‘No life.’ Young people talking about poverty Last month I helped organise and run an event involving children and young people in poverty, so that government officials could hear them talk about their experiences. The slightly formal context of a conference venue was going to be unfamiliar for the participants, the timetable was very tight, and they would not know most of the others there. So we designed a mix of plenary and group sessions, exercises, discussions, and one short presentation; followed by a trip round the houses of parliament. We also had to take account of the fact that some of the young people had fairly complex backgrounds and there was always a chance that attention spans would be short and their behaviour could be what is euphemistically called ‘challenging’. One of the exercises was designed to allow some of the experience to be fictionalised: this gave the participants ‘permission’ to release some fairly strong concerns – and some personal aspirations - that otherwise might not have been shared. This post summarises that process. We had seven groups of about 5 or 6 per table, of mixed ages. Using a pre-printed worksheet, each group was asked to invent a character and describe their family background and the area where they lived. Prompt cards were provided but only the age of the child was prescribed, in order to ensure a variety. We used the carousel principle so that each table inherited the character created by others. The second stage required them to think about the skills, interests, fears and friendships of the character. We provided plenty of prompt cards for this stage, covering a broad mix of options to get people talking: some groups used these while others chose to draw or write, for example - Fears: ‘not being able to leave the estate’ ‘A bit afraid of new people. Doesn’t know what is happening.’ ‘He does not go to school so he don’t have a good ajication.’ They all offered a reasonable degree of consistency – that is to say, there were only a few apparent contradictions along the lines of ‘loner’ / ‘team player’. In the next stage, inheriting a character with some detail known about them, the participants were asked to think up a crisis (or crises) that affected the individual, and to describe the implications. As we had anticipated, this gave them no difficulties whatsoever, although there were one or two oddities – ‘No life. Goes into foster home & runs away. Police find him and Bob wants to stay with the policeman.’ ‘They move to a small stone hut.’ There was plenty of mention of adults in the household losing their jobs, plus imprisonment and quite unceremonially reported death. In the last group phase, they were asked to think through the future for the invented character they inherited, given what was known about their circumstances and the crisis which afflicted them. Here, what was striking was the sense of resilience in some of the outcomes (but not all): ‘Finally he got his...

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