25 January, 2008

Boring - Part two!

I stated in my previous blog that in order to get the most out of social inclusion policy, we as a nation need to ensure we are comfortable with the welfare framework we are catapulting ourselves from. We have just spent the last eleven years being led by a conservative government who quite dramatically changed the way we view welfare and welfare recipients. However many of us would not have felt the ideological shift or its ramifications. The following are some excerpts from an essay I had to write so it’s a little academic, long and bumpy but the point is an important one in my opinion!

The change from citizen to consumer
“Whereas the citizen was a body of the public sharing its rights with others, the consumer is an individual in charge of their own destiny and choices. Whereas the citizen was able to expect assistance from the state, the consumer paints a picture of power that has no need of the state. This shift has been both subtle and dramatic in its influence over social policy. Employment policy in particular becomes dominated by the individual taking control by entering the market without any fear from the government that this push will be seen as infringing social rights. Quite to the contrary, the consumer is one that breaks free of the government for their personal gain. There are many that believe that the extension of citizenship is the creation of the consumer who is able to access real equality of both resources and status through the market. In this light, it is the state’s responsibility to empower consumers to enter into the market through the workforce and thus exercise their citizenship. One could argue that the Howard government, through their employment policies, promoted the freedom of the citizen by creating an impetus for engagement in the market.

However citizenship, particularly in relation to the market, is inevitably bound up with the problem of the unequal distribution of resources in a society. For T.C Marshall, an important contributor to the theory of citizenship, the enactment of citizenship modifies the negative impact of the capitalist market by a redistribution of resources on the basis of rights, and as a result there is a permanent tension between the principals of democracy and capitalism (Turner, 2001:190). Marshall described a tension in society between the need for economic profitability, taxation requirements of the modern state and the rights of the citizen to welfare provision (Turner and Hamilton, 1994:202). Essentially, for Marshall, to become a consumer is to buy into the uncertainty of the market, a market that is not based on the ethos of equality but rather one of profit and loss. For the vulnerable within society, a loss of citizenship through the process of commodification means a loss of protection and freedom.”

~ To be as blunt and simplistic as possible…The system of capitalism is not fair, at least for those at the bottom of the food chain. Why? Capitalism relies on individuals being of use and rewarding them. A doctor is the most useful, therefore he/she gets paid lots. It also allows profits to be kept by those who collect them rather than those who make them possible (eg shareholders instead of factory workers). Now I have had this argument many times. People say… ‘a doctor/accountant/lawyer deserves a high wage because they earned it’. Yes they studied hard, but most were also given a first class education, supportive parents, intelligence, a stable home etc. And those that do the grunt work in our society were often not given the same opportunities. Anyway, I digress, the point is we accept the capitalist system as we like it more than the alternatives. And to rid ourselves of guilt, we couple capitalism with democracy and label most individuals as citizens who in turn have a right to a basic standard of living. We create a safety net for those who are unable to attain that standard without assistance. There will still be inequality, but at least all will have access to basic needs. Now the transference of citizen to consumer is bad because it fails to realise that capitalism is not fair. It says everybody can work therefore everybody should work therefore everybody who doesn’t work is a scum-sucking pig who does not deserve the title of citizen and will only acquire the safety net if they prove they are really trying to be worthy. It fails to realise that most of those who don’t work are not in fact lazy, but have not been employed by the fat capitalist because of their bung back or their lack of literacy would not be good for business etc.

Now, some calmer and more academic thoughts…
“Changes in the economy, partly due to globalisation and a range of social factors, encouraged a change in the delivery of our welfare framework from a residual and redistributive model. Rather than using economic strategy based upon state intervention in the marketplace, demand management and full employment, neo-liberals and third way seek a clear policy outlook where the privatization and the deregulation of markets would supposedly benefit everyone (Giddens, 2000:25). The approach to employment therefore has moved away from Keynesian economic policies and welfare to new risk policies that are concerned strongly with meeting needs through mobilization of labour, with direct targeted interventions to support wages and the use of private services in areas formally addressed via the states (Taylor-Gooby, 2005:14).”
~ Basically…get them working and everything will be bonzer! You know William Booth had similar ideas to this, except he redressed the unbearable working conditions and unliveable wages prior to sending them back into work! He didn’t have a blind faith in economics…I wonder why???

“However to suggest that an individual’s welfare is secure when placed in the market is to deny the obvious principles of capitalism. Profits are hindered by the states involvement in the economy, but a lack of state intervention will prevent real profits from being accessed by those who need it most. Secondly, the reality of accessing the market is not a simple process. The natural inequalities present in a system that selects the best in order to create the greatest profit is not going to select those with ‘red flags’ including low skills, children or limited education. It is unfair to expect an individual to fight a collective system of obstacles.”
~ And this is the exit back into social inclusion policy! There are a range of political and economic forces working against the poor and it takes a government equipped with power and a birds-eye view to balance the scales. To suggest that an individual is responsible to navigate and succeed in a system so obviously working against them is ridiculous. So, we must think citizen and not consumer. Citizenship not money entitles you to a good education (think Howard’s support of private schools). Citizenship not money entitles you to healthcare (think big push for middle-class to get private health insurance). Get it? We are not consumers who buy whatever we need. We are citizens who access our rights and then live out our responsibilities. This is the Australia I want and I want our social policy to start reflecting that. “With courage let us all unite to advance Australia FAIR”!
Happy Australia Day!

21 January, 2008

Just Choices

So…I turned 24 yesterday…and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about life choices...specifically, my own, and what to do with my life this year. I feel like since I left school at 17, all I have done is make choices, and re-make choices. And for those that know me, I struggle just to choose what to order out at a restaurant if the menu is greater than 2 pages… But this flood of choices, is quite symbolic of my generation really…we have choices and more choices. What a blessing, and what a curse. So many of us are lost. In November last year, I decided that I had until Christmas to figure out what I was doing this year…I feared facing the family’s ‘what are you doing this year’ question without an answer. How silly to think, against everything I’ve learnt about God’s way of working in my life, I could timetable what doors God would reveal and open to me.

But God does have a plan, and as I’ve been helping Danielle do research on a broad range of Social Justice issues, I have been reminded how much God has shown and taught me over the last 7 years, even through the decisions that I made my for my own selfish gain, he has been able to use those experiences to teach me.

Friends have asked me as I debate what path to follow, whether I would go back to working at ANZ, or get another graduate position…and it is not unattractive. I enjoyed my work there, and it was well paying, challenging and fun. But now with all that God has shown and taught me, do I really have a choice to go back to living a life for my own motives? Maybe it isn’t a choice anymore…I love the idea of crossing that one off my list.

But I’m learning that to decide to try and live a life of social justice is a decision that has to be made over and over, just as my decision to follow Christ is. It’s a choice to follow him in the hard times, when life and the world pull us in a different direction. JustLose has been teaching me a lot over the last few months. One of the decisions I made was to only eat fair trade chocolate. I have to admit, I have broken my rule a few times, but on a whole, it has been such a good experience of disciplining my behaviour to match my beliefs … my beliefs that
1.I don’t agree with the unjust practices of the chocolate companies and
2. I DO believe in the power of consumer choices and demand side factors as a solution…
But every time someone offers me a chocolate, that is a choice I have to re-make….over and over again.

I choose the ancient path again today, the path of trying to be a person fighting for Justice, how that looks, I’m still praying to God about...But John’s blog is a reminder to me that choice in itself is a privilege. Poverty robs people of choice and opportunity. Those that believe women in brothels are there by choice are ignorant to the reality of poverty. Danielle told me a statistic today that was along the lines of, 80% of women interviewed in brothels overseas said they would leave if they had alternative employment opportunities. So let’s create some, maybe our choice is to give them back their right to a choice.

What do you choose?

Til next time,

17 January, 2008

Boring, uninspiring but necessary!

Wow…who would have thought social exclusion would start to be discussed on the front page of an Australian newspaper? Alright, it’s not that surprising but it is here at last! Now I don’t want to get too excited, but we could be moving into a phase where politicians stop blaming the poor for their own social ineptitude! How very interesting that we would shift from a position of blame to a position of genuine assistance. Now I won’t be too idealistic, but we are on track for a shift in social policy, and we as an army must be prepared to reap the benefits. So please don’t switch off…this policy direction may seem foreign and boring now, but soon we will know it like the term ‘mutual obligation’ and we need to be ready to deliver this policy direction on our terms. I gave a brief description of the theory of social exclusion in a previous blog (‘go to the naughty corner…’) so I won’t rehash. Instead I will try to highlight some benefits of social inclusion policy, as well as some of the potential failings of this discourse. However, it may be a bit of a journey and may take more than one blog.

We know that social exclusion involves multi-dimensional deprivation; combinations of social ills that snowball into prisons of oppression for generations. The policy to counter-act this process is of course social inclusion. It attempts to address ‘joined up problems with joined up solutions’ (hat tip Tony Blair!). In essence, a homeless person generally needs more than a house. They most likely also need drug and alcohol treatment, employment, financial counselling, food, transport, assistance with children etc. Now these services exist, but they work in isolation and often overlap in unhelpful and expensive ways and even more often they allow many to fall through the cracks. Inclusion policy looks at joined up governance and suggests that if agencies were centralised (including their funding), they could communicate and in turn service the needs of the whole person. Sounds wonderful in theory, but there are some small snags. Firstly, getting government departments to coordinate can be like getting a child to eat vegetables. And getting not-for-profits to ‘share’ funding and collaborate? Given that they have spent the last eleven years competing in tendering processes, there may be some hiccups along the way.

In order for social inclusion to work, and indeed I think we should try our utmost to make it work, there are a few things we as an Army must be ready for. We must firstly all be on our best behaviour! There is no room for selfishness, pettiness or pride. Best practice will be the go, and if we can’t prove we do it the best (the proof is in the pudding as they say) then we will miss out on dessert. Evidence based policy was the term under Blair and the idea was simply to ‘prove it’. We need to be able to communicate well within and between our own services. We must secondly be prepared to network with external agencies and government. We can no longer hang our hat on being the best providers for homelessness and that’s that. We need to be prepared to partner with an agency that can help us help our clients completely. We need to understand that we are not the greatest at everything!

One major problem as I see it is not with inclusion policy per se; (although there are many more issues I can bring up if you would like) it is with the current state of our welfare mindset. Howard transformed the Australian welfare state dramatically and we must acknowledge how this will affect social inclusion policy. One could argue that the Blair government failed to transform the thinking on the ground post Thatcher/Major and as a result produced enormous amounts of quality policy that did not translate completely into program.

So…what is our current state and how has it changed? That is the riveting topic for next blog! Stay tuned…


16 January, 2008

Gillard's war on poverty

Gillard's war on poverty
Tony Wright
January 12, 2008

DEPUTY Prime Minister Julia Gillard is on an ambitious crusade to harness the authority of all Labor Government ministers in a war on poverty.

She also plans to tackle loneliness in Australian cities' fast-growing outer suburbs.

Ms Gillard said yesterday she wanted to use her ministry of "social inclusion" — part of her super-portfolio that includes education, employment and workplace relations — to help lift the most disadvantaged communities out of their seemingly endless cycles of joblessness, welfare dependency, crime and child neglect.

She said it would require a "whole-of-government" approach, with ministers ensuring that each major government decision had a "social inclusion" element.

Ms Gillard said she was also determined to draw on the resources and know-how of corporate Australia, where she says she has found a determination to tackle poverty and social disability.

"I spent a lot of 2007 in corporate boardrooms where I would be talking about our industrial relations policies and plans, but there people wanted to talk to me about our social inclusion agenda … they want to work with disadvantaged communities."

Ms Gillard's other major target is to introduce services and programs to reduce social isolation in sprawling new housing developments on the rims of big cities and in regional areas.

She said the social inclusion unit being set up in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet would co-ordinate efforts to ensure the entire Government was involved in battling disadvantage.

She said federal governments ran employment services, health programs, family and community programs and many other services that could make a difference at community level.

However, these needed to be co-ordinated and shaped for specific groups, and there had to be follow-through to ensure maximum impact.

She said social researcher Professor Tony Vinson's simple analysis of postcodes revealed a number of communities across Australia that continued to be left behind despite the nation's years of economic growth. Certain postcodes came up time after time, revealing a pattern of joblessness, low educational attainment, welfare dependency, high levels of crime and high levels of child neglect.

"The analysis would lead you to believe that if economic growth alone was going to fix the problems of those communities, it would be fixing them by now," Ms Gillard said. "The truth is economic growth alone is not fixing the problems of those communities and they're getting left behind.

"We want to see those communities included in the Australian mainstream; in the mainstream of economic life and all things that follow from getting good access to prosperity.

"It is much more likely that if people have got access to work, families are going to succeed, families are going to be able to be strong, kids are going to get to school, kids are going to have a genuine opportunity to achieve."

Ms Gillard said new and growing housing estates on the fringes of big cities and in growing regional areas often hid a large number of women who stayed at home with children, isolated from any real sense of community.

"When everything is new and everyone is new, the sort of structures that we identify with community life — the sporting clubs, the Rotaries, the volunteer organisations, the mums' groups — those sort of things don't tend to exist.

"We say that those communities too need special attention to make sure they don't fall behind in the sense of not getting fair access to services or fall behind in the sense that those people don't have those community inter-connections that are so important to human life."

Ms Gillard confirmed yesterday that Labor would dump the Howard government's approach to teaching Australian history in schools.

She said Labor would not limit history teaching to 150 hours of compulsory Australian history over years 9 and 10, as set down by the former government. Instead, Labor would take a broader approach and history would be taught in all years of schooling, and would not be limited to Australian history.

This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2008/01/11/1199988589976.html

11 January, 2008

So little and yet so burdened

I have just spent the last five ‘long’ days at summer camp with a group of 62 children deemed to be in some way underprivileged. The children come from all over the state and have a range of social, financial, behavioural, and physical problems. I have been a leader at this camp for many years and it is easy to become immune to the plight of the ordinary poor of our country. You get used to the fact that they are poorly behaved. You get used to the fact that they are covered in head lice and that many don’t arrive with clean clothes. It doesn’t seem unusual that they can flip out at the drop of a hat and run off into the bush. And it doesn’t seem unusual that children who are that small can have so much hurt and anger and sadness. For them, and in some ways for me, their pain almost seems normal…acceptable, and worst of all…unchangeable.

But on reflection, (keep in mind this reflection is tainted by a severe lack of sleep) I realize that this is not normal. This is not right. One child was overheard talking to another child one night at dinner. The child, aged seven, was asked where she lived and she responded that she lived in a shelter with lots of other people. The child who had asked the question was shocked and couldn’t understand that it was possible to not have a home. The little girl simply stated, I would like a home, I would just like to stay in the one house for more than a few months. She wasn’t angry or sad, just very matter of fact.

I could tell 61 other stories that would break your heart, but I won’t. The point is, these children are out there and they are suffering needlessly. Are we going to find them? Support them? Place pressure to provide funds for more free camps for these children? Volunteer to be a leader on these camps? Donate money to them? Open up our homes for families to share in the love we receive everyday? Educate ourselves on child poverty in Australia and then get loud? Will you continue to assume that children are ok because our government gives families a pension? Or like me, will you start to lose the horror of it and just continue to do your little bit? These children are having their hope, plans and future snatched from them before they even get the chance to realize they were entitled to them. They are innocent and we must protect them no matter the sacrifice. Believe me, their needs are great and there are not enough of us fighting this war.


10 January, 2008

Zambian Experiences

Hi All

Here I am in Zambia, in relative luxury and comfort compared to most others in the country - and compared to my Australian friends I am without so much. Yet I am so well off in comparison to the people of Zambia.

We are living in the suburb of Lusaka called Libala. It is next to a series of high density settlements and the early such settlement of Kabwatta. I go walking in the local area of a morning and everyone is friendly to this strange European walking around for seemingly no purpose. After all you only walk for a purpose - to walk to work, to walk school, to walk to buy necessities, or walk to till the small plot of maize that is yours. You walk in Zambia because there is no other way. Sure there are mini-buses packed beyond reasonable capacity and driven a breakneck speed. And only the privileged have access to a vehicle. I emphasise the friendliness of Zambians - even those in the more confronting locations.

I am being confronted with poverty like never before. Yesterday, I watched a young boy crippled in both legs, leading an older man who was blind. They approached me begging for money and food. What a dilemma faced me. What should I and what could I do?

There is no justice in our world. Where are you God? How come many are well-off and the majority living in extreme poverty? Why do the rich get richer and the poor seemingly poorer? Surely your heart is crying for what you see? Worse still seems to be the way the rich exploit the poor in order to build their wealth.

I agree with the author of Psalm 12 and wait for His mercy and justice in this world.
In the meantime I must 'act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God' (Micah 6:8)


06 January, 2008

Christians in Iraq - A Dying Breed (Literally)

The plight of indigenous Christians in the Middle East is a social justice issue that gets almost no media attention, and the situation is at its worst in Iraq.

The Christians in Iraq trace their spiritual lineage from the ancient Assyrian Christian community. The Assyrian people are the indigenous people of Mesopotamia, before it even was Iraq. All of that area was Mesopotamia and is the original homeland of the Assyrians. They date back to over 6,000 years and were always concentrated in that region. They claim to have direct links to Apostolic times and to be the first people to accept Christianity as a nation. They now speak modern Assyrian, which comes from the ancient Aramian, (which Jesus spoke), but they all learn Aramaic as a second language and use it in their liturgy.

In early May 2007 in a Christian suburb of Baghdad, a Sunni extremist group began broadcasting a fatwah over the loudspeakers of the neighbourhood mosque. They said that the Assyrian Christian community had to convert to Islam or leave, or die.

Their Muslim neighbours were to seize their property. The men were told they had to pay the gizya - the protection money Jews and Christians traditionally had to pay to their Muslim overlords - and families were told they could only stay if they married one of their daughters to a Muslim.

More than 300 Assyrian families fled, mostly to the north into the Kurdish region of Iraq where they are not welcome either. They are sleeping in cemeteries, they have no food, more than 30 of their churches have been bombed, and their children are being kidnapped and murdered.

Assyrian-American actor Rosie Malek-Yonan is an Assyrian-American who gave testimony before the US Congress in 2006 about the plight of Assyrian Christians in Iraq.

She says, that Christian women are being forced to wear the hijab, children are being kidnapped for ransom, priests are being beheaded, and dismembered. And all this has been going on since the beginning on the Iraq war, right under the noses of the occupying US forces!

According to Malek-Yonan, there were 1.4-million Christians in Iraq before the American invasion in 2003, and now there's between 600,000 and 800,000 left. The majority of the refugees that are now stranded in Syria and Jordan. They have nowhere to go, they have no shelter, they have no food, they're living in the streets in poverty.

Ironically things were much better for the Assyrian Christians under Saddam Hussein, although they thought it was bad then.

Malek-Yonan believes that the Kurds in Iraq have the goal of driving Assyrians out of the northern region so that they can take over that entire region. Now that the Kurds have become powerful because the US is assisting them, they get assistance and the Assyrians don't. The American troops in Baghdad are doing absolutely nothing.

Malek-Yonan says, “The bottom line is that the Assyrians in Iraq have to be protected, just like the Kurds were protected back in 1991. They were given a safe zone. We need an Assyrian safe zone. This has to be done, and it could only be done if the US decides to help them to do this, and the UN steps in.”

Want to make a difference with this issue?

Email the the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, asking him to advocate for the establishment of a safe zone for Assyrian Christians through the channels of Australia's relationships with the US and other UN countries.

Stephen Smith is himself a Christian, a practising Catholic, who has strong social justice values. His email address is Stephen.Smith.MP@aph.gov.au .

04 January, 2008

A new year has begun!

Just a short one today…

Having spoken about Christmas it would be remiss of me to not speak about New Years…yet another bizarre ritual of our lives. And inevitably, when thinking of New Years, we think of resolutions. That’s good. An attempt to rectify the mistakes of your past is basically Biblical. It gets the thumbs up from me! The problem is with the resolutions. They are usually things that are so self-centered, they actually set us off in the wrong direction. “I am going to lose weight, I am not going to eat chocolate, I am going to save more money, I am going to be more organized”, etc. Now these are all good things in and of themselves. But these resolutions turn our attention towards ourselves and not outward to others. And as our attention turns to us, so do our actions, our mindset, our prayers…
So this year, whether you have made resolutions yet or not, please try to add some that are not about how you look or what you could receive or achieve. Please spend some time praying, reading through the newspaper, checking out the justsalvos home page etc and then think of one thing you can commit to. And if you do all of that and still can’t see one need that you could contribute to, then post a comment and I will personally help you out. Do one thing! Believe me, it will feel a lot better and go a lot further than not eating McDonald’s.

02 January, 2008

You Can Change the World for Ten Bucks

Change the World for Ten Bucks
When you get to read this blog I will in the middle of the Indian Ocean bound fro Lusaka in Zambia. For the next three months, Zambia will be home. It will be interesting to see what can be done for “ten bucks” in Zambia.
I have started on Christmas reading – well two Christmases ago I was given “Change the World for Ten Bucks” published by a consortium that includes ‘We Are What we Do’, ‘Pilotlight’, and ‘Community Links’. The book outlines simple everyday actions that almost anyone can do that will change the world.
With modern communications, we have the opportunity to connect with many more people than ever before. We also have unparalleled wealth that enables us to buy more and more things. However, these things do not seem to make us any happier. In Australia, life satisfaction measures were higher in the post-world war 2 rationing period of the 1940’2 than they are today. The rich get richer and nearly 10% of Australians are very poor. The other 90% experiences another type of poverty.
The question for the book is to find ways that collectively can change this state of affairs. It is not, ‘how can we act alone’, but ‘how can we act together’. It invites the readers to become part of a global community.
So, today I might just, ‘smile and smile back’, ‘take public transport, cycle or walk whenever I can’, ‘plant something’, ‘learn from the traditional elders in my area’, and ‘turn off all appliances at the mains’.
Is this really going to change things? I would like to think so. Perhaps I am just a little too idealistic, but then our world is crying out for ideals and principles.
What do you think?