ISSUE 3. SPRING 2009
SAME CITY, DIFFERENT LIVES. THIS IS BIRMINGHAM...
NEWS INTERVIEWS FEATURES COMMENT LIFESTYLE
Britain’s Shame: The shocking truth about poverty in the region
The beautiful game? Activists tackle the dark side of football
The growing problem of Birmingham’s gangs
YOUR FREE MAGAZINE FOR ALL THINGS BIRMINGHAM
Outside of London, Birmingham is one of the country’s most ‘diverse’ cities. It is also a city with one of the biggest gaps between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. We want to know what this means to you.
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Issue Three: Spring 2009
SAME CITY, DIFFERENT LIVES. THIS IS BIRMINGHAM...
News 04 If you read nothing else today
Interviews 07 Tackling the dark side of football We talk football, racism and taking on the establishment with Lincoln Moses
13 ‘We’re dealing with kids as young as ten’ Speak Out takes a look at gang culture in Birmingham
Feature 08 Child poverty: Britain’s shame We reveal the shocking truth about child poverty in the region
10 Make your mind up time Two MPs try and win your vote at the next election
14 A different perspective
Ever wondered what people from abroad make of us?
Comment 12 What does poverty really mean? No spin, just your views
16 We’ve come a long way David Viney questions whether we are all treated equally
06 Could you stand up to hatred? Suzy Railly explains why the Holocaust presents a challenge to us all.
Speak Easy 18 The Knowledge 17 On the spot Equality campaigner Joy Warmington is put under the spotlight
Editor: Chris Allen Editorial team: Amy Roberts, Ghiyas Somra, Russ Hall Contributors: Chantal Foyer, Anna Sirmoglou, Ivanova, Munir, Siobhan Harper-Neunes, Sheila Ellis, Lincoln Moses, Raymond Douglas, Suzy Railly, David Viney, Andrew Mitchell, Ian Austin, Laura Payne Design: Russell Hall – www.russelljhall.com Printed by: Lion FPG Ltd, Oldbury Road, West Bromwich, West Midlands, B70 9DQ
Thank you to all those people that gave their time freely to help us produce this edition of Speak Out Speak Out Floor 9, Edgbaston House, 3 Duchess Place, Hagley Rd, Birmingham, B16 8NH E-mail email@example.com This month’s front cover Image: Sebastian Knight
EQUALITIES NEWS FEED attracted to both women and men), to being solely homosexual (only being attracted to someone of the same sex), to being asexual (not being attracted to anyone).
Government To Ask People About Sexuality “How very dare you”, a catchphrase from a popular TV programme, is likely to be the immediate response of many people when they come across a form asking them to tick a box to categorise their sexual orientation – although they’re unlikely to find this request at all amusing. But with the Office for National Statistics announcing that they will ask about people’s sexuality on major national surveys they undertake, many thousands of people will be faced with the Government asking them about the sexual preferences. Former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe has already hit out against the proposals, claiming that: “I would ask them to mind their own business. This is going completely over the top and is state intrusion of the very worst kind.” In reality, though, the opportunity to gather information on the kinds of issues and challenges facing the country’s LGB community is an important step towards equality for this group. But to understand why that is, we need to look behind the headlines. We all have a sexual orientation, including those of us who choose to be celibate. In the simplest terms possible ‘orientation’ describes who we are attracted to. Our sexuality, sexual practice or preference, on the other hand, describes the sorts of things we enjoy when we engage in sexual activity – all of which are common across the spectrum of sexual orientation, although obviously not enjoyed or practised by everyone in any of the groups! As with all human behaviour, diversity is the norm. Human sexual orientation, it could be argued, spans a spectrum from being completely heterosexual (only being attracted to people of the opposite sex), through to being bisexual (being
Sadly, like most other aspects of our human diversity, our sexual orientation brings advantages and disadvantages, acceptance and discrimination. And in this instance, research and anecdotal evidence indicates that discrimination and intolerance is more likely to be experienced by people who are gay or bisexual. We have legislation to protect people from discrimination, harassment and bullying, but how can we know it works unless we gather evidence to see whether this aspect of ourselves influences how other people treat us, our family and friends? This is why employers and people who provide services are asking us to provide this information. If you don’t want to provide it, then that is your right – but it’s rather like voting – you know it’s the right thing to do! Which categories then? There really is no easy answer here because there is no consensus about the ‘right’ categories and because of the feelings that some of these words prompt. However, if we try to reclaim and reinforce the ‘neutrality’ of the terms below, these may serve us best in a formal context: heterosexual; bisexual; asexual; homosexual; don’t wish to say. Of course, a number of other issues should be considered in relation to monitoring sexual orientation. Of particular importance is data protection and protecting people who may wish to declare their sexual orientation for monitoring purposes but wish to keep this private in their working/service environment. Watch this space…
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SpeakOut spring 2009
Obama Team Fly In To Fight BNP
Teacher Hits Out At ‘Homophobic’ Schools A former teacher of the year has spoken out against the homophobia endemic in Britain’s schools. While a clear message is sent out that racism and sexism won’t be tolerated, schools are less forward in defending gay rights, he argues. Writing in the Guardian newspaper, Phil Beadle said that ‘thousands’ of gay and lesbian teachers were wary of being open about their sexuality. ‘This awful code of secrecy transmits to the children,’ he continued, ‘so that young people facing up to the fact they might not be exactly what their parents had in mind are forced to suffer in silence, unaware the role model they desperately need, and think is absent, may be standing at the front of the very class in which they are suffering. Those who don’t maintain the code of silence risk being tarred and feathered at break time.’ A recent study found that more than 50% of LGB men and women who had been bullied at school contemplated self-harm or suicide, while 40% had made at least one attempt to self-harm. A further study found that more than 20% had attempted suicide.
Anti-racist campaigners are going international in their fight against the far-right BNP by signing up the people behind Barack Obama’s online election campaign. Obama used an American organisation called Blue State Digital to mobilise millions of people, exploiting the very latest internet technology. Anti-fascist group Searchlight hope the same firm will help create a grassroots network across the UK as part of the campaign to stop the BNP leader, Nick Griffin, from becoming the party’s first MEP in June. The company began work for Searchlight last week, and has already signed up thousands of new supporters and donors. The BNP is fielding candidates across the country in June’s European elections, and analysts believe the party could be on the verge of an important breakthrough. Since the last time MEPs were elected, in 2004, it has increased its support, and the UK Independence party, which picked up a number of seats last time around, has floundered. Commentators predict that these factors, combined with the economic downturn, could lead to the BNP’s gaining up to four seats, giving it a financial boost, a full-time staff and a greater degree of political legitimacy. In their own words… “‘Racism’ is not a consequence of ‘false consciousness’, economics, imperialism or the work of evil agitators, it is part of human nature. All staff at teacher training colleges will face compulsory re-evaluation and retraining. The egalitarian and anti-British dogmas that have betrayed a generation will be rooted out. We would abolish all laws against racial discrimination in employment. We would introduce a Clause 28-style proscription against the promotion of racial integration in schools and the media. All lawabiding adults…would be required to keep in a safe locker in their homes a standard-issue military assault rifle and ammunition.” from the 2005 BNP General Election manifesto
spring 2009 SpeakOut
With Jewish businesses and synagogues facing
increased hostility after recent international events, antiracism campaigner Suzy Railly talks about the personal challenges raised by Holocaust Memorial Day.
I have been privileged enough to have been brought up in a way that has taught me to respect other people. I went to primary and secondary schools that catered for many different religions and cultures, and I learned much from both the friends I made there, and the education offered to me. The most profound thing I learned though, was not through formal education or relationships I made with my peers, but reading Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. I found it such a hard concept to grasp, that this young girl, similar to me in her thoughts and musings, was treated so horrendously, purely because she was Jewish. ‘Aren’t we all the same really?’ I used to think. We all are human, we all were born, and we will all die. What makes individuals, such as the Nazis – and, sadly, many others still today – think that they are better than others? 6
SpeakOut spring 2009
This year the theme of Holocaust Memorial Day, held on 27 January, is Stand up to Hatred. An excellent theme in my opinion, as something which shocked me so greatly whilst learning about the Nazis and their persecution of Jews is that no-one stood up to this obvious disregard for human life. I sincerely believe that I would have done. The sheer lack of open opposition to this abhorrent ideology shows how much some individuals risked to save the lives of and protect people from the threat of Nazism. The four people who helped the Frank family whilst they were in hiding endangered themselves to help their friends. Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans were both executed by the Nazis for being part of a non-violent resistance movement called the White Rose. Would you do the same if put in a similar situation?
Jewish communities have faced persecution in Europe for thousands of years. In 1290, the king expelled all the Jewish people in England, forcing them to flee overseas. But even on continental Europe, communities often faced massacre and forced conversion. In the 14th century, for example, Jewish people were burnt alive as rumours spread that they were responsible for the Black Death. Today, research has shown that antiSemitism is on the rise both here as well as elsewhere in Europe. According to the Community Security Trust, there have already been over 150 anti-Semitic incidents this year, largely attributable to the conflict in Gaza. More worryingly, the far-right in Britain are employing messages of hate against religious communities, using the economic crisis to look for innocent scapegoats and to ferment racism and other forms of hatred. The government’s equalities watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, recently said Britain is the best place in Europe to live if you are not white. But racism hasn’t gone away. If Britain is to remain the best place in Britain for all to live, then the social ills of anti-Semitism cannot be overlooked.
All these people stood up to hatred, and we as a society, could learn a lot from them. The threat of racism and anti-Semitism is still very real today. Anti-Semitism is rising and recently there have been attacks on synagogues and Jewish businesses. With radical politics once again growing across Europe it is imperative that we challenge all hate crime and discrimination. Holocaust Memorial Day gives us the chance to commemorate those individuals who lost their lives, and the entire families that disappeared. It is also vital that future generations understand the importance of treating everyone with dignity and respect and valuing others just as much as we value as ourselves. This year, Stand up to Hatred.
Image: Holocaust Memorial Germany, Berlin
COULD YOU STAND UP TO HATRED?
a modern-day racism…
Lincoln Moses has recently been awarded an MBE for services to community football. Speak Out decided to ask him about football, racism, and taking on the establishment. How long have you been involved in community football? Continental Stars FC was formed in Lozells back in ‘75 to give people from a ‘different’ background an opportunity. It wasn’t that we were a closed shop or anything like that – we’ve had a phenomenal number of players from white, black and Asian backgrounds playing for us – it was about opportunity. Since then, I’ve been a player, coach, manager and secretary at the club. Have you ever experienced racism in football? The most hurtful time was when I went to a local derby at the Hawthorns. All the lads I’d gone with were white. When Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis came on the pitch they all started chanting ‘Nigger, nigger lick my boots’. I stood there, looked around and it felt like every man, woman and child in the ground were singing it. I felt embarrassed and didn’t know what to do especially when one of my best mates – or who I thought was one of my best mates - threw a banana on the field. On the way home I asked him why he did it and he just said that during the 90 minutes they’re the enemy. That was it. Things like that stick in your mind and that’s why black people didn’t go and support the teams.
things: I’ve got on committees, working groups, the lot. That’s why some think I’m challenging. But I’m not challenging, it’s just that if I see a wrong I want to put it right. Local poet Benjamin Zephaniah turned down his OBE because of its connection with the Empire. What do you think? I went on radio the day I heard I had been awarded the MBE and a prominent black person had been on just before, criticising me for basically justifying 200 years of slavery under the British Empire!
A lot of people want to know me now – some of them, though, are what I call ‘frienemies’: people who wouldn’t want to know me without the MBE! How are you planning to use your MBE? Even though I’m from Nevis and St Kitts, the Jamaicans have this saying that ‘out of many, we are one’ and that’s what this is about. It’s a tool I’ve been given that I can utilise to bring people together as one. Today it’s not so much about ethnicity or race – you can put whatever label you want on it – but it’s about bringing us all together in the inner city.
To tell you the truth, how I look at it is that it opens doors for the community that I come from. There’s always been obstacles for that community but even after just two weeks, there are doors opening all over the place for us now. I just have to phone people up and they’re like, ‘Yes, Lincoln’! So it’s a means of removing the obstacles for others like me – other than that, it’s just a tag.
Is it possible to get things changed in football? With Continental, I remember one of our players had dreadlocks. The referee told him not only to tie them back but that he had to wear a plastic bag over them as well. I remember thinking, I can’t ever remember seeing Ruud Gullit having to wear one of these! After the match, I wrote a letter to the FA and kept on doing so until I got something changed. I have always done that sort of thing. You have to learn how the system works because once you do, you know that someone has to do something and there’s always a record. That’s how I’ve changed spring 2009 SpeakOut
Child Poverty: Britainâ€™s Shame A recent report has shown that Birmingham is the centre of child poverty in the UK,
with some families too poor to afford Christmas presents. Laura Payne, Senior Campaign Coordinator at End Child Poverty, explains what you can do to help.
SpeakOut spring 2009
In 1999 the Government promised to halve child poverty by 2010 and eradicate it by 2020. This was a historic pledge, aimed at addressing the UK’s appalling record on child poverty. Despite being the fifth richest country in the world, 3.9m children (that’s one in three) live in poverty – one of the worst rates in Europe. What these statistics mean is that there are children in this region going without basic necessities such as adequate clothing, a healthy diet or a warm home. Children will also be missing out on many things that people take for granted such as school trips, having friends round for tea or presents at birthdays. The campaign knows the daily, grinding, struggle that many families face trying to bring up their children. Children from poor homes aren’t able to participate fully at school and take advantage of the educational opportunities available to them. As 12 year old Mahiatul said: “I don’t actually end up having fun like a 12 or 13 year old would normally… If I had my own room I’d be delighted and wouldn’t have to ask for anything more… I would have a better chance of improving my schoolwork and getting on with everyone in the family.” The consequences of childhood poverty aren’t something you grow out of. Children from poor backgrounds are more likely to have health problems throughout their adult life and die younger. You are 50% more likely to report having a limiting illness if you are from a deprived background. Without qualifications children can struggle to get quality jobs, making them more likely to face poverty throughout their lives.
Struggling with money like this and not having enough to get by on... not being able to give your kids what they want can be really depressing. Some days I can hardly think. Some days I just feel like crying. It is because of this reality that we are pushing the Government harder than ever to do more to end child poverty in our country. Initially there was good progress towards the child poverty targets and 600,000 children were lifted out of poverty. However, in recent years these efforts have stalled. To reach 2020 there are a range of areas that the Government needs to tackle, including education, housing, childcare provision and health inequalities to bring about long-term improvements for children living in poverty. But right now, without a £3bn investment in tax credits and benefits, the target of halving child poverty by 2010 is in tremendous risk. We want everyone who feels that this injustice should be changed to join us in demanding Gordon Brown does something about it, before it’s too late. Keep The Promise is a once-in-a-generation chance to make a positive change to the lives of millions of children. The Campaign to End Child Poverty, a coalition of more than 150 organisations, including children’s charities, trade unions, and faith groups, recently held the biggest ever event to end child poverty. Ten thousand children, families and supporters from across the UK came together in Westminster to show their desire for an end to child poverty. Provoking a response from the Prime Minister and with senior representatives from all parties witnessing the event, this Keep the Promise rally helped to influence the parliamentary agenda at a vital time for children in the UK. However, we still need you to add your voice to the demands of these thousands of others as the 2009 budget is the last realistic chance for the Government to meet the 2010 target and keep alive its promise to end child poverty. That’s why we are calling on you to sign the Keep the Promise petition at www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/promise Without your support now, one of the boldest political promises, affecting the lives of millions of children will not be met. This is a pivotal moment for children in poverty, so please make your voice is heard.
a local view “We really struggle to make ends meet at the moment. In fact, we don’t make ends meet. You can’t do your shopping and pay all your bills on this amount of money. We make just under £200 per week household income and it’s impossible to balance everything. We are quite heavily in debt at the moment – we owe £6,000 and this is increasing all the time.” Kate and her partner Jon have three children and live in the suburbs of Birmingham. They depend on out-of-work benefits as their only income. Jon worked for his father, but lost his job when his father died and because of a criminal record from being in trouble when he was younger he has struggled to find work. Kate is studying part time for a Business Administration qualification and plans to return to work when her youngest child starts school.
the statistics • 30% of children in Britain are living in poverty • Since 1999, when the current Government pledged to end child poverty, 600,000 children have been lifted out of poverty • The UK has one of the worst rates of child poverty in the industrialised world • Poverty shortens lives. A boy in Manchester can expect to live seven years less than a boy in Barnet. • 2% of couples and 8% of lone parents cannot afford two pairs of shoes for each child. • 12% of lone parents cannot afford celebrations with presents at special occasions Source: End Child Poverty www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/why-end-child-poverty
how poor is your area? This table shows the percentage of children living in low income families*
Edgbaston Erdington Hall Green Hodge Hill Ladywood Northfield Perry Barr Selly Oak Sparkbrook & Small Heath Yardley
50% 64% 52% 75% 81% 55% 61% 50% 79% 57%
* Low income means where no-one is working more than 16 hours a week or the family is receiving the full amount of Working Tax Credit
spring 2009 SpeakOut
WHO DO YOU WANT RUNNING THE COUNTRY?
With the smart money on there being a General Election this year, it’s time to decide who will get your cross on the ballot paper. To give you the facts, Speak Out asked two local MPs to tell us what they would do to tackle poverty in the city.
The Red Corner: Ian Austin, Labour Minister for the West Midlands In these difficult economic times it is more important than ever that we redouble our efforts to tackle poverty and open up opportunity and not, as the Tories have argued, do nothing and just let the recession take its course. We want people to be able to climb as far as their talents, effort and hard work will carry them. But eliminating barriers to opportunity and enabling people to fulfil their potential means investing in public services now to drive up standards in schools, create more apprenticeships, and get more people from poorer backgrounds into university. In the dark days of Conservative rule we saw two of the longest and deepest recessions in our history leading to record unemployment and no help for ordinary families. Child poverty trebled to the point that it hit one young person in three. At the other end of the scale, pensioners faced state incomes 25% lower than they are today. But we’ve made big steps forward over the past ten years. Millions of new jobs and measures 10
SpeakOut spring 2009
like the minimum wage, the New Deal, 3,000 Sure Start centres, tax credits and record levels of child benefit to support hard-working families were all opposed by the Tories but have boosted family incomes and cut child poverty. What is more, under Labour this country has seen the levels of social mobility improve for the first time in 30 years. That means more people are finally getting the chance to get on and achieve what their talents deserve, regardless of their background. Fighting poverty is not just a moral imperative; it is also a competitive necessity. We need to unlock all the talents available in the UK to get ahead in today’s globalized world. In the coming years the world economy will create a billion skilled jobs and Britain can only benefit if we invest now. Here in the West Midlands we need to improve education and boost skills. We need more people going to university and better skills in the workplace. That is why the government has announced plans to offer ‘golden handcuff’
payments of £10,000 to get 6,000 of the best teachers into the 500 schools where they can help the most. That is why we are creating a University Outreach Campaign to seek out another 10,000 young people with high potential from low income backgrounds to give them a chance to show what they can do. On top of this, the government has announced plans for an ‘Inspiring Communities’ campaign to bring people in tough communities together to help local youngsters believe in themselves and help them climb as high as their talents, ability and hard work can take them. What about the alternative? Don’t be fooled by the Tories’ new marketing. Their slick PR might tell you that the Conservatives care about these issues but the truth is they have opposed every poverty-fighting measure we have introduced. On top of this if they get into power they have pledged to cut Labour initiatives that are providing real help for people now.
Left: Ian Austin, Labour
They would cut £1 billion from Train to Gain and would end this county’s commitment to giving people the skills they need to survive in the globalized economy. Whilst Labour will add a further 500 Sure Start centres by 2010 and introduce two additional outreach workers in the 1,500 most disadvantaged communities, the Tories would slash the programme’s funding by £200million a year, again letting their dogmatic beliefs get in the way of a government initiative that is providing real support now where it is needed most. For those who care about tackling poverty it’s a simple choice between Labour investment and Tory cuts, government support or the Conservative do-nothing approach. Whilst Gordon Brown strives every day to alleviate child poverty David Cameron refuses to even set a target. Don’t let anyone tell you there is no difference between the two major parties. On poverty there is a world of difference. Again and again we see a clear distinction. We see a government working tirelessly on new initiatives in the battle against poverty whilst Cameron’s Conservatives oppose us at every turn. The Blue Corner: Andrew Mitchell, Conservative Shadow Cabinet Member for Birmingham A few years ago Tony Blair said, “Our goal is a Britain in which nobody is left behind”. Now, 11 years on, the most vulnerable groups in society remain stuck in unacceptable levels of poverty while hard-working families continue to struggle to make ends meet. Social mobility in Britain has ground to a halt. Official figures show that a child born to a poor family in Britain now has less chance of escaping that poverty than almost anywhere else in the world. In fact, child poverty actually increased during 2006-7. Meanwhile, nearly half a million pensioners live in poverty, and an astonishing 60% of pensioners
aren’t claiming the benefits they’re entitled to – meaning that our least well off senior citizens are missing out on up to £4.5 billion of means-tested benefits. What would the Conservatives do? We are committed to tackling poverty in Birmingham (and in Britain as a whole) and to do this we need a new multi-dimensional approach that tackles the underlying causes of disadvantage, not just its symptoms. Here are some areas we would target. 1. Early years intervention to tackle social problems in at-risk families. Evidence shows that professional support given to families at the point of a child’s birth, especially in poorer families, means that children develop securely, do better at school and stay out of crime. Labour is cutting health visitors; we will expand them hugely – over 4,000 more health visitors across the country will ensure all parents receive guaranteed help. 2. An education recovery programme in primary schools. We will halt the current trend where children from disadvantaged backgrounds fall further and further behind in education by increasing per-capita funding for these pupils so targeted interventions can be made earlier. Our key focus will be on ensuring that children who haven’t received adequate early years help from their families are given enhanced support to ensure that vital capabilities like reading skills are brought up to the same standard as their contemporaries. 3. More tailored educational support in secondary school. We will overhaul our secondary school sector to make sure those in danger of falling out of the system receive an education that engages them. We will ensure that pupils from deprived backgrounds but with the ability to excel are given the right support to get them into high quality higher education. Our approach will include more school places in deprived areas, greater diversity in our secondary school sector – with more academies and specialist schools – more streaming by ability and more opportunity for pupils with a vocational bent to pursue relevant courses while still in school.
RIGHT: Andrew Mitchell, Conservative
4. Enhancing post-school and adult skills development. We plan to revamp skills education to get disaffected young people out of the classroom and into practical apprenticeships in real working environments, and to give adults much greater access to skills development to help them move on. Many young people leave school without the qualifications to get on in education, training or employment. We will provide £100 million of targeted support to help them with courses that boost their confidence and employability. We will offer a major boost to the provision of real, workplace apprenticeships by injecting £775 million of support to fund apprenticeships for people of all ages. A further £100 million will boost courses for adults looking to update or learn new skills: parents trying to return to work after time out caring or people trying to re-skill after being made redundant will benefit. 5. Reforming welfare to end the culture of longterm benefit dependency. We plan to end Britain’s culture of benefit dependency with enhanced backto-work support reinforced by a sanctions regime that doesn’t permit anyone potentially able to work to spend long periods of time at home on benefit. In particular, we will dramatically expand back-towork provision so that we can take rapid steps to help the 2.6 million people on incapacity benefit. We also plan to remove disincentives to family life in our tax and benefits system – particularly the ‘couple penalty’ that can actually make it more attractive for some families to live apart rather than together. The government has failed to spread opportunity widely and fairly throughout Britain. We’re proposing a joined-up approach that tackles Britain’s broken society. We can achieve this if we learn lessons from the past and harness our commitment and determination to such an important and necessary cause.
spring 2009 SpeakOut 11
Are you poor if you can’t afford a new
mobile phone or if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from? Siobhan Harper-Nunes cuts through the spin to find out what you really think about poverty. As a student of social policy, my understanding of poverty came from the study of the welfare state, created after the Second World War in 1945. A welfare state means that whatever the state of the economy, we as a nation have decided that no one should ever be in a position where there is inadequate food, education or shelter. That was the general thinking of the founding fathers/mothers who designed the welfare society that we now take for granted.
To understand more about this I asked a cross section of acquaintances, friends and colleagues about their perception of poverty. David, 65 “Poverty is a hidden disease. The one that’s not talked about because then we would have to address it. Poverty is not about one country or one economy. It is a world issue. It’s for the developed world to lead and support the underdeveloped world. Poverty can not be solved by one group of people or one organisation. It’s not something you can throw money at. To address poverty it will take skills, technology, agricultural planning and a knowledge of history. The Western world takes advantage by exploiting the poor in the third world but in doing so put our workers out of work. When Ghandi tried to stop the exploitation of the textile worker, he spoke to British textile workers who supported the cause but we don’t have that kind of affinity today, that kind of kinship – no one knows their history and we do not associate our problems with those of others around the world.”
Frank, 40 “Poverty for me is about being skint. Working all day, wheeling and dealing and still not having enough to pay your bills. Poverty is knowing your kids have to do without. It’s not thought about as much as it should be. People are too busy thinking about their own money problems to think about poverty”
poverty is but it sucks. It’s about being poor, and that to me means no family, no job, living in a third world country with only the basics and a tin shack.”
Claudia, 18 “I don’t even know what poverty is, I really don’t. It does not affect me. I hear about it all the time but I really don’t have a clue.”
Aftab, 45 “I have been used to seeing poverty first hand as I am from Bangladesh. Sending money back to poor relatives has been a common theme in our family. Instead of this drip feed, I thought I’d set my cousin up in business so that he could support himself. All of this helps get them by, without many donations from us.”
Michelle, 24 “I’ve lived on water, baked beans, and bread for a few days when I was a student, but I don’t know if that was really being poor, because I knew that I could use my overdraft.”
Mary, 74 “Poverty means to be deprived of the goods, services and pleasures we take for granted, like clean water. We don’t pay for anything: the water we drink is clean. If you live in poverty it’s dirty.”
Sam, 13 “Poverty is what happens in the world, in Africa in the third world, where people don’t have houses, but more importantly they don’t have clean water! They can’t afford the technology to make water clean or mass produce food. That’s poverty. People should stop worrying about themselves as compared to the lives of other people around the world. Our problems are not very big. The stuff we worry about today is irrelevant when other people are looking at no water, no food and no medicine. We have dentists, we have hospitals, we have places to go when we get sick or injured.”
Mohammed, 81 “When I was growing up there were times that we literally did not know where our next meal was coming from. There weren’t benefits like there are now, so we sometimes had to depend on our neighbours. But we didn’t know any different so in a way I feel more sorry for poor people today. They keep seeing celebrities on TV who are people like them.” Jeanicka, 14 “We are not poor. No one in the UK is. It’s the Africans and the third world. We do not address it enough in the UK. All the celebrities worldwide should do so much more. People who are poor have no national health. All of us in the UK and worldwide should be helping to establish basic health services worldwide. That’s my thinking about addressing poverty.”
SpeakOut spring 2009
Diane, 32 “I know people who can’t afford to go to the cinema or out to a restaurant. They struggle to pay for the electric, buy food, and get new shoes for their kids. Their houses haven’t been redecorated for 15 years because they can’t afford it and there’s damp on the walls. That’s being poor.” Nadeem, 27 “What you want depends on your social circle. I know some bankers and they’ve had to sell cars or one of their houses because they’ve lost their jobs, which is difficult for them. You live to your means; if you earn £70,000 you’re probably spending all of that so if you lose your job it doesn’t mean you’re OK.”
What Does Poverty Mean to You?
For me, true poverty in the UK is felt by people the state cannot see, those who are here as asylum seekers and unable to register for state support, those who are here illegally and those who for some reason or another have failed to be registered as living here at all – the homeless, drug addicts, illegal immigrants, and so on.
Jane, 26 “I don’t know what
As gang culture becomes more
prevalent, gang members are becoming younger. Speak Out talks to those working to change lives.
It’s not every day David Cameron gets called a ‘donut’ – at least not to his face, anyway – so it raised a few eyebrows when More Fire Crew rapper Lethal Bizzle compared the Conservative leader to a sugary snack two years ago. The fight erupted between the two when Cameron answered a question about tackling knife crime by blaming the music played by Saturday night Radio 1 DJs. Lethal Bizzle responded: “music is not to blame: there are problems and violence in all parts of society. You should look deeper at what’s wrong in society and help to make changes.” What both men agreed on, though, is that gang culture is a serious problem, robbing communities of young people at a tragically early age. Last year, 34 teenagers were killed in violent incidents in London alone, with the youngest victim only 15. Birmingham is no different, with some experts even claiming the situation is worse because the poorest parts of the city are clustered close together and isolated from other areas. The government’s tactics to combat the problem have ranged from sting operations targeting traders who sell knives to under-18s to providing metal detectors for nightclubs, schools and railway stations. Last month, it announced an extra £20m would be made available to community organisations tackling the problem. But while the additional money will be welcome, some have concerns about how the government is spending it. “Money’s not going to solve gang violence,” says Raymond Douglas, National Co-ordinator with Anti-youth Violence, a community organisation working to change young people’s perception of gang culture. “You’ll see tonnes of money going into diversionary youth work,” he explains, “but where’s the chance for transformation? If you’ve got a gang member and you take them away on a Friday to a three-day residential, it’s all good: they do new activities, get out of the hood – it gives them the chance to relax from the day-to-day tests they go through. But that’s on Friday. On Monday you drop them back to the same community with the same social group, with the same issues. So those three days have essentially been diversionary.” So what’s the alternative? “We run projects so that by the Monday that person has been challenged around their own morality, ethics, identity, knowledge of self,” says Raymond. In a typical learning session, young people will debate youth violence, explore the negative lifestyle of gang culture, and analyse their personal values relating to ‘postcodism’. “Young people are prepared to rep postcodes, but how many of them own a property on them? Or a business? One of our main concerns is that it’s starting younger, so
now you have 11 year olds getting involved. We’ve started working in primary schools, and we’re hearing from ten year olds saying they won’t go to certain secondary schools because of the postcodes.” Looking at young people’s attachment with postcodes begins to explain why gang culture has become so prevalent. Defining yourself through belonging to a particular area is an American import, a feature common to gangs like the Crips and Bloods that dominate the country’s west coast. “Whether it be war or street culture, we seem to follow America,” comments Raymond wryly, although underneath his humour is a serious point about the impact of television, music, and film. So does Raymond side with David Cameron on the gang culture debate? Not quite – he sees the problem as more complicated than that: “When you see an 18 year old in prison who isn’t going to get out until his late forties, there’s an argument that people like us came in to late for them. It’s going to cost this country £40,000 a year to keep him there. So the argument is, why wasn’t that money invested in this young person prior to that? There’s something there about social equity.” “I was in France not long ago with a couple of lads,” he expands. “Both of them were selling heroin and both had access to guns. One morning we woke up and went to the bakery, and one of the kids – hoodies up and everything – started to order in fluent French. It turned out he was in grammar school till he was 14 but got in the wrong crowd and got expelled. A few years later he’s on the road, selling drugs, getting weapons. Where was the system for him?” With five people dying of stabbings every week, it’s clear that’s a question we have to answer soon. spring 2009 SpeakOut 13
Ever wondered what people from abroad make of us? Some recent
ANNA, GREECE The reflex ‘sorry’ syndrome is something I have adopted myself over time. Basically, it refers to the fact that the British tend to say sorry about everything, even when it’s clearly not their fault. This became evident to me soon after I came to the UK and started bumping into people. To set the story straight, that wasn’t part of any malicious plan to conquer the world or test people’s patience – I was merely being my normal, careless, unaware-of-my-surroundings self. Even though the collision was clearly my fault, the vast majority of people apologised to me, before I could even utter a word! My initial reaction following a few incidents was to start questioning my sanity. When in Greece, people would normally utter “watch out”, or give you evil looks, or ignore you. I have to admit, it took me a while to understand that apologising is just a reflex, automatic reaction to any such undesired contact. Nowadays, on those rare occasions when the collision is not my fault, I automatically say sorry. This, in fact, was exactly what happened when on vacation in Greece and a stiletto-wearing lady nearly murdered my toe! The highlight of the story, though, was her response to my reflex apology: “Oh, that’s all right”! I didn’t use the word sorry again for the rest of my stay in Greece! But as reserved as the British are, this changes after a few drinks, and is replaced by loud and sometimes aggressive behaviour. I witnessed quite a few such occurrences during my student years at Bristol – people fighting in the streets, people looking for a fight and swearing – things I hadn’t witnessed before, at least not to such extent. Don’t get me wrong; people drink in Greece, often quite heavily. However, drinking is perceived differently by the British (at least by some). It is often seen as a goal in itself, rather than the unintended consequence of a night out. “Let’s get out to get drunk” rather than “Let’s get out to have fun (whether that involves alcohol or not)” is the common motto. Why this is the case I am not entirely sure. Is letting loose only achievable through alcohol consumption? Why does drinking alcohol become synonymous with being loud and often violent? One thing is certain – how alcohol is perceived and understood is culturally dependent. 14
SpeakOut spring 2009
IVANOVA, RUSSIA People in Britain are not very curious about foreigners and countries they came from. Don’t get me wrong, every self-respecting hairdresser, after hearing my heavily stressed ‘r’s and carefully built sentences, asks me straight away where I came from. And they always make sure they can hear the answer, even if they have to switch off the hair dryer… “From Russia? Oh… [Long meaningful pause]… Have you been on holidays lately? To Russia? Oh…” Then the interest dries up. Sometimes they ask me why I am here (absolutely understandable curiosity), but my genuine answer (was married to an Englishman, now divorced, settled and work in Britain) doesn’t always lead to a good hairstyle. So, most of the time I say I am a student and plan to leave this country after graduation, which creates a healthy and trusty atmosphere between us; and, when I leave the salon, not only is my purse feeling lighter, but also my hair too. In Russia, even under the Soviet regime, on TV we used to have a ‘month of French culture’, then it would be a week of English poetry, then we would be watching the best of world cinema every weekend – the diversity of multiculturalism was amazing. Foreign classic literature was the compulsory subject in our schools from the age of 11. We had TV and radio programmes about folk traditions around the world (national dance in India, folk singing in Scandinavia, rag making in Turkey, etc.). Of course, we had ideological filters and anything with that didn’t fit with the Communist Party’s philosophy or that was politically incorrect was prohibited (Rolling Stones, Ulysses, Warhol, the list was endless). And there was a pattern – the more politically controversial or intellectually challenging the programme was, the later in the night it would be shown. The best was shown at 4am in the morning. And to my amazement, I found the same pattern here in England. Anything mind challenging, thought provoking or with foreign subtitles is pushed to early hours on TV and radio – so not to wake up unnecessary interest and curiosity among the British public!
migrants give their take on our attitudes, behaviour, and funny habits…
MUNIR, IRAQ One of the first things that struck me when arriving here was the way British people think about masculinity and what people think is acceptable when it comes to male physical closeness. The only time men seem to get close together in British society is when they’re acting up or perhaps through sport – although then it’s acceptable because they’re being aggressive towards each other. In the Middle East, men interact in a way that might be thought quite radical in this country. Men might hold hands just walking down the road, for example. They hug more often and for longer than they do here. It’s normal for men to kiss each other when they meet – and not pecks on the cheek but sometimes lots of big smackers! They wouldn’t do it with their wives, and they certainly wouldn’t do it with other members of the opposite sex. But seeing two men embrace in public is quite acceptable in places like Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In so many ways Britain is more liberal and more open than many Middle Eastern countries, but there is still a stigma attached to male closeness. In TV, films, and the media showing emotion or being affectionate are portrayed as ‘feminine’ traits so boys – and men – are always presented with an image of masculinity that emphasises physical strength, being tough, and succeeding at work. But this is just a stereotype: other cultures have other ideas of what men are and are not allowed to do. Britain has experienced immigration for over 2,000 – albeit sometimes in the form of invasion and conquest – so it’s surprising that immigration is still a contentious issue. Many issues seem to exist because of the lack of clarity about the number of people that are actually coming to Britain. This is largely because of the different ways people come to Britain and the
different procedures available to them when they arrive. In general terms, the number of people coming for at least one year (in relation to those leaving) has been going up since 1987. In 19992000 for example, 100,000 more people came than left. But these figures do not include EU nationals who arrive and typically have an automatic right to stay in the UK. In
CHANTAL, FRANCE I have arrived about two months ago in Birmingham from abroad, and I am gradually getting to know the local culture. But I also have a very special habit: I pick up coins off the ground in the street, even the small ones, and I usually don’t feel embarrassed when I do that in France. But the British obviously don’t care about these little coins and when I pick them up, they look at me as I were crazy. When mentioning the subject with a flatmate, he told me: “people don’t care about the pennies, they just chuck them away! They are not worth anything!” I find this especially strange since you have a saying: look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves! But why don’t British people bend down to grab that penny – isn’t it supposed to be lucky? Probably people made that up to compensate for the fact that you can’t buy anything with a penny. So when they found one, they had to have a positive thing to believe in. And why not pick up a penny when you see one in the belief that it’ll make your day a little bit better? In these times of pessimism and recession, should we not care for our pennies? I have started using a can, where I put all the pennies I find or get as change during the year, and at the end I will give it to charity. We could all do that, instead of wasting all these pennies. Then at least, it would make someone’s day better.
terms of those arriving from Poland for instance, it is estimated that in 2007 alone, 375,000 registered for work. The situation is even further confused when the tabloid villains of ‘asylum seekers’, ‘refugees’ and ‘illegal’ immigrants are included in the equation. Whilst the past half decade has seen the great majority of immigrants arriving from the Indian
subcontinent and the Caribbean, those coming to Britain since 1991 have come from a far wider range of countries. From Brazil to Iraq, from Somalia to Romania, immigration and settlement is making Britain’s newfound ‘super-diversity’ ever more complex and confusing. Without redressing this confusion, it would seem that immigration will remain a contentious issue for a nation of immigrants.
spring 2009 SpeakOut 15
we’ve come a long way..
A recent survey has shown five out of ten people have a negative attitude towards homosexuality. David Viney looks to challenge their views.
After 50 years of countless changes in legislation, a major shift in social attitudes and a heroic struggle by a diverse range of individuals and organisations, being gay in Britain is a relatively benign experience – especially compared to other parts of the world. Two teenage boys were recently hanged in Iran for being gay, typical of the plight many lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people around the world still face. Of course, it would be naive to suggest that all is well for Britain’s estimated 3.6 million LGBT people as many still experience extreme forms of intolerance, including physical violence and even death. Many people still feel unable to come out at work for fear of the effects on their career prospects, despite legislation to protect us from discrimination. A recent systematic review by Birmingham University of mental disorders, suicide and self harm in LGB people has shown that there is a doubling of the risk of suicide attempts. The risk for depression and anxiety disorders was at least 1.5 times higher in LGBT people and there was a similar high risk of alcohol abuse and dependence.
and most poorly resourced minority groups in the city. Considering its relative size it is also one of least influential. The Trust is currently recruiting new trustees; we
Birmingham LGBT Community Trust was set up in 2002 with the aim of addressing these inequalities and reinvigorating the diverse LGBT community in the city. Originally named just Birmingham Pride Trust, reflecting its origins as a breakaway group from Pride festival, it had an initial funding donation from profits from the festival. Several of the former Pride organisers had wanted to do something to improve the quality of life of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community year round, not just during the May Bank Holiday festival.
are particularly looking for motivated individuals
Our mission is to build a vibrant, diverse and integrated lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community sector in Birmingham and to give a strategic voice to the communities we serve and our unique needs.
1957: The Wolfenden report recommends that homosexuality be decriminalised 1967: homosexual acts between two men over 21 years of age and ‘in private’ decriminalised 1970: The first gay demonstration takes place for equal rights in the workplace and protection from homophobic bullying 1984: The first Member of Parliament comes out as gay while in office 2001: Age of consent made equal for heterosexual and homosexual men 2003: Clause 28, preventing the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local authorities, repealed as part of the Local Government Act 2004: New Sexual Offences Act introduced, repealing offences which had resulted in thousands of gay men since 1956 being publicly ‘outed’ and given custodial sentences
We have successfully mounted numerous community focused events and projects including Pink Picnic, Queer Question Time, Are You Being Served? and Gay Life Matters, all aimed at raising the profile and visibility of the community in the city Historically, in Birmingham, there has been and informing key service providers of the specific needs of the LGBT community. The an almost total lack of engagement from Gay Birmingham Remembered social histhe statutory sector and little support from tory project has been our largest to date and the established voluntary sector. With no involved interviewing over 80 people and legislative duty in place, the voices and collating these hidden histories into a sucneeds of LGBT citizens could easily be ignored. This has left the LGBT community cessful exhibition and living archive website as one of the least visible, least understood (www.gaybirminghamremembered.org.uk).
SpeakOut spring 2009
with skills in accountancy, law, public relations and equality and diversity specialisms. We especially welcome applicants from the trans and non-white British communities. For more information about the LGBT Community Trust in Birmingham or for a trustee application pack, see www.blgbt.org.
fifty years of gay rights
On the spot
Who are you? I’m a workaholic, with obsessive and tenacious traits, especially in relation to issues of inequality and atrocity.
You run Birmingham: what would you do to improve the quality of people’s lives?
That’s a hard question – I think many people think the world would be better if they were in charge, but the reality is that it’s tough to make change (I’ve seen Bruce Almighty!). I think as a starter for 10, I would listen to people closer to the problems, and try to remove the barriers that prevent them from doing their jobs well. We seem to think that creating new systems and processes is a means to getting greater on the ground benefit - but I wonder if this strategy just means that it inhibits people from taking responsibility for their jobs. When did you last cry? Well, I really had a good non-stop cry when my mother died last April. I broke my finger by trapping it in a car door in September last year – but I didn’t cry, because I’m dead hard really! What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Hug my partner and reluctantly get out of bed. Have you ever experienced discrimination? Unfortunately, yes – many times. As a black child in a majority white school, I was often bullied: I remember that the year above me were members of the National Front. Primary school especially was a horrible experience. When I think back I can also find evidence of where I was denied jobs and promotional opportunities. It’s sad because even today my children are experiencing discrimination in the school system, especially my son – who is now at university. How did you get involved in the fight for equality? My father told me about his experiences when he first came to this country – the names that people used to call him, like ‘Paki’, and the kind of treatment he experienced from his fellow workers. As a child, I didn’t really hear him – I listened but I couldn’t really relate to his experiences. When I was older it was easier for me to understand what he meant and I did begin to wonder if we just had to ‘accept’ things the way they were. It was at college that I became really interested in learning about prejudice and discrimination and went on my first march against something or another. I was interested in speaking to anyone who wanted to fight discrimination, joining the black workers group, studying – anything that could further my understanding of how to ‘fight’ this wrong.
And are you now more or less optimistic about the prospect for change than when you first started campaigning? More optimistic. I think you have to be, otherwise it would be difficult to work in this area and enthuse others with the belief that it is only our inaction that maintains the status quo. Who inspires you? Actually, people that I work with – colleagues who never say no, or that they have too much to do. My sister is also a great role model for me – I don’t know anyone who works harder than her! Do you have a message for the next generation? Be human first and recognise others as being human first too. What would you ban if you could? Ignorance. If you were a musical instrument, what instrument would you be? Piano – I’ve always wanted to play it well. What’s your favourite quote? I’d have to chose a whole poem – ‘I carry your heart with me by’ ee cummings – because down real deep, I’m a romantic and wouldn’t be the person I am if it wasn’t for those that love me. I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart) I am never without it (anywhere I go you go, my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing, my darling) I fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) I want no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true) and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart I carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
spring 2009 SpeakOut 17
The Knowledge Put your equality queries to our resident panel of experts.
Q. I’m in a bit of a tricky situation at the moment and I was wondering if you could help. A few years ago I was filming some of my friends messing around and as a joke I called one of them ‘Paki’. That was his nickname and he doesn’t mind it – it’s all part of the banter and mickey taking that happens when you get the lads together. Now the footage has come out and I’m getting a lot of flak for it; but really, it’s no different to people calling me ‘ginger’, is it? And besides, if he doesn’t mind, what’s the problem? The thing is, my grandfather’s said things that are a lot worse and he seems to get away with it…
Thanks for your help Anonymous
Dear Anonymous A. It’s difficult isn’t it when something you thought was private and which you did when you were younger – a bit of “messing around with friends” – and which you may now regret, becomes public? Like many other people maybe you’re struggling to work out if what you’ve always considered to be a bit of fun between ‘the lads’ may in fact be something different…something less palatable perhaps? It almost certainly is. You mention your grandfather, who I suspect may have been around your age in the late 1940s. I’m sure that when he got together with the ‘lads’ back then they may well have made ‘jokes’ that referred to people as dagos, wops, yids and ‘the hun’. These are all terms that people now recognize as being derogatory and unacceptable – and which few people today would ever consider using publically – or indeed in a jokey way amongst friends. At that time in post war Britain, it would have been quite rare for a Greek, Italian, Jewish or German person to have complained about such a description being applied to them (even if inaccurate). In fact, many like your Pakistani friend (if indeed he is Pakistani) may have accepted such terms as the price they pay to ‘fit in’, be accepted by the group, and not be
seen as someone who can’t take a joke. Times change though… today most people would regard such name calling as bullying and as being out of sync with modern, diverse Britain: some would regard it as being about as sensitive as dressing in a Klu Klux Klan or Hitler outfit to go to a fancy dress party. I think you’ll find that the vast majority of people actually choose not to do or say things they know hurt others, rather than just because we have laws that say they shouldn’t. Have you ever asked yourself what’s so ‘funny’ about calling anyone, but especially a ‘friend’, something that has been used so negatively by others? I suspect you’ve never really considered these issues before – perhaps you’ve been exposed to negative role models at home and at work, and have received very little guidance from those who could help you review, reconsider and rethink what you do and say in terms of its impact upon others. If you didn’t mean to be discriminatory, unfair or to cause pain to a good friend, that’s a good start. Feel free to visit our website, www.brap.org.uk, where you’ll find lots of information – you can talk through the contents with your grandfather. It’s never too late to learn or to change.
If you’ve got a problem or issue you’d like our equality experts to discuss, send your queries into us at Speak Out, Floor 9, Edgbaston House, 3 Duchess Place, Hagley Rd, Birmingham, B16 8NH
SpeakOut spring 2009
autumn/winter spring2008 2009SpeakOut SpeakOut 19