Thursday, 23 April 2015

Our Lives: Challenging attitudes to poverty in 2015

Our Lives was launched in Newcastle last Friday, 17th April 2015. It is the result of over a year’s work at a distance as most of us had never met or even knew one another before we were brought together by an article in the Guardian on December 22nd 2013. In this article, Bob Holman wrote about a 1943 study, Our Towns, which was to influence social reform leading, eventually, to the establishment of the Welfare State and the NHS. The eight women authors of Our Towns argued that… “Extensive social deprivation was not down to inadequate parents but poverty.”  These women made radical proposals for nursery schools, better housing, a minimum wage, children’s allowances, price control of basic commodities and a national medical service.

Seventy years later, Bob proposed another ‘Our Towns’ study and he suggested eight women who should compile this report. It took us a few months to get going, I thought it was a brilliant idea but I honestly didn't know what to do and so I was quite relieved to hear from Jo Tunnard and Tricia Zipfel with suggestions about how we could move forward.  Throughout the rest of 2014 and the first part of this year, e mails flew (or pinged?) back and forth as we listened to and wrote the true stories which would become Our Lives. These are not our life stories, they are snapshots from the lives of: Dominic; Wiliam; Mary; Maria; Sally; Colin; Alice; Barbara; Deepak; Janice; Tanya; Thomas; Danuta; Marcus; Louise; Richard; Jenny; Farida; Laura and Margaret.

They are real people affected by austerity; floored by poverty. They are not lazy scroungers or idle benefit cheats. They are good individuals whose lives have been affected by inequality. (I won’t use the term ‘hard working’ because it has been devalued by politicians.) Most of the stories in Our Lives reveal that people living on low wages or benefits have to work extra hard just to house and feed their families. I don’t know anyone who isn’t ‘hard working’.

Five years ago, David Cameron and Nick Clegg proclaimed, when talking about austerity, “We are all in this together.” As the election looms, I would like to ask this question: “Tell me Mr. Cameron and Mr. Clegg, how exactly have you been affected by austerity? How has poverty affected your home, your life, your health, your family and your reputation in the last five years?”

We are not ‘all in this together’. Read Our Lives and see how some have had to shoulder the heaviest burden of austerity and have to battle against injustice and prejudice, often on their own.

Here are some of the women who wrote Our Lives.

Karen Postle; Sally Young; Tricia Zipfel; Jo Tunnard; Josephine Feeney; Loretta Gaffney.

Thanks to all of them for the friendship and support over the months and thanks to Sally Young for the wonderful welcome and hospitality at the Benwell Centre last Friday.

If you want to read the whole of Our Lives, you can access it here:

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