How do we create an economically just society?
Helen Barnard, director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, advises activists: think big, campaign smart and seek the common ground not the high ground.
We all want to live in a society where we can feel safe and secure. It’s just wrong that so many of us are locked out of achieving that basic human requirement. No-one should have to face the nightmare of housing insecurity and endure sleepless nights fearing eviction because they can’t keep up with the rent. None of us should be stuck in work that is so insecure we don’t know from one week to the next when or whether we’ll be working and whether we’ll earn enough to pay the bills. Creating a society where everyone can have a safe home and a secure job which frees them from poverty is entirely possible, but it will require many different actors to take action together.
People with direct experience of poverty should be at the heart of this movement. They have so often been ignored and marginalised even by people who genuinely want to improve things. But they have the greatest expertise not only in what the experience of poverty is like but also in the solutions and what will really work to make a difference to their lives and those of their communities. Groups like the APLE Collective and Citizens UK are incredibly effective advocates and campaigners.
The Living Wage Foundation and Timewise are organisations who have made a big difference to how employers and businesses operate, showing what can be done by businesses who are motivated and supported to do the right thing as well as thrive commercially. Big charities like the Children’s Society and Trussell Trust, and small ones like Little Village do work that meets people’s immediate needs but also campaign for changes that will turn back the tide of poverty so that families can regain the dignity of being able to afford the essentials for themselves.
The cultural sector is vital in building public understanding and support for action to create justice – reflected in the work of people like the actor Michael Sheen, the filmmaker Sean McAlister and Farrah Storr, the editor of Elle magazine. The footballer Marcus Rashford has used his own personal experience and his social media platform to raise awareness of child poverty and start to achieve action on it.
Politicians are crucial leaders and we’ve seen examples of that leadership across all political parties. Labour governments under Gordon Brown and Tony Blair achieved big falls in child and pensioner poverty. Conservative MPs like Stephen Crabb and Damien Green have shown moral authority and courage in championing the importance of social security and calling for better funding for Universal Credit. In Scotland, the SNP have introduced policies like the Scottish Child Payment which will make a tangible difference to the lives and security of thousands of families.
To achieve even greater changes, there are two pieces of advice for activists.
First, think big but campaign smart. Think about the big changes you want to see, dream of a different world. But then be smart and targeted about what you campaign for at each point along the way.
Second, seek the common ground, not the high ground. Too many campaigns only speak to those who are already convinced. They use language and arguments which their core supporters love, but which are incomprehensible or alienating to people who could be won over. To achieve any major change, we have to take the public with us and persuade people who are outside our own bubble. That means finding the common ground and resisting the temptation to stake our flag on the high ground.
Helen Barnard is one of the contributors to our Economic (In)Justice project.
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