Thursday, 28 November 2013

Community Day of Action - 27th November 2013

Children North East have been working on a pilot project over the past six months to support a local neighbourhood to take action on poverty.  Young people living in and around the Benwell Terraces organised a family fun day which took place during the summer holidays.  As well as having fun over 300 residents took part in a discussion and consultation about what they would like to change in their neighbourhood.  They overwhelmingly voted to tackle the environmental problems of litter and rubbish in their streets.

This isn’t just a bit of litter, Neighbourhood Services are aware that there is a real problem in this patch, estimating that the equivalent bulk of one hundred of elephants worth of rubbish has been collected in the last year alone.

Penalty notices were seen as the only way to address the problem.  Children North East have been researching with local residents what lies behind the problems.  We found there was a problem with the three Bs...

Bag Ripping:  people shared with us stories about families walking down the back alleys, one family member kicks over bins; they are followed by another who rips/slashes the bags which fall out, someone else then looks for any materials, clothes or linen in the bags.  These are then taken to newly opened cash for clothes outlets.  Two shops are now open near the Terraces on Condercum Road and Two Ball Lonnen.  Cash is given in exchange for any textiles at 60p per kilo.   This activity then leaves rubbish and litter all over the back alleys in the Terraces.  It seems as though families in particular A2 nationals are reliant upon this type of income as they are not entitled to claim state benefits.  (Note: A2 nationals are able to be self employed and we were aware of large families being supported by one parent selling the Big Issue).

Bulk Refuge Collection & Fly Tipping: Residents told us that they were not able to afford bulk refuge charges to have larger items removed.  Nor did they have access to cars or vans to be able to take them to the tip themselves.  Families in particular struggled with the fortnightly bin collections and had extra bags by their bins.  Some families also shared with us that they were storing rubbish in their garages and spare rooms.  It also became apparent that others were driving into the Terraces to leave bulk items too (fly tipping).

Boredom: Younger children also talked to us about being bored and spending a lot of their time hanging around the streets.  If they got bored then they would do things like kick over bins in the back alleys.  Parents also repeated to us their concerns about the lack of things to do for young people.  They also worried that given the state of the neighbourhood led to a spiral downwards, why bother putting things in the bin when it’s such a mess?

We have also been talking to people about what solutions would help.  Penalty notices will not address these problems!

Residents wanted a portable container to clear away the back log.  As a result Children North East, Your Homes Newcastle, Newcastle City Council and the Arts Development Team worked with local residents on the day of action.   Skips were placed on each street for residents to fill with unwanted household items. Children and young people from Canning Street, Oakfield and Excelsior Academy helped litter picking and cleaning up smaller amounts of rubbish from the streets and green spaces.

The day ended with a celebration event (a party) at the Beacon.  We will create works of art with recycled rubbish and take the opportunity to speak to residents about how to sustain the change.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Living Wage Week

This is a true story - Jon is in his twenties, he works full-time as a parking enforcement officer, a job he has been doing for the last 18 months. Before that he was in the Army where he served in Afghanistan. Jon lives with his partner who graduated from university in the summer and is looking for a job. They rent a small flat, their only income is Jon's wage which is the Minimum Wage for adults over the age of 21, that is £6.31 an hour for a 37 hour week. Jon earns £233.47 a week before tax (a little over £12,000 a year). Jon told me that they can barely afford to pay the rent and buy food. When bills come in they borrow from his Mam or other family members then pay them back week by week. He said it was tempting to take out a 'Pay Day' loan but he knew he could not afford the interest rate, 'in any case,' he said, 'relatives are more understanding about giving you more time to pay.'

The Living Wage has gone up this week by 20p an hour - from £7.45 to £7.65. If Jon's employer paid the Living Wage his earnings would increase by £49.58 a week to £283.05. I asked Jon what difference that would make to him. A grin spread across his face, 'Wow!' he said, 'that would make a huge difference, I wouldn't have to borrow and we might be able to have a night out occassionally.' Lastly Jon told me he and his partner would like to start a family but could not afford to on their present income.

Low paid workers are not asking for a great deal, simply the means to pay for the aspirations that anyone could reasonably expect of life in the UK in 2013.