Charity takes brave pre-budget stance by telling real-life stories
Behind the economics of austerity and tough policies, ordinary people struggle to survive
STORIES MATTER. We may know something on an intellectual level, but if someone tells us a story, it forms a bridge between the head and the heart. At their best, stories move us from inertia to action.
The Society of St Vincent de Paul launched its pre-budget submission this week by telling stories. A few of its 10,500 volunteers presented typical cases they deal with every day, based on real people but with anonymity preserved.
One case involved a lone father trying to raise four children after losing a labouring job. He hated being out of work, and a community employment scheme “saved his sanity”. Through constant contact and support, the SVP members discovered he had literacy problems. They are able to help out with paperwork, but have not been able to persuade him to attend literacy classes.
Another concerned a wife terrified that her husband will “end up in the river” because of the constant stress of bills they cannot pay. In a telling detail, this mother of three fills the fridge with tinned food from the cupboard, to hide how empty the fridge is. The only thing keeping them going is support from the local SVP conference.
There were good news stories, too, of a former victim of domestic violence brought home to Ireland along with her two children by her mother. All she had was a couple of bags of clothes and £1.60. The SVP helped her in many practical ways, and also steered her towards first a Fás course, and then a course in catering. She is now working part-time in a coffee shop, and her life has been transformed.
Listening to the volunteers presenting the cases, you were reminded again of the struggle that so many Irish people face day after day, including the new poor – middle-class people who may once have seen themselves as donors to SVP, not recipients.
The document is called The Human Face of Austerity, and should be mandatory reading for all members of the Government and policymakers. The current austerity programme is unsustainable. Too many people are suffering, and some are desperate.
Stories matter, but so do evidence and research, as Prof Frances Ruane of the Economic and Social Research Institute pointed out at the launch. In Ireland, we have always been weak on evidence-based policymaking. Prof Ruane suggested that, as a result, sometimes decisions are taken that favour those who shout the loudest, rather than those who are most in need.
This need to promote a culture of evidence-based planning was reinforced from the audience by Labour TD Róisín Shortall. Unsurprising, perhaps, given that she may have experienced the lack of evidence-based decision making more closely than many.