Monday, 14 October 2013

poverty is political

it's been a while since i've written.  as you know, i've been a little busy with other things.  that didn't work out, so i thought it must be time to get back into blogging again.

one thing i wanted to write about was an event i went to last week.  it was a competition involving students from the school of management studies.  there were 4 groups, and each group presented a media/public relations campaign on behalf of the same client.  the client was poverty action waikato, and the campaigns centred around poverty.

i'd come across two of the groups as i was campaigning.  the "step up, speak now" was campaigning for the living wage, and tied their campaign to the local body elections.  hamilton city council failed to vote for a living wage for all it's employees earlier in the year, and this group based their strategy on a petition and a push for candidates to commit to a living wage.  they had an online strategy that was reasonably successful, and they plan to present their petition at the first meeting of the new council.  this group was really passionate, and they understand that decent wages are a critical part of poverty reduction.

the ten-17 group did a feasibility study around setting up a youth hub in hamilton.  they presented the idea to a meeting a couple of weeks ago, and also used an online campaign.  they want to focus on young people between the ages of 10 & 17 who are facing poverty, homeless or disadvantaged in other ways. it's a great initiative, & i really do hope they continue to work on it.  they did a lot of work in engaging with these young people & collecting their stories.  i felt like they really understood the issues.

a third group was called "not-so-super-annuation".  i hadn't come across them, though they did garner a good amount of media attention.  they were focused on poverty faced by the elderly.  they did a good job of presenting the problem, and they had taken some time to connect with people who were struggling in their retirement.

yet, they didn't seem to understand the underlying causes nor to present a viable solution.  their solution was to educate people, particularly in the 45 to 60 year old age bracket about the importance of saving & investing.  they said people shouldn't be relying on the government and that there was a need for a change in culture.

wow, did i have some major problems with that.  first of all, the retirement commissioner & various others have been doing exactly that.  there has been so much information put out, aimed at exactly that age bracket.  and while the group have actually received interest from the commissioner and others for the work they have done, the solution just doesn't address the problem.

the problem is that so many of the people facing poverty in their old age just weren't earning enough to save.  you can educate them as much as you like, but if they don't have enough income, then saving will not happen. there was no consideration of the issues around unemployment, especially for people who are laid off in their middle age. at that age, it's very difficult to find another job.  and it's also hard to retrain, especially when this government has decided that older students can't access the student loan scheme.  if you're unemployed & struggling, there is no way you can afford to re-train or re-educate yourself.

but more than that, their solution assumes that the answer to poverty reduction lies in individual action. it's the response of a neo-liberal generation, brought up in a culture arising from the policies of the 80s & 90s, that thinks personal responsibility is the solution to all problems.  a generation who hasn't thought about the fact that these problems arise from the way our society is structured and the only way to resolve them effectively is to change the underlying structure.

the thing that worried me most about this group was the fact that they hadn't approached grey power or age concern, because they thought those organisations are too political.  that sound you heard was me screaming!  poverty is political.  it is purely political.  there is enough wealth, enough resources for every person in this country to live a comfortable life.  the issue isn't that we don't have enough, it's that the resources aren't fairly distributed.  the way we choose to distribute those resources, as a society, is a political decision.  the economic structures our society uses are as a result of political decisions.  the way markets, financing, banks, wages, etc etc work in our society is a result of political decisions.  we could choose to do things differently, we could choose to structure our society in a way that neither our children nor our elderly would ever have to struggle for food, decent housing and decent heating.  but we don't, and that's a conscious choice, and a political one.

it doesn't surprise me that this group won the competition.  the reason for that is because they were being judged on the effectiveness of their PR campaign, not on the strength of their analysis or the effectiveness of their solutions.  and there was no doubt that the group had the best results in terms of the reach of the campaign, even if it didn't reach me.

but it was frustrating to watch and listen to.  while the other 2 groups had a much better grasp of effective solutions, a much better connection to the problems and the people facing them, it was clear they were never going to win.  and that's because of the rules of the competition, the structure if you will, that they were working under.  it just shows that how you create the structure and what you develop as your criteria will determine the outcome.  that's why we need to change the rules, the structures, so that the people who are currently struggling so much can live their lives with dignity.

1 comment:

Rose Black said...

Thank you Anjum. I think you have presented an insightful analysis of the campaigns and your reflections on it are similar to my own. The forth group was the "p for Poverty" campaign who asked a series of questions and invited comment about various issues to do with poverty. They invited people to choose to be a "force for good". I liked their campaign, while at the same time was concerned about the lack of research into understanding how we have problems of poverty in our society and just accept that it is okay to have people living in poverty and then try to help them. I think the aspect of the exercise that struck me most was the very limited interaction with Poverty Action Waikato as the client in the whole process. I am still puzzled by that as I would have thought that a key aspect of a PR campaign is the relationship with the client.