the friend online
18 July 2008

Challenging consumerism

Judith Moran looks at the underlying cause of debt

QSA development worker Dinar Ali supporting a client towards self-employment. Photo courtesy of QSA.

QSA development worker Dinar Ali supporting a client towards self-employment. Photo courtesy of QSA.
Last month, I was at The Charity Awards event. Quaker Social Action were nominated for 'Made of Money?', our project supporting families on low incomes to learn about money management, how to communicate better about financial matters and to challenge consumerism. We were announced as winners, and, as we walked away from picking up the award, the comedian hosting the ceremony wryly commented to the audience 'Well, that pretty much includes all of us. You lot are going to be really busy over the next four years'.

'Half of the people interviewed had debts… most had been in debt… Most people had got into debt in order to make ends meet'. This is one finding of research commissioned by the Cripplegate Foundation into the lived and felt reality of being poor in twenty-first century Britain. As a trustee of Cripplegate, a grant-making organisation in Islington, I was not surprised by the findings. But I wondered if we are so immune to such data that we miss the obvious. While improved financial literacy and an awareness of the dangers of consumerism are crucially important, the fact remains that many people get into debt because they do not have enough money.

What can be done?

On the one hand, there is the role of government, or governments, since this is, of course, a global issue. At a conference last week, I heard Danielle Walker Palmour, director of Friends Provident Foundation, refer to what she called 'the R word' – redistribution. She was chairing a session on inequalities in the UK and the whistle-stop tour which followed of the multiple and debilitating inequalities in our society made miserable listening. She aired 'the R word' as a question; in the face of such pervasive economic inequalities, where the poor fall further behind, is redistribution the answer?

For some of us, putting our energies into campaigning for systemic change will feel like the right thing to do. That is, after all, what Joseph Rowntree referred to when he talked about searching out the underlying causes of poverty. For others, it will feel more appropriate to accept that the prevailing economic climate will be slow to change, and that while it remains, something must be done. This is where I would position myself and the ground I see occupied by QSA and many other groups, formal and informal, committed to the cause of poverty alleviation.

I was interviewed by the World Wildlife Fund recently, as part of an initiative they are undertaking on global financial sustainability, interviewing forty change agents they felt had something to contribute to the subject. When they called to set up the interview, false modesty apart, I thought they had the wrong person. However, it was me they wanted, and it was the work of QSA they wanted to talk about. When I think about 'Made of Money?', I think about its impact upon people – developing financial acumen can mean more money in the kitty, which makes all the difference to a cash-strapped family. But, what WWF saw was that, by challenging consumerism, we were challenging consumption – they were looking at what we did from an environmental perspective.

Behind 'Made of Money?', there is an implicit value. Put simply, it is simplicity. As Quaker Faith & Practice notes 'simplicity… is essentially positive, being the capacity for selectivity in one who holds attention on the goal' (20.27). Is there a way we can put more weight behind this message, so to speak? Are there other ways we can share with the world about how Friends are living out this testimony? A discourse on simplicity strikes me as utterly timely and utterly relevant. What can we do? What must we do?

Judith Moran (judithmoran at qsa.org.uk) is director of Quaker Social Action, a Quaker-governed charity working with disadvantaged communities in east London. QSA has recently received funding to take the learning from their emotional financial literacy project 'Made of Money?', to any other groups who want to use these methods, across the UK.

Links
Quaker Social Action
The Charity Awards
Quaker Faith and Practice
Quaker Social Action wins another award the Friend, 27 June 2008.
A year of 'knees-ups' in the East End the Friend, 20 June 2008.
Preparing for the inevitable by Judith Moran the Friend, 22 February 2008.
Banking on building communities the Friend, 4 January 2008.

The Friend provides fresh insight with news about and of interest to Quakers every week, in depth thought and reasoning through our comment, opinion and analysis pages, features that bring vibrancy to Quakerism, as well as reviews and arts pages that add to Quaker culture. Subscribe here.

Judith Moran


 


This week's .pdf
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Quaker charity leads the way in tackling financial exclusion
news@thefriend.org
Tough times for war resisters in Canada despite parliament’s help
Jez Smith
FUM Triennial news
Oliver Robertson
Scottish government says no to Circles
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Challenging consumerism
Judith Moran
Comment
Mary Barnes & Ann Frost
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Letters
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The power of microcredit
Jennifer Kavanagh
Tackling financial exclusion
Esther de Jong
A house of cards
Judy Kirby
A selfish gene?
Edward Mackay
With Friends like these
Oliver Robertson
Is there a gap?
Stephen Cox
q-eye
eye@thefriend.org

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