Disadvantaged communities ‘want change, not charity’

Report documents widespread discrimination on socio-economic grounds

People  queue  outside the Capuchin Day Centre for family necessities last November. Photograph: Dara MacDónaill

People queue outside the Capuchin Day Centre for family necessities last November. Photograph: Dara MacDónaill


“People are well intentioned and they want to help. But they are offering charity not change”.

So speaks Paul Uzell a community worker with the organisation All together in Dignity Ireland.

With first hand experience of growing up in a north Dublin community where poverty and discrimination was common, he says the State offered charity - many times in the form of supporting voluntary sector efforts - instead of structural reform.

“It is often charity that well intentioned people offer, instead of empowerment, instead of education, it was that old thing of giving people fish instead of teaching them to fish.”

He said: “Without education nobody thinks you have an opinion. Nobody thinks your voice matters, nobody listens to what you have to say.”

In the delivery of even the most well-intentioned services, there is a problem in that sometimes the charity will withhold help until the person gets “clean” or is sober, he says. “Sometimes they aren’t able. Sometimes you have to help first to get them to the point where they are clean, before they can make decisions about changing their lives.”

Mr Uzell was speaking at the launch of “Does it only happen to me?”, a project report on living in the shadow of socio-economic discrimination, in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Centre in Dublin on Wednesday.

Cashing cheque

“Does it only happen to me?” investigated and recorded the damaging experiences of people pigeon-holed in low socio-economic status. The accounts were gathered from 20 people who had experience of persistent poverty.

One participant told of trying to cash a bursary cheque from Trinity College Dublin. At the counter the manager was called and the questions focussed on how the person cashing the cheque had come to get it. “He asked me where I got the cheque, and was I sure it was mine,” said the participant.

Experience of public services was also mentioned in the report with participants saying they were routinely “shamed” in a range of services when members of staff ignored them or, worse, singled them out for loud commentary, such as when they were on a bus and they hadn’t got the full fare.

One person said when approaching a hostel they were told: “There is no beds.” The contributor continued: “Why isn’t there in every hostel or every emergency accommodation, someone that can sit down with you for five or ten minutes and say we have no beds but here is what you can do, and give advice and refer you somewhere.”

Former chairman of the Equality and Rights Alliance Niall Crowley said the report “powerfully chronicles the damaging experience of daily lives persistently crashing up against the stigma and stereotyping of socio economic status. He said the report challenged “the failure to include a socio-economic status in quality legislation.

The report makes a number of recommendations including that the Government and other members of the Oireachtas support a Bill by TDs Jim O’Callaghan and Fiona O’Loughlin, the Equality Bill 2017 which would address the issue of discrimination on grounds of socio-economic status.