Saturday 4 March
A few weeks ago, I joined the organisation Interfaith Glasgow as a volunteer for their weekend club programme. Once a month, the organisation coordinates an event for refugees, asylum seekers and new migrants with the aim of fostering mutual understanding and supporting integration. Their February event was shortbread making, the March event will relate to Mother's Day, and we met on Saturday morning to plan the event for April.
Sitting around a dark wooden table in an old school building in northern Glasgow, volunteers from all around the city, with backgrounds from all around the world, have gathered. Some have been part of the weekend club since it started 14 months ago, and for some – including myself – this is the first planning meeting. Everyone is still a bit sleepy, but after a couple of the volunteers have made everyone a cup of tea or coffee after each person's specifications, we start the meeting.
April? What do we want to do? What happens in April? We soon start talking about Easter. Someone suggests having an Easter egg hunt for the children. Someone else proposes the idea of painting eggs together. Another volunteer thinks that we should try to make it educational, and look into the historical and religious background of Easter. I bring up cultural differences in celebrating Easter. In Sweden, children used to dress up as witches and go from house to house and either collect or give out sweets. I recall my mum telling me stories about what she used to do as a child – the tradition of dressing up as witches was not as strong when I was a child, and I am quite uncertain as to what it's meant to represent.
Soon we reach the pivotal question of the April event planning: Could organising an event around Easter be seen as trying to promote Christianity over other religions? Would it undermine the very purpose of Interfaith Glasgow? Are there ways of organising an Easter event that acknowledges and reflects upon the origins and development of the tradition; seeking to understand rather than to promote? Is it more important to avoid Easter – and thus avoid risking to promote a specific religion – or is it more important to try to together understand the chocolate eggs that line the aisles of shops and the impact that Easter has on UK culture?
We thought the latter. The event for April will revolve around Easter. There will be three tables where, in small groups, we will discuss, respectively, the history of Easter, its place in British culture, and customs relating to Easter in different countries. For children (and any adults who are keen) there will be egg painting.
Our aim is to together learn more about Easter and what it has meant at different points in time and what it continues to mean in different places. We are hoping to together discuss and reflect upon what we celebrate and why. And it is quite likely that we will leave with stomachs full of chocolate.
Tuesday 7 March
On Tuesdays I volunteer at the Citizens Advice Bureau. I recently started, so I am still shadowing other advisers. In the last two days, I heard from long-term advisers, there has been an unusually high number of clients coming in to ask for their benefits claims to be reconsidered. Many clients, especially those who have claimed disability benefits, are getting their claims rejected after they go for assessments by the Department of Work and Pensions. Many people thereafter turn to the Citizens Advice Bureau, seeking help to challenge the decision.
Before beginning my shift at the bureau, I came across an article about the government's further cuts to housing benefits. Under the new regulations, individuals under the age of 21 applying for housing benefits will be denied in all but exceptional circumstances. In light of this announcement, charities are warning that more young people are likely to become homeless and may be reduced to living on the streets.
The new regulations will apply to claims made after 1 April through the universal credit scheme. Although the scheme is not yet fully in place in Glasgow, it is gradually being rolled out. At the Citizens Advice Bureau, it is likely that we will be meeting young clients affected by these changes in the near future.
Wednesday 8 March
Browsing the Guardian this morning, I came across more frightening news concerning homelessness. It has been brought to light that several homelessness charities have been collaborating with the Home Office to identify individuals without the right to remain in the country. On several occasions, this has led to the identified individual being deported.
Although this may be an aim for the Home Office, it should not be the job of homelessness charities to collaborate with the government in its attempt to fulfil its targets of net migration. Rather than contributing to the UK's 'everyday bordering' – landlords, NHS, and schools required to collaborate with the Home Office in policing the immigration status of individuals in the country – homelessness charities should be working to mitigate the consequences of such policies.
According to a spokesperson from one homelessness charity, '[the charity] has no powers to compel rough sleepers to return home but when we believe that individuals are at risk from living on the streets, where people are in extreme destitution, we will work with the Home Office to plan a way for them to return home'. It seems as if the underlying assumption of the homelessness charities which collaborate with the Home Office is that homelessness is the very worst circumstance that can befall a person, and that any alternative solution would be an improvement. Not only is this highly paternalistic, but it is in many cases simply not true.
There are rough sleepers on the streets of major UK cities who have fled extreme poverty, war and persecution. They should not have to live as destitute individuals on the streets – there should be support available for them. However, where this does not exist, the extreme destitution of UK streets may still be better than the situation they would face upon being deported.