Photo: Gizmodo

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.