On David Cameron’s home turf…
As I stumbled out of bed on Saturday at 5.30am, leaving my husband, head face-down in his pillow and my 20 month-old son and daughter still happily in dreamland, I was relieved that the day had finally arrived.
Having talked about doing “grassroots campaigning” with Save the Children groups for years, we were finally doing it. But would it actually all come together…
We arrived at the local Co-op in Carterton (part of David Cameron’s Witney constituency) just before 9am. Our fantastic branded campaign bus, provided by FirstGroup, arrived soon after and we set about talking to shoppers about our “Poverty Kills Childhood” election campaign and asking them to sign up to support it.
Hard work, especially when your job generally involves sitting in an office boshing out emails – but it’s something that every campaigner should do.
Whilst I’m clearly not cut-out to be a face-to-face fundraiser (I’m persistent but just take the knock-backs a little too personally) the insights I gained into what people really think about child poverty, and our campaign, were really valuable.
Luckily the sun was shining, and the people of Carterton were generally friendly and happy to take away some of our material, even if they didn’t have time to stop and chat.
Though a few did, and the fact that 1.7 million children live in severe child poverty here in the UK, the fifth largest economy in the world, was something that many people were really concerned about.
We arrived at Carterton Community College at around 12pm to help Sue James and other volunteers from our Witney and Carterton branch to set up the venue.
After a quick photo-shoot with young campaigners in front of the FirstGroup campaign bus, we got down to business.
I kicked off the event with what (I hope…) was an inspiring call to action on our election campaign. I decided to focus on sharing the experience of a mum from Sierra Leone, Sunkari, who lost her daughter because she didn’t have the £15 she needed to pay a doctor to treat her.
Her story has inspired me and there didn’t seem a better way to convey that “poverty kills childhood”…
Our other Save the Children speakers – Simone Spray, Head of UK Programmes and Emily Echessa, Education Adviser drove the message home about how poverty is killing childhood.
Simone brought valuable insights into the lives of the 1.7million children growing up in poverty in the UK – communicating the scale of the problem, whilst conveying the reality for individual children and families struggling to cope. Emily spoke passionately about education as a route out of poverty in some of the world’s poorest countries such as DRC and South Sudan, which have also been affected by decades of conflict.
They sent a pretty resounding message to the local candidates about ending child poverty, but how would they respond?
All the three main political parties were represented: Joe Goldberg, Labour prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) for Witney; Simon Hoare, local Councillor and Conservative PPC for Cardiff South and Penarth (attending in place of David Cameron MP); and Richard Andrews, a local Liberal Democrat Councillor.
We heard commitments about spending 0.7% of national income on overseas development aid and pledges to tackle child poverty from all the parties, although the messages and strategies about how they would do it differed quite sharply in some cases.
For example, whilst one candidate said “I don’t think we are ever going to eradicate child poverty”, another defended a zero tolerance approach to child poverty.
The Robin Hood Tax, the militarisation of aid and the introduction of a “pupil premium” to ensure better education for children living in poverty were also recurring themes. The Chair did a brilliant job of keeping the panellists to time – strictly five minutes each and not a second more!The Q&A was lively and heated: plenty of probing questions from the audience which prompted some attempted political point-scoring from the candidates! We finished with a great question from the audience about how much time, on a scale of 1-10 each of the parties would be dedicating to child poverty issues during the election campaign. There was a lot of encouraging sounding intent but we’ll see in the coming weeks how much of it will be hot air… It’s up to us to make child poverty a real issue in this election.
It was a really inspiring event – for me as much as the local volunteers who feedback how much they enjoyed it. One in particular pointed out how it brought home how politically relevant Save the Children’s work was and that it really brought the concept of campaigning to life. Working with our branch volunteers has made me realise that our local supporters really are the life-blood of the organisation. I look forward to working with them in the weeks and months ahead…this is just the beginning.