Photo: Gizmodo

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Time for people living in poverty to have a voice on the MDGs

Two interesting blog posts drew my attention the last couple of days. Firstly from the Guardian's Poverty Matter blog is an article on the need for a new set of MDGs that apply to all countries. I couldn't agree more with the view that, "The MDGs development targets (MDGs 1-7) apply only to "developing countries", leaving the entirely false implication that "developed countries" no longer have anything to improve on. Next time we draw up some global targets, all countries should be treated the same, all with targets to meet at home, and all with a responsibility to offer help and solidarity abroad."

ATD Fourth World has long argued the same point and is in the process of drawing up a project that will give people living in the most extreme poverty in "developing countries" the chance to have their say on the impact the Goals have had on their lives to date. The project will also include people living in long-term poverty in Europe and North America their opportunity to have a say on what poverty eradication targets have meant to them (the EU for example set a target in 2000 to make a decisive impact on poverty). The project also aims to enable people living in poverty to point the way forward so that the successor to the MDGs post-2015 has more success in reaching those experiencing the severest poverty. 

Whilst working on this project proposal today, I came across a blog post that publicised a Village in Action Conference that seeks to build a platform for villages to be heard in order to,"Contribute not only our voices to the discussion, but to also showcase what we are already doing to advance our own communities."  The first Conference will take place in Uganda on 27 November. This initiative came about due to frustration that debate on the MDGs, particularly during the September summit, is devoid of the voice of those who stand lost to gain from them.

I look forward to reading what the people from this Ugandan village have to say about what they are doing to achieve the MDGs. Between now and 2015, we will need plenty more initiatives that do not see people in poverty as mere "beneficiaries" but actors of change whose knowledge cannot go untapped if we want to make that decisive impact on extreme poverty in all countries in the world. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Small acts of resistance

I came across today on Duncan Green's blog what seems like a really inspiring book called "Small acts of resistance: How courage, tenacity and ingenuity can change the world." The book has its own website where you can also submit your own stories of resistance.

Some of the examples included on the website from the book give pinpoint examples of how ordinary citizens took very simple actions to bring about change. For example, football supporters in Uruguay during the military dictatorship mumbled the national anthem until it came to the line, "May tyrants tremble!" which they shouted with all their might, before continuing to mumble the rest. The Generals couldn't arrest a whole football stadium nor could they accept the humiliation of removing this line from the national anthem. The people had found a way to express their opinion.

Those of us committed to creating a fairer world by eradicating poverty should also submit our stories of acts of resistance. So often we're faced with the question, "So what have you done that's improved people's lives?" Often our responses are so long-winded and complex, that potential supporters have moved on to the next, more readily understandable cause.

We should take up the author's invitation to submit our small acts of resistance. We are witness to them everyday by people living extraordinarily difficult lives who, despite all the odds, demonstrate courage, tenacity and ingenuity to survive extreme poverty. To inspire you, here's a video presentation of the book.

Small Acts of Resistance Final from Small Acts on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A world where money is more important than people

I was in Strasbourg this week, accompanying a group of young people from across Europe to meet Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General. Some of the guys who made up the delegation continue to have a difficult life, struggling to find work or their place on a worthwhile training course. And struggling to find their place in a society that tends to value people's worth in economic more often than human terms. Others have had more opportunities but are committed to creating a society which gives those same chances to everyone whatever their background.

It was uplifting to join them as they delivered their Appeal for a fairer world to Ban Ki-moon and the European Parliament President. This Appeal is the fruit of a process that has brought European young people together over the past year, in which each person was listened to and each point of view was respected. The Appeal asks Europeans of all ages and backgrounds to express their solidarity with young people who are among the over 80 million who live in poverty across the continent. 

"As young people from across Europe and in solidarity with young people the world over, we live in a world where money is more important than people. This world excludes some of us and breaks others. It leaves us feeling disgusted and angry. (…) We are of all ages and from across Europe. We dream of a fairer world. We must come together to make it possible."

The high that the young people were on after the event was infectious. As one of them put it, "When we began the process of writing this Appeal, I could never have imagined that we would end up reading it to the UN Secretary-General!"

It is easy to be cynical about such encounters between dignitaries and "ordinary citizens". I honesty got the feeling that Ban Ki-moon was genuinely touched and impressed by the commitment of this group of young people. In his very spontaneous response, he congratulated them on their leadership in tackling questions of poverty and encouraged their expression of solidarity to build a world free from poverty.

Those of us accompanying the delegation must now ensure that the Appeal's strong message of a dream for a fairer world is reinforced by reminding world leaders and decision makers of the expectations young people have for them to stand by the commitments they have made to make that dream a reality.

European youth appeal to the UN Secretary-General for a fairer world from ATDFRA on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Break the silence: International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

Tomorrow is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. I'll be heading to the Plaza of Liberties and Human Rights, at the Trocadero in Paris to join thousands of others to who share my refusal to accept that over a billion of our fellow citizens be condemned to a life of extreme poverty. The Plaza were over 60 years ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed to herald, "Freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people."

What will it take to spur us to take a stand against the injustice of poverty and make this proclamation more than rhetoric? For President Piñera of Chile, it was the plight of the 33 miners which led him to state his country will could now undertake the challenge to be the first in Latin America to defeat poverty.

It shouldn't need 33 courageous men to spur us to end poverty. The rallying call has come from many great figures in history over the years. From Victor Hugo, who in addressing the French Parliament in 1849 said, "I am among those who think and affirm that poverty can be destroyed." Or more recently, Nelson Mandela, who, now free, reminded us that the poor are not: "They are trapped in the prison of poverty. It is time to set them free."

Yet since the onset of the global economic crisis, nearly 70 million more people have been condemned to extreme poverty. And this just ten years after the international community pledged to, "Spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty."

Poverty can and must be eradicated. Tomorrow, people in different corners of the globe, including those who experience poverty first-hand, will express the conviction of Joseph Wresinski that, "Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty."

Below is a video from the director general of ATD Fourth World with his meesage for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

What will you be doing tomorrow?

Message from Eugen Brand, Director General of the International Movement ATD Fourth World on the occasion of the International D from ATDFRA on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gross national happiness

As world leaders come away from the UN in New York following this week's MDG summit and opening of the General Assembly, is anything likely to change for the people whose lives the MDGs are intended to improve? Let's be honest, given that the community of nations pledged 10 years ago to, "spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty," they were hardly likely to shrug their shoulders and back away from such promises. But are we any closer now to delivery on these promises?

What positives can we take away from the summit to reassure people across the world whose lives have gone unchanged, or become more difficult, since 2000? Aside the usual rhetoric of "must do better", there were some departures from the standard script. Presidents Sarkozy and Zapatero spoke passionately about the need to introduce a tax on international financial transactions to fund progress towards the MDGs. But with the continued lukewarm response from the US in particular, this is unlikely to see the light of day any time soon. The Swiss government's representative focussed on the need for a human rights approach to achieving the MDGs, a tool woefully absent from the framework to date. And there is finally some mention in the summit's outcome document of the need to respect, protect and promote human rights in order to reach the Goals. But no mention of how this will be fulfuilled.

My highlight though was the speech from the Prime Minister of Bhutan. He called on the voluntary adoption of a ninth MDG: happiness. Bhutan has long rejected mainstream development paradigms, opting to meaure its country's progress not by improvements in Gross National Product, but Growth National Happiness. Interestingly, the Bhutanese rightly point out that the MDG framework does nothing to tackle poverty and inequality in the developed world. Goals towards achieving happiness, they point out, would be equally relevant and valuable for the global north.

Below you can view the Bhutan Prime Minister's address. This concept is not to be dismissed out of hand. The wonders of economic growth, even before the crisis, have been unable to eradicate poverty and achieve full enjoyment of all human rights for all. Despite the laughter in the General Assembly from some quarters that accompanied Bhutan's idea, there is surely something to gain from taking a closer look at Gross National Happiness.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The science of motivation

Just came across a great post on the Owen Abroad blog. It's a presentation by the economist Dan Pink about the science of "motivation".

Two interesting things emerge for me. Firstly in the NGO sector, we should traditionally be solely driven by purpose rather than financial reward. Rather than salaries being high enough that people don't need to worry about the money and thus perform better, they can also be low enough (especially in the case of volunteers) that financial again is completely removed from the equation. But what happens in the new era of NGOs where CEOs are paid $150,000 and upwards? And even if there's no danger of a profit motive becoming detached from a purpose motive, does financial reward in the NGO sector introduce other dangers?

Secondly, what can this science tell us about policy-making that is driven by a carrot and stick reward system. "Conditionality" is a major driver of social welfare in both the global north (receipt of welfare being attached to a commitment by the beneficiary to seek work for example) and south (entitlement to conditional cash transfers dependent on children being in full-time education).

From this study, should policy-makers' use of motivation to get the best outcomes (for beneficiaries and taxpayers) also be challenged?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Revealed: the face of Tory Britain

Photo: Rex Features
If you're not familiar with the UK, you may be wondering who this man is.

A newly cast "Dracula"? A villain in a forthcoming Bond film?

No, it's George Osborne, one of the faces of the new "compassionate conservatism" and the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to Finance Minister).

A recent Guardian newspaper article ran this photo with a story on an analysis of the UK Government's austerity measures carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a well respected and independent non-profit research institution. They have shown that despite the Con-Dem coalition's best claims of fairness, the welfare cuts mean working families on the lowest incomes – particularly those with children – are the biggest losers. This amounts tthe poorest 10% of families losing over 5% of their income as a result of the budget compared with a loss of less than 1% for non-pensioner households without children in the richest 10% of households.

No one with any sense doubted for a second Tory promises to be the new "champions of the poor." What is galling, for fools such as myself who voted for the Libdems in May, is Nick Clegg and co's propping up of Tory policy that would have had Margaret Thatcher twirling her handbag in joy. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dragons who risk fanning the flames

Just stumbled across this video of James Caan in Pakistan (those in the UK will know him as one of the "Dragons" from the TV show Dragon's Den, a show in which entrepreneurs invite people with business propositions to make a pitch and then decide whether to invest their money).

I'm willing to stand corrected, but the news report gives the impression that he's flown into his native Pakistan with a fistful of pounds to sort the food distribution problem single-handed.

"The food ends up going to the fittest," he insightfully reveals at the end. What did he expect when roaring into the flood hit areas with a lorry full of supplies? That he would automatically be able to identify and reach those most in need?

Why is that so many individuals in these situations believe they can do better than Governments or aid agencies who have years of experience is such complex logistical operations?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tales of the unexpected

I'm in that post-holiday limbo, when the children are yet to go back to school and I delude myself that I will be able to catch up with work and the kids will look after themselves. Working from home does have its advantages though, such as having the radio on in the background without having to worry about whether it will bother anyone.

This morning's Radio 4 background came into the foreground as I listened with increasing interest to Kathy Burke's choice of Desert Island Discs. She spoke about her challenging childhood, brought up on a council estate in north London, mother dying when she was 2, father with drink problem... all the ingredients for future "anti-social behaviour" and "problem families", justifications that were so often thown up by New Labour for the next wave of draconian initiatives.

Except Kathy Burke went on to become an acclaimed actress, winning a best actor award at Cannes. Which begs the question, what is it that leads to some people overcoming childhood disadvantage in adulthood (not necessarily measured by how many film awards you win) whilst others continue to experience as adults poverty and social exclusion?

Many studies have focused on identifying factors which enable resilience and thus either prevent families falling into extreme poverty or from children experiencing the same outcome as adults as their parents. One study, with the snazzy title of Tales of the Unexpected, conducted by social policy and public health experts in the UK, defined resilience as "the process of achieving positive and unexpected outcomes in adverse conditions." 

Unfortunately, public policy generally has very low expectations of the resilience of families living in pòverty. Yet, in working with such families for 8 years in the UK, I was constantly amazed by the fortitude shown by many parents, especially to keep their children out of the care system.

Such a shame then that the Coalition Government seems to be following the New Labour pattern in side-stepping evidence based policy-making when it suits in favour of gimicky measures to grab tabloid headlines. The latest being the resurfacing of plans to withhold benefits from anyone refusing treatment for drug or alcohol addiction. This despite the social security advisory committee finding back in May that withdrawing benefits from drug users would lead them into crime and prostitution.

Not all kids living on north London council estates can go on to receive an award at Cannes. But surely it pays to raise our expectations of the height children and adults living in poverty are able to reach if we understand and trust in their capacity to achieve the unexpected.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A lesson in presentation (using Ikea boxes!)

Great post today from Duncan Green on his blog which gave me the pleasure to discover Hans Rosling. What a joy to watch. If only all those who presented in seminars and conferences (me included!) could be so entrancing! Rather than being an onerous task we feel compelled to put ourselves through in the hope of retaining one hundredth of what is said, a Rosling lecture is a lesson in communicating ideas.

That said, he is an economist, and as often occurs in this discipline, at times he leaves me a little cold. Watch it and let me know your opinion, but his way of talking about child mortality is unpleasantly unemotional at times.

In any case, happy watching and learning!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Supporting and not undermining community solidarity

One of the pleasures of working at the headquarters of an international organisation is that you frequently meet people from, or living in, the world over. Today, I had the opportunity to spend time with a colleague based in Ougadougou in Burkina Faso.

One thing that struck me was the delicate balance to be achieved between developing a project with families living in extreme poverty and not upsetting the community solidarity that is the social fabric of Burkinabé society. For example, a family receives a micro-grant from a foregin NGO that they may use to buy a bicycle, for example, with the overall goal of generating income. If they fail to prosper as a result of the grant, the next time they are in need of community support, they may face a negative reaction: "You asked les blancs for help but you still didn't manage. Now it's your problem." (If you read French, then see this excellent blog post about solidarity networks in Burkina Faso).

All the more important then for projects to be developed in partnership with those who are too often seen crudely as "beneficiaries". This may take over a year to develop to ensure the conditions of trust are in place that will respect family and community ties. In the example shared by my colleague, a relationship is built up,using books and story-telling as a medium, with a young person, part of a group of youths living in the street in the city. He is invited with others to participate in skill-sharing activities - the “Courtyard of 100 Trades” - a workshop to introduce the youngsters to certain trades. The relationship ultimately leads on to a dialogue with the children’s families, as frequently young people will express a desire to return to their community . The aim at this point is to initiate and support plans for a shared future for the young person and their family. A dialogue is facilitated with the family over the space of several months to understand the support the direct and extended family can offer to ensure the young person's return is a success. In such circumstances, where the family and community dynamic has been understood, the conditions are created for a micro-grant to be made that compliment, rather than replace community solidarity.

And what's more, supporting a young person to return to his community is in harmony with traditional values. As the Mossi saying goes, "You must travel to know the elephant, but then return to explain what it is like."
Photo: ATD Fourth World

Monday, July 5, 2010


This week I will be taking part in an internal training session on communication. In order to introduce ourselves to the other participants, everyone has been asked to use something other than a first-person verbal presentation.

That gave me the idea to ask my most loyal and ardent fans - my kids - to describe who I am. You'll find the result below!

Friday, July 2, 2010

There's more to Haiti than the US Military

I just came across this short documentary from US National Public Radio about issues concerning food aid and its effects on the local economy.

It's an intersting piece but it left me thinking: what's the decision-making role of Haitians in the reconstruction of their country? The US Military is rebuilding the port, the World Food Programme is responsible for decisions concerning food aid. Is it uniquely foreigners who are taking action to get the country back on its feet? Again forgotten are the daily efforts of the Haitian people for daily life not simply to return to normal, but to build a more country more inclusive and equal than before.

It's another missed opportunity by the media to show that the Haitians are not passive in the wake of the tragedy that befell their country. On the contrary, they seek ways to show their solidarity with their fellow citizens. The organisation I work for bears witness to this, with numerous young people from the community in the Grand Ravine area in which the run projects offering their time to volunteer to support the more disadvantaged members of their community. Their local knowledge has been particularly vital in ensuring that the most isolated and excluded people in the neighbourhood are aware of programmes such as the "cash for work" initiative.

So a plea to the media: focus on the large-scale efforts undertaken by the UN, US Military and the like, but also put the spotlight on the more conspicuous, yet in many ways more far-reaching, undertakings of Haitians to ensure none of their citizens remain left behind.

(Photo: ATD Fourth World)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

France: The farce continues!

Today a colleague was supposed to be meeting President Sarkozy, alongside numerous other NGOs, at the Elysée ahead of his participation in the G8 and G20 in Canada next week. Among other things on the agenda was France's position regarding the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), decisions on the progress of which are due to be taken following the September High-level summit at the UN in September.

However, "Sarko" has cancelled as he has more pressing matters to discuss, notably with Thierry "la main" Henry, who was granted a meeting with the President yesterday to discuss the farce which is French football.

Far be it from me to question the priorities of a President, but I happen to think that the millions of people whose lives and livelihoods are dependent on the extent to which Heads of State are properly informed of progress on the MDGs, would probably have prioritised differently.

If you are in any doubt as to the urgency of achieving the Goals that 189 Heads of State set themselves in 2000, then read this Time magazine article. 

Has anyone got Thierry Henry's email so that he can read the article out loud to Sarko?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Farewell to a champion of Human Rights (... and rugby, catapults and 2CVs)

Yesterday, people living in extreme poverty lost a great friend. His name won't appear in newspapers. It won't even appear on his grave. In solidarity with all those whom he accompanied in over 40 years of combat for extreme poverty to be recognised as a violation of human rights, our friend asked to be buried alongside those whose passing, in death as in life, goes unrecognised.

My friend had a knack for engaging people from all backgrounds in his combat, myself included. I was fortunate to have spent a month sharing an apartment with him in Brussels and found his enthusiasm for human rights contagious (not to mention rugby, catapults and 2CVs).

I was not alone. In the English city of Hull, he gathered around him people intrigued as to how they could support this effusive Frenchman: some marked by long-term poverty themselves, others drawn to this cause by such demonstrative displays of conviction that poverty can and must be eradicated.

In 2002, he stood alongside elected officials and members of ATD Fourth World from Hull, other cities across the UK and from other European cities, to inaugurate, in the city's Northern Cemetery, a commemorative headstone for all those who had died and had been buried in nameless graves.

Henri Bossan: your name may not be engraved in your final resting place. But it will be forever remembered by all of us whom you inspired to fight for the human rights of every person condemned to live in extreme poverty.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Le "vivre ensemble"

For the last few days I've been working and welcoming members of the organisation I work for who have come to France for our AGM. It's riveting to hear the diversity of their experiences, coming from as far afield as Peru to Philippines and Dublin to Dar Es Salam.

One of the main themes discussed was that of the right of people living in extreme poverty to participate and have a place at the table on discussions that directly affect them at the local, national and international level. We were fortunate to be able to attend a seminar on a French project concerning "Working, Learning and Living Together." A particularly dynamic expression of participation came from 3 women who are neighbours in an inner-city housing estate in the Parisian suburbs. Two were rehoused there with their families from having lived in bed and breakfasts and hostels. One chose to live there, as part of her commitment as a "full-time volunteer" to share and better understand the lives of people living in long-term poverty.

What was so interesting about this exchange was how genuine it was - an expression of the encounter between 3 women from diverse backgrounds but with a shared commitment to overcome extreme poverty. A positive expression of what the French call "le vivre ensemble" (poorly translated as "community relations"). The mums who'd previously been homeless before arriving at this housing project spoke of how initially they were just relieved to finally have a place to call their own. "Even if there had been a huge hole in the floor, I was just so happy to have my own front-door key and not have to worry about where we could cook a meal, what the social workers were thinking and whether they'd come to take the kids away." This was then a first step to getting involved in the community and having the courage to attend local participatory forums to speak out about issues that affect their lives - schooling, parenting, but also wider issues such as work or the environment.

Eradicating poverty doesn't only have to be about time-limited projects with concrete outputs and outcomes. It also passes through a coming together of people willing to learn and spend time to get to know people living in poverty. The local authority in this Paris suburb now wants to pull down the housing estate and build houses for "the poor".

Is the solution to build a new ghetto? Or to find news ways to promote and support efforts for a more sustainable and harmonious "vivre ensemble"?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

After the bulldozers

In my last post I spoke of how people living in extreme poverty are often displaced from their homes and livelihood in the name of "development". Surfing the blogosphere, I just came across on the Africa is a Country blog this short film by Charles “Stretch” Ledford, a University of Miami communications student and working photographer. Sadly, it illustrates all too well how the rights of people living in poverty can be so easily dispensed with. It makes the campaigns of organisations such as Amnesty International to raise awareness of the one billion people in the world who live in slums all the more pertinent.

Ajelogo: After the Bulldozers from Stretch Ledford on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The World Cup is approaching, but not for the poorest

My 3 year-old son asked to put on his England football top on today after seeing our neighbour's son with his Brazilian football shirt on this afternoon. It seems World Cup fever is heating up with less than 2 weeks to go now. I asked a Burkinabé colleague recently who he'd be supporting given that his country would not be there. "Whichever African team is playing of course!" This sense of pan-African solidarity is utterly foreign to the majority of Europeans. It is difficult to imagine a Scot supporting England or a Belgian supporting France. Anyone but more like!

This sense of solidarity and excitement about the World Cup is not universal, particularly among some of those on whose  doorstep it will take place. For many of South African's poorest citizens, who sustain their livelihood through street vending, the World Cup should have been a windfall opportunity to provide for themselves and their family. Instead, as the BBC recently reported, street vendors will have to apply for expensive permits, for which, in the words of one street trader,

"We are being made to jump through hundreds of hoops so we can do for a month what we have been doing here for years - and that's selling at the stadium. Now I know it is just a reminder that the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer."

Of course, creating conditions that discriminate against the poorest is not unique to the staging of a World Cup, nor to South Africa. The most vulnerable people and groups frequently miss out on the benefits of development because they need extra support in order to claim their rights and take advantage of the opportunities on offer.

Relocation projects from shanty or squatter settlements frequently fail to benefit the poorest families as it places them too far their source of income for it to remain feasible for them to remain, forcing them to return to illegal, and indecent dwellings. Or employment training which spend weeks on giving job seekers such skills such as preparing a CV - the problem being that those in most need of finding work have no formal work experience to add to their curriculum vitae.

In this case, a solution could have been found for those have been earning a living from this trade prior to the World Cup by easing the rules and expense to obtain permits.

South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world in its recognition of social and economic rights. Unfortuntely, it appears these do not apply from 11 June to 11 July.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Beware: hacks at work!

It's impossible to live in France and work in the poverty field without hearing at least twice a day about the economist Esther Duflo. If you haven't heard of her, she's best known for her work in showing which kinds of policies work best to eradicate poverty. Her evaluation of the impact of removing user-fees to access basic services are much quoted by those advocating their removal.

So it was quite a surprise to read on Amanda Taub's excellent blog Wronging Rights that research she's published, quoted by the influential NY Times contributor, Nicholas Kristof, reports that if the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed.

This article particularly struck me as a colleague only just recently mentioned Kristof as a journalist with whom it may be possible to work given his interest in poverty issues.

I won't go any further in order to encourage you to read Taub's blog. But be warned of influential journalists with a cause to push misinterpreting research to suit their arguments!

Will we learn from the lessons of the past

I was listening on the  BBC World Service the other day to a Kenyan journalist talking about the Eurozone crisis. When asked about what the Kenyan people thought about the austerity measures being brought in under pressure from the IMF, he said that it brought an ironic chuckle to many. Kenya, like many of the poorest countries around the world,had re-introduced user charges in the 1980s for education and healthcare under IMF backed structural adjustment programmes. These measures naturally disproportionately affected the poorest people.

Such as Walter, 12, and his younger brother Charles. When they're sick, they wait for it to finish because they can't afford the hospital fees. "Sometimes  there is not enough food so we go to sleep hungry; The other problem is clothes- we don’t have clothes to wear to church.. or shoes. And sometimes we can’t afford the fees for our exams at school."

Already in Europe, it is the poorest people who are seen as the easiest target for budget cuts. In Ireland, there's been talk of cutting the minimum wage. Child benefit was already cut in 2009 to make savings.

To preempt budget cuts disproportiantely affecting people experiencing poverty in the UK, Church Action on Poverty is encouraging people to write to David Cameron to ensure that people in poverty do not pay the price of a defecit they did not cause.

photo: MSF

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Beggars can be choosers

I came across this video on the Guardian website the other day, a shocking piece of television from Spain.
If you don't speak Spanish, here's a short resumé. The "journalist" is talking with Atlético de Madrid fans in Hamburg the day of a European football final. He spots a homeless man and encourages fans to show their generosity to "make the man happy". The bemused man is incredulous when, egged on by the "journalist", fans begin putting coins, mobile phones and visa cards in front of him, much to the amusement of the presenters back in the studio.

It says a lot about our society when a homeless person becomes nothing more than a source of derision, with the resulting effect construed as legitimate entertainment by broadcasters.

When does a person living on the streets stop having a name and become "el mendigo" - the beggar? Welfare mum? Street kid? Asylum seeker?

Recently, ATD Fourth World in London launched a photography exhibition called "The Roles We Play" as part of the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion . It aims to recognise the contribution of people in poverty and challenge negative attitudes towards vulnerable and excluded families.

Amanda, left, has a name other than poor:  neighbour, wife, mum, citizen. It is possible to go beyond a mere tag to meet and understand people living in poverty. I'd be very interested to hear about other projects giving people in poverty something more than a label.