Thursday, 14 March 2013

Interview : Ferg Slade of NCVS

Ferg Slade, campaigns officer at Nottingham CVS (and also blogger on the Huffington Post!) was the guest on the Building For The Future Radio Show this week. It was Ferg's second appearance on the show and this time around Ferg was kind enough to discuss some of the efforts BFTF had made in challenging local and national government and comment on whether BFTF was going about things in the right way.

Unlimited rises in benefits
A BFTF post noticed a survey on welfare reform that was reported in The Sun (see here) which stated that:

"...More than 2,000 people were surveyed by pollsters Populus on behalf of the Tory Party. ....When asked whether the Government should borrow more to fund unlimited rises in benefits, 80 per cent disagreed."

BFTF is genuinely puzzled by this, as it looks like the Coalition has actually asked people "Should the Government should borrow more to fund unlimited rises in benefits?" which is an outrageously leading question, not least becasue it leaves the unspoken impression in the readers mind that "unlimited" means "very large" - when actually, it means "in line with inflation". So asked the local Conservative party "Did the Government really ask this question? Or is The Sun making stuff up?". They suggested I contact Lord Freud, whose team responded with a statement that ignored the question altogether.

Ferg commented that this was a reasonable question to make and that, having got no joy from the relevant Lord, perhaps BFTF should persue this by asking the local MP to raise this as a Parliamentary question.


Misrepresentative reporting in the media?
Another BFTF post reported on how an article in the Independent stating that Newcastle United's Muslim players had been "warned" against wearing shirts with the Wonga sponsors logo and that the "intervention from the MCB" heped pressure on the club.

In reality, the MCB had not approached the club in any way and the comments had been lifted out of a multi-topic interview with Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra from the MCB.

BFTF asked whether it was appropriate to challenge media organisations that covered the story without performing even a cursory investigation into whether it was true or not.

Ferg commented that it was perfectly reasonable to do so, particularly given the misrepresentation of Muslims that often happens in the media.

Bigging up good stuff
It is easy to spend all ones time highlighting and capaigning against the bad stuff that is happening in the world. So BFTF tries hard to find positive stories to talk about. One example of this is this post and this post on some of the great programmes on the BBC.

BFTF asked Ferg what effect praise had on organisations and he commented that giving praise was a very worthwhile activity as it reinforced good actions by the relevant organisation and gave them feedback that they were on the right track. In addition, praise was often something that an organisation simply is not used to getting, which magnifies the benfits when it is actually given.

Why are we having to support Foodbanks?
Like many people in Nottingham, BFTF has been supporting local foodbanks by donating to them - but has been shocked to find out that some 40% of people who are driven to use foodbanks are in the position because the Benefits Agency takes so long to recalculate (and restart) peoples benefits when their circumstances change.

A typical story is that of Sue and her 5 children were referred to the NG7 Food Bank after fleeing from another city due to domestic violence. Despite intervention and support from Children’s Services and other agencies. The DWP took 6 weeks to process Sue’s benefit claims. When asked what she would have done if she had not been able to access the food bank Sue said had no idea. “I have no family in Nottingham and I don’t know anyone who could help me. I don’t want to think about what I would have done if the food bank not helped me”.

To BFTF, this looks like pure incompetence. BFTF pays its taxes specifically so that the government can ensure the most vulnerable in society are taken care of and helped to find their feet. So why it is now having to spend its post-tax income on buying food and helping volunteers to do the job the government and local council should have done in the first place?

BFTF has challenged local councillors, the local MP and the local Conservative Party on this issue, in each case asking what steps - and with what timescale - were local and national government working to redcue the processing time for "changes in circumstances" to below 1 week.

Ferg commented that these were all valid approaches and added that this was an area where the local council may have relativly little room for maneuver. His recommendation was that the best person to contact was the leader of the council Jon Collins ( or Twitter handle #cllrjoncollins)

Incidentally, throughout the programme BFTF asked listeners to email JonCollins and chellenge him on this issue, and then to email/call the show to advise how the process had gome. At the end of the show we had a grand total of, wait for it, zero callers.

Which is disappointing.

Some other comments
Ferg also gave the following advice to those who were challenging government or other organissations:

i) Make your point in the first four lines

ii) Be specific about what you want (don;t just say "what are you going to do about this?")

iii) Ask that, if they are not the right person to contact, can they advise who is?

And lastly, he related how he had once asked Nottingham South MP Lilian Greenwood why she got involved in politics - her reply had been simply that she "was angry" at the injustices she saw around her and wanted to do something practical to help improve the situation.

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