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Next week (20th-26th June) is Refugee Week, coming at a moment in time days after the first deportation flight of asylum seekers to Rwanda was scheduled. Luckily the government’s best efforts were thwarted by the ECHR this time. Each year Refugee Week has a theme and this year’s focus is healing. People fleeing conflict and persecution have a lot to heal from and I am pessimistic about whether healing is possible in the UK. My own research examines the trajectories of victimisation among people seeking safety. I trace experiences of victimisation starting from the context from which people fled, during their journeys and after arrival in the UK. It is particularly disturbing as someone who researches people seeking safety that once they arrive in a place they perceived to be safe, they continue to be victimised in a number of ways. People seeking safety in the UK encounter the structurally violent asylum ‘system’ and discriminatory attitudes of swathes of the public, sections of the media and last not certainly not least, political discourse. Even after being granted leave to remain, refugees face a struggle to find accommodation, employment, convert education certificates and discrimination and hate crime is ongoing.
Over the years I have supported refugees who suffered breakdowns after having their asylum claim awarded. They are faced with the understanding of the trauma they suffered pre-migration, compounded by the asylum system and the move-on period following claims being awarded. Yet this is no time to heal. In the wake of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, no migrant nor British citizen with a claim to citizenship elsewhere is safe. There is no safety here and therefore there can be no healing, not meaningful healing anyway.
Despite my negative outlook on the state of immigration policy in the UK, there are some positive signs of healing for some people seeking safety. These experiences are often facilitated by peer support, grassroots organisations and charities. I recall one woman who had fled Iraq coming into a charity I was undertaking research in. When we met for the first time, she was tiny and looked much older than she was. She would pull her veil tightly around her head, almost like it was protecting her. This woman did not speak a word of English and the only volunteer Kurdish Sorani interpreter did not attend the group every week. The womens’ group I attended conducted activities which overcame language barriers and at the time we were working with tiles and mosaics on a project which lasted a few weeks. During this time I could visibly see this woman start to heal. She started to stand up straight, making her appear taller. Her face softened and she appeared younger. She started smiling and her veil loosened. She was relaxing among us. In my experience, I’ve noticed that the healing comes in ebbs and flows. Relief of being ‘safe’, compounding stress of asylum, making friends, waiting, waiting, waiting for a negative decision, being supported by NGOs, letters threatening deportation, having a ‘safe’ place to live, having a firework posted through your letterbox.
For me this week is about celebrating those fleeting moments of healing, since I spend so much of my time discussing and researching the negative. The University of Northampton is co-hosting a number of events to mark Refugee Week 2022, starting with a service being held to remember all those seeking sanctuary both past and present. The event will be held on Monday 20th June at 1pm at Memorial Garden, Nunn Mills Road, Northampton, NN1 5PA (parking available at Midsummer Meadow car park).
Monday will end with an ‘in conversation with’ event with University of Northampton doctoral candidate Amir Darwish. Amir is Kurdish-Syrian and arrived in the UK as an asylum seeker in 2003. He is now an internationally published poet and writer. This event will be run in conjunction woth Northampton Town of Sanctuary and will be hosted at Delapre Abbey at 7pm. You can find further details and book tickets here.
On Wednesday the University of Northampton and Northampton Town of Sanctuary will be hosting an online seminar at 3pm with Professor Peter Hopkins, whose recent research examined the exacerbation of existing inequlaities for asylum seekers during the pandemic. I’ve just written a book chapter on this for a forthcoming volume reflecting on the unequal pandemic and it was staggering – but unsurprising – to see the impact on asylum seekers. This seminar can be accessed online here.
The week’s events will conclude with a Refugee Support Showcase which does what it says on the tin. This event will be an opportunity for organisations working with refugees in the local area to show the community the valuable work they do. This event will take place on Thursday 23rd June 4-6pm at the Guildhall, St. Giles Square, Northampton.
This year the University has worked with a number of organisations to produce a well-rounded series of events. Starting with reflection and thought of those who have sought, and continue to seek sanctuary and celebrating the achievements of someone who has lived experiences of the asylum system. Wednesday contibutes to the understanding of inequalities for people seeking safety and we end Friday on a positive note with the work of those who facilitate healing.
As you know by now, a small group of us decided the best way to thrive in lockdown was to seek solace in reading and talking about books. Hence the creation of #CriminologyBookClub! Building on on what has quickly become standard practice, we’ve decided to continue with all eight bloggers contributing! This title was the second chosen by @manosdaskalou and is our 14th book. Read on to find out what we thought….
I have no profound objection to self-published books but have read only one other. The rationale for reading the first one was to proof-read/copy edit for the author. That can’t really be called reading, because you miss the story by studying the text so closely. However, I digress. The blurb for this book sounded fascinating, individual narratives heading toward one place: Brighton. Unfortunately, whilst the idea for the book was clever, the writing was overly descriptive and at times, turgid. There is no space for the reader to imagine the characters or the places, everything is told in minute detail. There is a clear attempt to be inclusive with the choice of characters, but they are largely one-dimensional and lack authenticity. The final character talks about his supposed lack of representation as a white man in Brighton (with a white population of 90%) and at that point, I lost what little interest remained. In feminist circles, the question “what would a mediocre white man do?” is prevalent, a possible response could be; write this book. The only positive I have to offer is the support offered by sales to Shelter.@paulaabowles
The format and style of the book was unlike anything I had read before: and I really liked it. The characters were full of life: a life riddled with inequalities, harm and pain. Unlike other reads where I have failed to feel anything for the characters (or anything other than a serious dislike), Dying in Brighton evoked a number of emotions from myself towards the people in the book. However these emotions were left in a sort of vacuum, with myself feeling very ‘meh’ at the end of the book. I was disappointed with the final chapter. Whilst I can appreciate the ending and the manner in which it is told, I did not like it. I wanted to know more about how Akeem, Nicola, Wasim, Lori and Paul got to the end they got to. Considering the ‘end result’ and my emotions from the previous chapters, I feel I should have had a more powerful response to the end: but I did not. The short snippets were not enough for me: and I feel that the last chapter does not do their stories or their lives justice. Despite this, I would recommend!@jesjames50
The title Dying in Brighton does not leave much to the imagination. I am glad that the purchase of this book supports a charity. Unfortunately, I found this book to be problematic. I did not understand his selection of characters or how their stories linked. The book reads as though a heterosexual white man who is not disabled is congratulating the white men characters within the book for being friends with people who are migrants or LGBT. There is even a point where a character feels ‘underrepresented’ as a white man…I skimmed the book as I am sick of hearing similar to this in reality.@haleysread
This is a book that definitely divided the book club and I have to say the comments were by far more negative than positive. For my part, I found the narrative interesting in a strange sort of way. I didn’t find myself labouring on the description and attributes of the characters but rather took in an overall sense of ordinary people that were troubled and in trouble for some reason or another and therefore found themselves gravitating to Brighton; in fairness they could have gone anywhere. The book didn’t take long to read, and the narrative ends rather abruptly but I think that is probably the point. The book left me with a sense of sadness, and it reminded me that homeless people are real people with real lives and yet are very often invisible in our society. Would I read something from the same author again, probably not? Would I recommend the book, probably not, but it did hit a mark somewhere along the line?@5teveh
This book was a very quick read. Each chapter presented a very stereotypical view of a member of every marginalised group you can think of – a refugee, a trans woman, a troubled teenage girl. The book ended with a chapter about a rich white man with houses all over the world, finding himself feeling like he wasn’t represented. It turns out – spoiler alert – that all the marginalised people went to Brighton, became homeless and died. At the end a woman was selling craftwork with each of the dead, marginalised homeless person’s face. Now I can see how, to a critical criminologist, all this is problematic to say the least. However, the book carried a message that homeless people are invisible. People walk past them every day without a second glance. The author also donated profits of the book to Shelter so it was for a good cause. So, although the book was heavily criticised during our discussion, for people in many walks of life I’d like to think the book would quite literally open their eyes and say hello to a person living on the streets.@amycortvriend
This book centres around 5 different characters and their life experiences and choices that lead them to Brighton. When I first read the blurb, I assumed this book would take me on a thought-provoking journey about individuals that could be seen as outsiders within society, and how their stories are interwoven. What was thought provoking for me was how the representation of individuals can be so wrong. Throughout the book I was distracted by the problematic ways in which the characters were portrayed. I didn’t like the hyper sexualisation of Lori, I felt like this was an attempt to explore transgender issues without any understanding of transgender issues… it was tasteless and done from a male gaze. I also didn’t like the lack of context and understanding of refugees, this exploration was very tone deaf and seemed informed by how the ‘Western world’ views refugees. Usually when reading a book I have some emotion to the characters, however I felt far removed from all the characters and their stories. At the end of the book I also felt like the stories of the five individuals were rushed, there was no back story to why or how they had died in Brighton just that they were dead. I don’t know what angle the author was going for but for me the ending fell flat.@svr2727
This book sounded very promising and I usually really enjoy short stories about very different characters and their experiences and how they converge but this book was disappointing in so many ways. Obviously being self-published meant that it wasn’t as polished as it could’ve been and I find little mistakes to spelling and punctuation really distracting from a story. I wish this was my only complaint! The characters were badly written caricatures – you got the sense that the author had never spent any time with anyone from those backgrounds and that perhaps he wasn’t the right person to be telling these stories. The most authentic chapter of the book was the final one where the narrator (a successful white man) feels that he isn’t represented! Easily the worst book I’ve ever read.@saffrongarside
This is an anthology of different stories of people in very adverse circumstances all of whom are heading to Brighton. In most cases it is not clear why they are heading that way and what they hope from their move there. The short stories are independent from each other and there is no obvious connection between them. Each story explores a different character faced with different issues from abuse, sexuality and substance use. It sends out a signal of some of the social vulnerabilities people are exposed; this however is done as a matter of fact not exploring the social dimensions of the situation. The end brings the stories together but for me this was unsatisfactory. This book has a great idea, an interesting layout but its execution does not meet the goal. The stories are interesting but some of them feel a bit rushed; more character development would have allowed the reader to get closer to the situation and the social issues the author wants to alert people to. As I read it, I thought that some of the stories read more like vignettes that we use in exercises or training for making people aware of certain problems. In terms of literary merit, these are not quite there.@manosdaskalou
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a whole range of issues for so many people. Everything from job losses, businesses closing down, people being unable to leave the house, people panic buying and stock piling. There has also been a sharp increase in mental health issues, loneliness, isolation, and fears about what the future holds.
However, one thing that has been reported on, is the increase in domestic violence that has occurred across the country. In April 2020, phone calls to the charity Refuge were up by 49%, (1) and people accessing their website seeking help had increased by 417% (2). As more people are working from home, abusers are at home too, making it harder for survivors of domestic abuse to get away from their partners.
In an effort to combat domestic abuse, and to provide confidential help to survivors, the government launched the ‘Ask for ANI‘ codeword scheme (Action Needed Immediately) whereby a survivor of abuse can go to their local pharmacy and get private and confidential help. Survivors can ask if they want to get help from a domestic violence refuge, or to get the police involved. Everything will be led by the survivor who will be in the private consultation room with the pharmacist helping the survivor (3)
(1) Home Office (2021) ‘Domestic Abuse and Risks of Harm Within the Home’ Available online at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5801/cmselect/cmhaff/321/32105.htm#_idTextAnchor000 Accessed on 19/02/2021
(2) House of Commons (2020) ‘Home Affairs Committee’ Available online at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5801/cmselect/cmhaff/correspondence/HASC-transcript-15-April.pdf – page 24. Accessed on 19/02/2021
(3) HM Government (2020) ‘Guidance for Pharmacies Implementing the Ask for ANI Domestic Abuse Codeword Scheme’ Available online at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/940379/Training_information_-_Ask_for_ANI.pdf Accessed on 19/02/2021
Unlisted (2020) ‘Domestic Abuse Codeword Pharmacy Training Video’ Available online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOs3awxx5YU&feature=youtu.be Accessed on 19/02/2021
Wherever I go in life, whatever I do, as long as I am helping others and making a positive difference, I will be happy”
For many years, that has been my take on looking for jobs – helping people, and making a positive difference.
What will I do with my life? Where will life lead me? I’ll say my prayers, and find out!
As a child (between 5-9 years old), I wanted to be a nurse; I have a caring nature, and love helping people! Imagining myself in a nurse’s uniform, and putting bandages on patients and making them better, was something I dreamed about.
Life moves forward, and at the age of 13 I wanted to be so much!
I considered becoming a teacher of either English or Religious Studies. At 13, I loved English and learning about all world faiths. It fascinated me! My teacher had a degree and masters from Oxford University; and I absorbed everything I could! Religious Studies was my favourite subject (alongside art, drama and English) I also had my first, most profound spiritual experience, deepening my Catholic faith (written in more detail in chapter 1 of Everyday Miracles).
My hobbies included reading, writing and drawing. Throughout my teenage years, I devoured the Harry Potter books, the Lord of the Rings books, and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books. I had a library card, and would borrow books from the library in my village and would read regularly at home. I wanted to be an artist and author, and would often write poetry and short stories, and kept a sketchbook to do drawings in. I dreamed of being a published author, and to be an artist – however, these were seemingly beyond my reach. I prayed to God, that I would be able to fulfil these life ambitions one day.
Alongside of this, I also did some charity work – any change that I got from my lunches, I would put in an empty coffee jar and save them up. I was given the rather cruel nickname, ‘penny picker’, which resulted in bullying from people across different year groups, because I picked up pennies off the floor and put them in my charity pot. Though I did get a mention in the school newsletter stating that the money I raised amounted to quite a large sum, and went to CAFOD, and a homeless charity. I have always done charity work, and still do charity work today!
In school, there were 2 sets in each year; the A-band and the B-band. The A-band were the high academic performers, and those who got high grades. The B-band was the lower set… the set which I was in… This meant that when it came to picking GCSEs, I could only choose 2, not 3, which the A-band students were able to do.
In my Citizenship and Religious studies lessons, I began learning more about the globalized world, human rights, and social issues. Here, I learned in great detail about slavery (slightly covered in history too), prejudice and discrimination, the Holocaust, and 3rd world issues, such as extreme poverty, deprivation, and lack of basic human necessities, such as water, food and sanitation. We even touched upon the more horrific human rights abuses such as extraordinary rendition, religious persecution, torture, and rape and sexual violence.
My ambitions began to evolve more, and I dreamed of becoming a lawyer and even a judge. I wanted to serve justice, make communities safer, and to do more to combat these issues. With my soft heart, and a love of helping people, I knew that being a lawyer would help with doing this!
Moving forward to Year 10; choosing my GCSEs…. I spoke with one of the school heads, and asked for advice. I was still adamant on being a lawyer, and so was advised to do drama and history. Drama as it would boost my confidence, public speaking and expressive skills. History, because of the analytical thinking and examination of evidence that lawyers need when presenting their arguments. I was very happy with this! I loved drama and I enjoyed history – both the teachers were great and supportive!
At the age of 15, I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome – this explained so much about me and my idiosyncrasies. Ironically, it was my drama and my history teacher who picked up on it, due to my odd gait, social skills, and how I processed information. At parents’ evening, both teachers discussed with my mum about the diagnosis, and getting support. It was a big shock when I spoke with each of my teachers individually about the diagnosis.
At the end of doing my GCSEs, I was a pretty average student with mostly C grades. When it came to picking A-levels, I was unable to to the subjects that I really wanted to do…. Philosophy, Theology, Law and Psychology…. After a few weeks of battling and trying to get onto a course that would accept me, I ended up doing Travel and Tourism, A-level Media, Applied Sciences and Forensics (which had a criminology module), and, in Year 13, I took on an Extended Project, to boost my chances of getting into university.
I felt somewhat disillusioned… I’m studying courses that will only accept me because of my grades – an odd combination, but a chance to learn new things and learn new skills! In my mind, I wondered what I would ever do with myself with these qualifications…
Deciding to roll with it, I went along. I was much more comfortable in my Sixth Form years as I learned to embrace my Asperger’s, and started being included in different socials and activities with my peers.
Those 2 years flew by, and during my science course, when I did the criminology unit, I was set on studying that joint honors at a university. Criminology gripped me! I loved exploring the crime rates in different areas, and why crime happens (I had been introduced briefly to Cesare Lombroso, and the Realist theories). I have always loved learning.
Fast forward, I decided to go to Northampton University to do Criminology and Education, and even had the hope that I may be able to get a teaching job with the education side. However, due to an education module no longer being taught, I majored in Criminology.
However, in my second year of studies, I did a placement at a secondary special needs college, and helped the children with their learning! All the children would have a day at a vocational training centre doing carpentry, arts and crafts, and other hands on and practical courses. Back in their classrooms, they had to write a log of what they learned. The students I helped were not academic, and so I would write questions on the board to guide them with their log writing, and would write words that they struggled to spell – my opportunity to help students with their education! Later in life, I worked as a Support Worker for students with additional needs at both Northampton, and Birmingham City University, so still learning whilst helping others.
July 2015, I graduated with a 2:1 in my degree, and I had been encouraged to do an LLM in International Criminal Law and Security – a degree in law! It was unreal! From being told I could not do A-level law, here, I was able to do a masters in law! I applied for the Santander Scholarship, and got enough money to cover my course and some living costs – basically, a Masters degree for free!
During those 2 years of being a part time post graduate, I set up and ran the Uni-Food Bank Team and continued with running Auto-Circle Spectrum Society. January 2016 saw a downward dive in my mental health and I was diagnosed with severe depression (When the Darkness Comes).
I learned to cope and found my own way of healing myself through art and painting (which I later began painting on canvasses and sold at arts and crafts fayres).
February 2018 – I graduate with my LLM; the first on my dad’s side of the family to go to university, and on my mum’s side, the first to have a masters’ degree.
Going back to the question of this blog; When I grow up, what will I be?
I will be everything that I ever wanted to be! I am now a published author (mentioned at the start of the blog), have done freelance writing and art (everything I have written on every platform used can be accessed here: Blog Home Page: Other Writing Pieces)! I got a degree in Criminology with Education, and a Masters degree in International Criminal Law and Security!
I have have utilised my knowledge of human rights to fight for the rights of Persecuted Christians, political and social activists, and write to someone on death row too! (Serving Our Persecuted Brothers and Sisters Globally, I See You, Prisoners of Conscience, Within Grey Walls
I still do loads of charity work, and support my local food bank along the side too! (Brain Tumor Research; Helping Those in Need)
It’s safe to say that God answered every single one of my prayers, and even gave me strength in some circumstances!
Currently, I am working as the administrator of an an addiction recovery unit in my home village! A job I thoroughly enjoy – it is challenging, my colleagues are the funniest bunch I have ever met! I have learned so much, and am thriving!
Most importantly, as I’ve grown up, I’ve learned to be happy, learned to overcome all odds that are against me, and to always help others regardless of the circumstance. I’ve learned to be compassionate and strong ❤
Having read a colleague’s reflection on the past year, I started to think about my own experiences of the year and what meaning it had for me.
As a criminologist I am critical of what I read, see and experience, consequently I have a fairly cynical view of the world and I have to say, the world rarely disappoints. But amongst all the chaos, violence and political hubris, there must surely be chinks of light, otherwise what is the point. A challenge then, to find the positive rather than view the negative, as hard as that may seem.
My year was difficult on both a professional and personal front and it tested my resilience and patience to the full. I have suffered poor health resulting in spells in hospital and long periods away from work. Difficult to engineer any positive spin on that but I’m sure I can give it a go.
We all have read about and no doubt many of us have experienced the crippling effect of an often reported, failing National Health Service (NHS). It would be easy to state the problems and apportion blame, but in doing so we miss some nuggets of positivity (is that a real word?). I have nothing but praise for the staff working under extreme pressure within the health system. When I was suddenly taken ill at home the paramedics that attended were brilliant, one a student from our home university. When I arrived at the hospital, despite a manic casualty unit, I was well cared for by another student from the university. I single these students out because there is a sense of pride in knowing that I am part of an institution that helps teach and coach health staff that care so well for others. Of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention that all of the other staff were kind and caring. Later when I was admitted to hospital after a number of visits, I found my care to be exemplary. I know this is not everyone’s experience and when we read the news or watch it on television it is all about failure. My exemplary care and that of many around me isn’t particularly newsworthy. Whilst in hospital I was visited by volunteers who were distributing books, kind people that give up their time to help others. When my wife visited, she came in with a cup of coffee purchased from a café within the hospital run by volunteers. More people giving up their time. I know of and feel privileged to have taught and still teach students that volunteer in all sorts of organisations around the country. The cynical side of me says that we shouldn’t have to have volunteers doing this but that is not really the point is it? The point is that there are kind and caring people around that do it to make life a little easier for others.
A prolonged absence from work caused some chaos in teaching, mitigated by colleagues that stepped in. Busy colleagues, overloaded colleagues, who had additional burdens placed upon them due to my absence. Even now on returning to work colleagues are having to take up the slack to cover for my current inability to work at full capacity. But despite these burdens, I have experienced nothing but support and kindness not just resultant of my illness but throughout what has been a difficult year. Difficult to be cynical except that to say some of the difficulties faced should never have arisen but the point is that there were kind and caring people around to provide much needed help and support.
If I turn my thoughts to wider issues, the dreadful events at Fishmonger’s Hall served to remind us of the violent world we live in but that very event also serves to remind us of the kind, caring and brave nature of many. The victims Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones were both engaged in a project that was aimed at making society a better place. Those that tackled the terrorist showed the sort of selfless bravery that epitomises the essence of human nature.
If we think about it and it probably doesn’t take too much thinking, we can find countless examples of good things being done by kind and caring people. We can be cynical and suggest that the situations should never have arisen in the first place that necessitated that kindness or those actions, but the incidents and situations are there and are played out in society every day, C’est la vie’. Maybe, just occasionally, rather than thinking about doom and gloom, we should celebrate the capacity of people to simply be human.
A few weeks ago, Danny Rose the Tottenham and England footballer was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. He indicated he couldn’t wait to quit football because of racism in the game. He’s not the only black player that has spoken out, Raheem Stirling of Manchester City and England had previously raised the issue of racism and additionally pointed to the way the media portrayed black players.
I have no idea what its like to be subjected to racist abuse, how could I, I’m a white, middle class male? I have however, lived in and was for the best part of my life brought up in, a country dominated by racism. I lived in South Africa during the apartheid regime and to some extent I suppose I suffered some racism there, being English, a rooinek (redneck) but it was in the main limited to name calling from the other kids in school and after all, I was still white. There was some form of logic in apartheid; separate development was intended to maintain the dominance of the white population. Black people were viewed as inferior and a threat, kaffirs (non-believers) even though the majority were probably more devout than their white counterparts. I understand the logic of the discourse around ‘foreigners coming into this country and taking our jobs or abusing our services’, if you are told enough times by the media that this is the case then eventually you believe. I always say to colleagues they should read the Daily Mail newspaper and the like, to be informed about what news fables many of the population are fed.
I understand that logic even though I cannot ever condone it, but I just don’t get the logic around football and racism. Take the above two players, they are the epitome of what every footballing boy or girl would dream of. They are two of the best players in England, they have to be to survive in the English Premiership. In fact, the Premiership is one of the best football leagues in the world and has a significant proportion of black players in it, many from other parts of the world. It is what makes the league so good, it is what adds to the beautiful game.
So apart from being brilliant footballers, these two players are English, as English as I am, maybe more so if they spent all of their lives in this country and represent the country at the highest level. They don’t ‘sponge’ off the state, in fact through taxes they pay more than I and probably most of us will in my lifetime. They no doubt donate lots of money to and do work for charities, there aren’t many Premiership footballers that don’t. The only thing I can say to their detriment, being an avid Hammers fan, is that they play for the wrong teams in the Premiership. I’m not able to say much more about them because I do not know them. And therein lies my problem with the logic behind the racist abuse they and many other black players receive, where is that evidence to suggest that they are not entitled to support, praise and everything else that successful people should get. The only thing that sets them aside from their white fellow players is that they have black skins.
To make sense of this I have to conclude that the only logical answer behind the racism must be jealousy and fear. Jealousy regarding what they have and fear that somehow there success might be detrimental to the racists. They are better than the racists in so many ways, and the racists know this. Just as the white regime in South Africa felt threatened by the black population so too must the racists* in this country feel threatened by the success of these black players. Now admit that and I might be able to see the logic.
*I can’t call them football supporters because their behaviour is evidence that they are not.
Over the last two weeks, twitter was littered with Conservative MPs posing at foodbanks, thanking the public for donations and showing their support for this vital service. On seeing the first one I thought this was a strange way to show compassion for those in need, given how the increased use of foodbanks is directly linked to austerity policies, the rollout of universal credit and is one of the issues raised by a recent report on the impact of poverty in the UK (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2018). The report states that spending cuts from austerity led policies have put Britain in breach of its human rights obligations and highlights discriminatory issues, as these cuts have adversely affected low income and lone parent families, ethnic minorities and the disabled. It recommends more investment in health, social care, education and housing, and a rethink of Universal Credit. In addition, a report by the United Nations has described current government policies as ‘punitive, mean-spirited and often callous’ in their impact on the most vulnerable, more alarming given we are still one of the richest countries in the world (UN, 2018).
The responses on twitter articulated what I was feeling, ranging from incredulity, to anger and shock. It is a strange state of affairs when politicians see this as a cause for celebration, but then, there is little else to choose from, in relation to policies introduced in the last two years. The cognitive dissonance between thinking this presents them as compassionate and caring about problems they have created is quite an achievement. But then, I also know I really should not be surprised – I never believed Conservatives could be considered compassionate and anything but concerned with their own interests and dismissive of those in need. When Conservative MPs received the memo to pose at foodbanks, I wonder how many refused? Or how many believed this would be accepted as an example of celebrating charity, because even at Christmas, we all too easily normalise this level of deprivation, and rationalise it as due to individual circumstances, and not structural inequalities.
The wording of the UN report is clear in its condemnation and recognition that in Britain, the government lack the political will to help those most in need, given that tax cuts signalling the ‘end of austerity’ have once again benefitted the rich, under the auspices of this wealth trickling down in the form of jobs and increased wages. However, the EHRC and UN reports have emphasised how these policies are disproportionately affecting those who cannot work, or can only do part time work, or who face discrimination and disadvantage, including employment opportunities and prospects. When foodbanks were first set up, I honestly believed this was a temporary fix, never did I think still in 2018 they would be still be needed and indeed, be increasingly used. I also never would have imagined they would be held up as an example of the good work of charities adopted as a PR stunt by the very people who have created the inequalities and harm we see today.
The small glimmer of hope is the protest in one of these pictures, and the responses via twitter which reflected how I felt. There was a clear backlash in Scotland, where it was reported that a record number of supplies were needed as Universal Credit was rolled out, and where there were calls to foodbanks and supermarkets to refuse to pose with Conservative MPs. Alas, my fear is beyond the twittersphere, most people can rationalise this as acceptable. After all, should we not celebrate charity and helping those in need at this time of year? Is this just an example of good will and thinking of others? Well, yes of course, and if these photos were simply asking people to donate without the MPs responsible being there, I would think most of us would perhaps be reminded we can do our bit to help, and we should. The presence of the MPs and acceptance of this as good PR is what really worries me, that people will still vote for a party which has been described as cruel and punitive and believes this sort of promotion makes them look good. The irony that our current Prime Minister once herself warned that the Conservatives were becoming the ‘nasty party’ is staggering. For what she now resides over are policies which are internationally condemned as harmful, discriminatory and callous.
The other slight glimmer of hope is some commentators suggest this stunt reflects rumours of a general election on the horizon, as while Theresa May celebrated the ‘success’ of negotiating a deal with the European Union, it seems this was short-lived once parliament began to debate the deal and may trigger an election. The UN report suggested that Brexit has been so much of a distraction for MPs and the public that we are not seeing domestic problems as a priority. I think for many there is a sense that once this deal is done, we can get on with resolving other issues. But for this government, I don’t think that is the case. I think for Conservatives, these negotiations and now parliamentary debates are a welcome distraction and a narrative which fits their lack of will to actually address the harms caused by austerity. A general election may bring about change and force MPs to confront where we are today as a result of political choices, but this depends on how we all really feel about poverty, homelessness, discrimination and disadvantage. I wonder if too many feel these are insurmountable problems, inevitable and therefore, beyond the abilities of government to address. But the UN and EHRC reports clearly tell us this is not the case. I hope we do get an opportunity to hold this government to account sooner rather than later. But most of all, I hope that more of us actually take up this opportunity and not allow what we see today to continue.
Senior Lecturer in Criminology
Equality and Human Rights Commission (2018) The cumulative impact on living standards of public spending changes, available from https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/publication-download/cumulative-impact-living-standards-public-spending-changes
United Nations (2018) Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, see https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23881&LangID=E