Hackney Unites is a community empowerment group and it is leading the way in organising people and developing grass roots campaigns to fight the government’s cuts to public services.
by Teena Lashmore
On Sunday 23 January 2011 at the Open Gate Black Cultural Cafe in Stoke Newington Road, an audience of over eighty people joined Hackney Unites to watch a play by the anti racist theatre company called Arts4Real. Entitled Hard Times, the play looked at the consequences of the cuts to an average urban family over a six months period.
The message of the Cuts is clear, as women make up a large proportion of the public services; it is this group that will be the first in line at the job centre competing for work in a shrinking economy. This street theatre production looked at how relationships within the home will change, as a consequence of parents loosing their jobs, self-esteem, housing and economic independence. The audience were captivated by the performance as the realisation of the cuts in their homes begins to take shape - where parents and those old enough to work become exhausted by the lack of economic and employment opportunities.
This moving performance was followed by public speaker Lee Jasper the Chair of BARAC, talking about the need for a range of strategies to fight the cuts. Sharing the platform with Mr Jasper was Andrea Enisuoh from Hackney Unites who reinforced the importance for a diverse approach to campaigning. Ibrahim Avcil a community coordinator working for Hackney Refugee Forum enlightened the audience with the shocking observation that await the soon to be unemployed: the government plans to extend the Voucher system that is currently applied to asylum seekers, to all those signing for Job Seeker Allowance.
Rhasan Brunner from Hackney’s Youth Parliament linked the impact of the cuts to the loss of a whole generation - his generation, our young people. Finally, Arpita Dutt, an employment lawyer by day, closed the platform led session with the most empowering speech ever delivered in a public forum. She explained the responsibilities local authorities have to the Equality Duty and presented this as the most effective tool for every Hackney citizen to challenge its local government on the planned cuts, citing the success of Haringey residents opposing a shopping centre as a case study.
Her speech had resonance with the audience, and as they moved into the workshop sessions to explore what images would most reflect the cuts, it was clear they had been inspired. Flip chart after flip chart was filled with images that looked at the impact of the cuts on housing, the impact on unemployment, the loss of public health services, the loss of EMA for young people accessing education, the loss of young people services and those for the elderly. Where people lacked art skills, they filled the charts with nouns and adjectives just as powerful as the images.
As the event came to a close the eighty that had arrived were seen networking their way out of this stylish graffiti art cafe, keen to ensure they had secured contact details not only from Hackney Unites but from their peers in the audience. The objective of the event was not only to inspire the community to join together to fight the cuts, but to bring home to every citizen in Hackney the physical realities of the cuts.
As the Mayor of Hackney Jules Pipe prepares to wipe out £26 million from Hackney’s local economy in the coming weeks, he may find he has to stop and pause in line with the Equality Duty, as he fights off a deluge of request to see Hackney’s Equality Impact Assessments on the cuts. And unlike BARAC who requested the same documents from the treasury last year and were told that in the interest of the public the information will not be disclosed, Hackney citizens know that Equality Impact Assessments is a public document and they are intimately aware of where the town hall is located should the find the need to collect the documents in person.