Labels are for filing cabinets
The recent publication of this year’s Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) figures led to an outpouring of civic pride from the Paisley neighbourhood labelled as ‘Scotland’s most deprived’, as per the measures of the index.
It led to reflecting on what exactly is encapsulated by the term ‘deprivation’?
The SIMD itself is calculated using indicator data relating to income, employment, health, educational attainment, geographic access to services, crime and housing. Undoubtedly these factors are of importance to everyone across the population, however the point being made by the residents of Ferguslie Park was that there is something fundamental that the statistics don’t take account of – community spirit.
“We get all the stigma and all the labels, but nobody comes into Ferguslie and actually sees the community spirit that’s out here. We’ve got a fantastic community spirit and we should be looking at the assets that Ferguslie Park’s got and not constantly looking at the deficits all the time.”
Certainly many of the stories captured by the National Links Worker Programme (NLWP) highlight tremendous levels of resilience among individuals and some wonderful examples of inspiring community-led resources working in the neighbourhoods where the programme is active.
Organisations such as GalGael in Govan, working to connect people with heritage and place, building skills whilst critically engaging and building awareness of the causes of inequality such as land rights and the concentration of wealth, have nurtured a community that draws in people from far and wide which in many ways would be described as far from deprived.
On a smaller scale we have already seen similar initiative through one of the links walking groups, where participants set up a craft activity off shoot and are now beginning to sell the products to help fund the group.
John Bird, writing in last week’s edition of The Big Issue, makes the distinction between being poor and in poverty, where poverty is “a state of mind, body and spirit where all oxygen and hope has been sucked out of the air around you. All culture, all sensitivities have been beaten or removed from you” which you don’t necessarily have to be financially poor to experience.
Programmes working in less affluent areas, such as the NLWP, do run the risk of further stigmatising the neighbourhoods they work in and so must always stay critically aware of the very structural inequalities that underpin the challenges faced by many living in these areas, whilst supporting individuals and communities to overcome these challenges. The programme seeks to achieve this by using our voice to try to influence strategy at a national level as well as through our flexible approach that will meet people on their terms.
The rationale of course behind targeting certain interventions at specific localities is based on the assumption that population level initiatives often have the effect of widening inequalities, as those at the more affluent end of the socioeconomic spectrum are often best placed to benefit from these. So questions of reach and access are raised.
Many of the people with whom the programme works, whilst generally welcoming efforts to regenerate their local areas, are tired of the deprived tag and justifiably take issue with certain perceptions, for example an assumption that deprivation automatically leads to poor parenting. Many people have plenty to say about inequalities and can often be sceptical at some of the investments that they witness locally, when these don’t make any difference to the money in folks pockets, which is after all at the very root of inequality in the first place.
Most people are very proud of their local areas, but they don’t want to hear other people telling them about it, they’d rather be the ones whose voices are being heard. Community spirit is indeed often very tangible, and in these communities perhaps a greater degree of inter reliance is often apparent with many examples of people pulling together to help each other out.
The programme must strive wherever possible to help provide a platform for voices to be heard in developing solutions to persistent inequalities and to support people both to develop solutions relevant to their own experience and to push at relevant power structures that can play a part in doing so.
Chris Gourley, Programme Learning and Evaluation Officer