“The biggest division of the future isn’t between left and right, but between those who care — for each other, and for the planet — and those who don’t care.”
There’s a few women around (hi Rachel Coldicutt Cassie Robinson. Bea Karol Burks) who are talking along similar lines at the moment. I don’t read this as an overly simplistic division between ‘carers’ and ‘non-carers’. Rather, I see it as the difference between people who see their lifechances as interconnected to the wellbeing of others and the planet; and those who have a mindset that you make or break your own success based on your individual efforts.
This comment, which I’ve been thinking about ever since it popped up on my Twitter feed in the middle of the night a few weeks back, really strikes a chord with all the work we’re doing here at Little Village.
Our work has grown from a simple premise: that families want to help one another, and that it is in all our interests to enable parents to give their children the best possible start in life. We’re a community entirely powered by care. We see this care as an act of solidarity, of ‘love in action’— that is grounded in an understanding that for all of us, there are times in life when we need help, and times in life when we’re able to offer help.
And yet so much of what we are dealing with at Little Village feels like the product of a society that doesn’t care. The families we meet feel this too. Just this week ADT 4th World published a report on the experience of living in poverty. As one participant said,
‘Poverty means being bulldozed, being bullied, pushed away, and not wanted.’
One mum told us that when she visited us, it was the first time anyone had ever made her a cup of tea. Every week we get feedback about how welcome people are made to feel, how warm and friendly their visit to us is. I’m really pleased — but it also makes me wonder — what is the rest of life like for the families we meet, that these simple things are commented upon?
The ‘not caring’ perspective is very pervasive in the public psyche at the moment. I hear it in comments we get like “Well, don’t have children if you can’t afford it” (don’t judge until you know the full story); “These people (urgh) don’t know how to manage their money — we need to educate them” (you try living on £35 a week in London and then get back to me); “Don’t you worry that they’ll just sell the stuff you give them?” (not really, maybe a tiny minority do, but you know, fraud is hardly an issue confined to families living on low incomes, and maybe that mum really needs the money).
That we don’t care also gives rise to policy frameworks that are cruel, uncaring and divisive too. From Universal Credit, to work sanctions and employability tests; from cuts to Hardship funds, to closures of Children’s Centres, we live in a crazy world where the very structures that should be designed to help people out of a hole are dragging them further down. I wrote elsewhere about the 5 ‘i’s of poverty in the Britain today, and deep insecurity and a total lack of control is at the heart of the experience. Again, from the ADT report:
‘Poverty means being part of a system that leaves you waiting indefinitely in a state of fear and uncertainty.’
So what do we do? Anyone who tells you that rising child poverty is the result of abstract economic forces over which we have no control is talking complete nonsense. A while ago I published a book exploring inequality in the US and the UK, where I argued that government policies can augment or ameliorate rising inequality: it is a choice. Look at how we narrowed the gap between rich and poor kids in the late 1990s with the historic commitment to end child poverty, coupled with redistributive tax credits and money being poured into early years provision.
But the more I work on the ground, the more I see how vital the job is of building a huge movement of people who care — for each other, and for the planet. Until we can move the dial from ‘not caring’ to ‘caring’, there will not be sufficient public demand for the kinds of policies and politics that might reduce inequality.
And that’s why, as well as redistributing baby kit at Little Village, we are working really hard to shift the narrative on child poverty from the bottom up. We need to create a critical mass of people who care enough to make some of the more recent policy choices around poverty seem unthinkable.
So how do we go about building that movement?
First, there’s no better way to build empathy and connection than by handing the microphone over to the people experiencing poverty. It is the voices of these parents who could change the way people think, feel and act on poverty. We are really excited to be working with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on how we do this in a way that is impactful and a positive, empowering experience for the parents we work with. We are proud to be involved with the excellent work of organisations like SoundDelivery and On Road Media who are pioneering new approaches in this field.
Second, we want to harness the opportunity we have of working in the early years. The evidence base tells us that there is so much to be gained from investing heavily in the first years of a child’s life. But we also know that we have an opportunity at Little Village to engage people at an emotional level about the impact of growing up poor. By underlining the solidarity between families (summed up in our tagline of ‘a gift from one family to another’) we think we are able to destigmatise the experience of poverty, and to encourage more empathic responses to people who are struggling.
And finally — we can’t and don’t want to do this alone. We love being part of the 4 in 10 network, and have worked with many other amazing grassroots organisations to pull together London Challenge Poverty Week. Other organisations such as the Hygiene Bank, and Sals Shoes, share our belief in the importance of this campaigning work alongside the immediate alleviation of poverty. I’d love us to have closer partnerships with more of the large children’s charities (shout out to the team at Save the Children who have been brilliant collaborators). We see our work in this area as being so much bigger than our organisation alone. Join us, support us, spread the word about us, and help us grow that movement.
We’re very excited to announce our strategic partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. With their support we are now recruiting for a Communications Manager who shares our ambition to build a movement of people who care. For more information about the role, please see here. Deadline for applications is 1st November.