IN CONVERSATION :
Louise Kennedy, Women’s Aid (In Street. Causeway Exchange, Belfast, Northern Ireland)
Louise Kennedy of Women’s Aid speaks about the implications of proposed social policies, the world ‘jumping the shark’, and our response to it.
JO: So, I’m standing here with …
LK: Louise Kennedy. I’m the Policy Co-ordinator for Women’s Aid Northern Ireland.
JO: and we’re stood on Bedford Street which runs into the main square in Belfast City …
LK: yes, just overlooking City Hall and we’re at Causeway Exchange which is where the Department for Communities is based and our Permanent Secretary so in the absence of a government, it’s this Department that are making decisions on the behalf of the Northern Irish people at the moment.
JO: ok .. and that’s part of the reason you’ve chosen this site.
LK: it is …
JO: how many groups have decided to do this?
LK: it’s actually a broad based coalition … I’m obviously here for Women’s Aid but we also have people here from Reclaim the Agenda … Reclaim the Agenda is a grassroots women’s collective focusing on 6 key themes, one of which is poverty .. anti-poverty, and one of which is anti-domestic and sexual violence … so, what we’re here for today, protesting the 2 child tax credit cap and the rape clause fall under multiple themes. We also have support from the advice sector, the children’s sector … from representatives of social workers, midwives, people who might have to do the assessments for rape clauses and we actually had someone from .. you know .. one of the government agencies .. civil servants stopped by when he walked past and say “actually, I support what you are doing here” so … I’m not going to say where he was from or who he was, but there you go.
JO: we need more of those … and we need .. increasingly I think we are going to need people who are being asked by the state to implement a lot of these sorts of policies to refuse and push back and say “It’s not the decent thing to do … I’m not doing it.”
LK: well, that’s it and one of speakers today will be from NIPSA, the union, and NIPSA represents the people who are working in the building behind us …
JO: what is NIPSA? Do we know?
LK: oh flip … Northern Ireland Public Service …
JO: yes … something like that … I can do my homework .. I’ll check it out …
LK: [ ] yes .. so they’re the union that represent people in the public sector … but … you know .. the people who are working in the benefits offices on the frontlines for the government as civil servants, they aren’t happy with this either necessarily. Obviously, I can’t speak for them, but they’re having to … you know … do these assessments and … you know … ask people “have you been raped?” .. you know … things like that …
JO: well, it’s a pretty miserable thing to have to do to someone …
LK: yes. Especially without training, without support, without guidance as to how to signpost people to safety and keep them safe and risk assess … and also because in Northern Ireland, we have something called Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act, if you know or believe that a crime has been committed, you have to report that to police so women who go in and say I’ve been raped, give me tax credits, that worker and even the person assessing the form or doing the paperwork have to phone the police and say “this woman has reported a rape .. investigate it.” So, you have women in a situation where they didn’t want to talk about their rape in the first place .. they didn’t want to name their child on the form and have their child stigmatised … they didn’t want to leave their abusive relationship because it wasn’t safe for them to do so and they definitely didn’t want a criminal investigation to be started …
JO: so basically, it’s taking all the agency away from the woman .. yes?
LK: entirely taking the agency away from rape victims and from women … It’s not just the rape clause, the cap itself, limiting to two children … it’s going to put an extra 200,000 children across the UK into poverty, and they know that will happen, but yet it’s here anyway …. And, you know, the aim is … the so-called aim of the policy is to encourage responsible parenting and family planning but .. you know … people die and people get sick …people leave and then, you know, you may think you can afford your third or fourth child but then you could be caught in a situation where you can’t and that is what welfare is supposed to be there for
LK: it’s a safety net … and the safety net is being eroded and we’re not happy about it …
JO: you’re pushing on an open door with me ..
JO: what else shall we? I don’t want to hog your time … what else .. thinking a bit more widely, are you … I’m walking around with a theme of .. my project is called .. working title is ‘Decency and Survival’ because I do think … it’s not just me .. I think it’s fair to say that the human race is really facing an existential threat .. half of us, roughly .. I think, according to the World Health Organisation are dying around the world, before our 70th birthday .. probably leading pretty miserable existences … a lot of those people ..
JO: so, in other words, we’re in a right mess … in fact, I’m saying we are in an emergency situation because we’ve only got 3-5 years to sort the climate out
JO: I went up to see the damage that had been done recently by the floods up by Derry
JO: people there were saying … those that had been touched by it were sort of starting to say “oh … we’d better do something about it” … what .. just thinking … so more broadly, are you encouraged by .. is there a sort of uprising of consciousness and concern in Northern Ireland or …
LK: yes I am …
JO: you started with the Stormont situation which is obviously not perfect but ..
LK: I think, you know, we’re living in very uncertain times, as you say yourself … you’ve got Trump, you’ve got North Korea, you’ve got climate change, you’ve got .. you know and in the midst of all that, you’ve got ordinary people living out their small, individual crises and, you know, facing adversity and hardship .. and I think people have got to the point where, you know, the world has jumped the shark officially and I think that’s why people are thinking .. no actually we do, we have to go and do something ..
LK: and the old avenues aren’t working … well in Northern Ireland, they’re not there … politics as we know it has now broken down .. so people are having to get more inventive and say “well, actually, you know what, I’m not just going to stand and wait for someone to do this for me … I’m going to do it myself.”
JO: yes, I think that’s very encouraging, yes
LK: that’s got to be a good thing, right?
JO: I think so.
LK: … it remains to be seen how we fix this but certainly I think this is a good start … and it’s a beautiful day for it.
JO: It is. Amen to that.