In recent weeks there has been some political and other commentary regarding the potential cuts to funding for victims and survivors groups, or the inability to continue funding some groups whose Peace III funding contracts have come to an end.
For individual victims and survivors there have been cuts to previous support packages that were available to them as a result of their bereavement and injury. These cuts have resulted from an increase in applications from individual victims and survivors and the lack of a corresponding increase in budget to the Victims and Survivors Service. Essentially the existing cake of budget has been cut into thinner slices.
This commentary has been interwoven with the debate on the Welfare reform/cuts that are at the heart of other political debates in Stormont. If Welfare reform/cuts were to be implemented then there is a suggestion that the group funding and individual funding sought by the Victims and Survivors Service might be forthcoming. Of course that is a political argument to which there is huge contest.
However in the meantime victims and survivors find themselves with no choices or investment in this debate, only picking up the pieces from the decisions made. They have lives they are living with needs unmet and great strains and anxieties exacerbated by any threat to their income and support programmes.
Welfare ‘reform’ have been the two words to put shivers down spines. The two words that create genuine fear. Not to those currently employed on above average wages or on long term pensions or those who have never known want. But for those whose very existence depends on welfare. Victims of our conflict disproportionately depend on welfare as a direct result of their experience of conflict.
Every day is an existence of hand to mouth, where fridges are never full, oil tanks never filled and bills never fully paid off. A life where new clothes are rare, never chosen because of fashion, best quality or potential length of service, but chosen only on the basis of cost. Warm coats and lasting shoes do not match that requirement. This is a life where debt goes hand in hand with the struggle to survive. It is a life where the dignity of adults is a compromisable commodity in favour of feeding and clothing children.
The notion of a ‘reform’ that could diminish this life of poverty and want even further is a notion that throws doubt on very survival. The words “I don’t know how I would survive” are not exaggerated – they are spoken with genuine fear.
Life on welfare is not a life chosen. It is a life of circumstance influenced by many factors, often generational.
For victims of the conflict the factors that lead to poverty and dependence are particularly cruel.
Our conflict was played out on the streets where disadvantage and poverty were already at their highest. Deaths and injuries occurred in disproportionately higher numbers in areas already wreaked with unemployment and ill health. Last week’s report from Mike Tomlinson highlights the ongoing relationship between experience of conflict trauma and generational disadvantage. For those who experienced death of a loved one or a serious life diminishing injury that relationship can be devastating.
Once the devastation of trauma, death and injury occurred any already reduced potential for educational achievement and gainful employment were all but obliterated. Dependence on welfare became inevitable.
There were no pensions for civilians bereaved or injured during our conflict.
This was especially the case for women. With 91% of those killed being men it was women who struggled to survive and pick up the pieces. If the men killed were employed the change in circumstance economically was overwhelming. Not only were young mothers coping with their own trauma and that of their children they were also immediately thrown into poverty. A poverty that was never to be reversed. The effects of the necessary suspension of trauma on individuals’ mental and physical health have been under reported and under recognised but nonetheless deeply complex and severe.
For some families there was a catch net of a pension – those families whose loved ones were in the RUC or UDR. However for the over whelming majority of those bereaved and injured by conflict there was no catch net whatsoever. No support services and no economic support.
For the children in families affected by conflict death and injury their access to educational achievement was immediately affected. As traumatic reaction became normalised rather than supported many, many younger members of families played caring roles for younger siblings and surviving parents. Their potential was never realised. They became the inevitable second generation dependent on welfare.
In some schools the effects of trauma resulted in young people being excluded from school entirely. There was no understanding of trauma and the needs of young people. There was no support for teachers to spot the signs of PTSD or traumatic reaction after a child’s parent had been killed or injured, or their siblings, let alone the support services to put in place had it been spotted at all. Very few paid attention to this as the young people came from areas of high deprivation and low educational achievement anyway. Their pathways out of poverty were blocked at every turn.
There was disadvantage heaped on deprivation and there was little or no analysis of the needs of victims of the conflict who were thrown onto the welfare system after the incident and forced to stay there. It was not a choice then and it still is not now.
Support systems for victims of the conflict were limited. Only in recent years has there been support services provided in the community. Funding for these services have always been short term and subject to cuts.
Individual support programmes in recent years through the Memorial Fund and the Victims and Survivors Service while welcome have been limited, bureaucratic in nature, subject to change and suspension and overall labelled by those in their receipt as demeaning and philanthropic in nature rather than based on rights to reparation for victims of the conflict.
These programmes support all victims of the conflict, and include the vast majority of those affected. If the victim of the conflict also was a member of the RUC or UDR there are additional pension rights and funds available. These additional schemes are thus far not subject to the same changes and suspensions.
Due to financial circumstances facing the Executive individual support programmes for victims and survivors have been cut in a most cruel and arbitrary way. It is expected that support services provided by groups will also be cut significantly in coming months.
This comes after the disgraceful debacle that is the establishment of the Victims Service. This debacle has hurt victims and survivors across the community, not one person has been held accountable and continues to stagger from failure to failure implementing the cuts in individual support programmes to the bereaved of the conflict.
For those families worst affected by our conflict who have lived lives defined by conflict death and injury, who have subsequently lived lives of poverty and need, and who have survived with minimal support or reparation there is no choice between Welfare Reform and Victims Support Funding. Welfare cuts are unimaginable in their context. Support services are essential to any recovery from trauma.
All political parties have declared their intention to support victims of conflict.
All must recognise the huge dependence for survival this implies on current welfare provision.
They must also recognise that long term sustained support services are also essential.
It is not an either or choice.
Andree this is a superbly presented argument that is a seminal contrition to the evolving welfare debate that focuses on the needs of victims of political conflict. Your piece begins to investigate and frame the correlation of conflict experience with both material poverty and poverty of opportunity in a way that talks about real life experience and not solely of statistics, numbers or budgets.
Tory welfare cuts are real and they will affect real people.
It is no coincidence that communities and families that suffered the most through the conflict – in terms of lives lost and maimed and discrimination – will be adversely affected by Tory welfare cuts.
Equally it speaks volumes that there has been a lack of political will to address the material well-being of victims of conflict. Indeed questions must be asked of the Executive why this drip feed of support to victims? Why has the Executive failed to reach agreement on a pension for those seriously injured?
Sadly many “have lives they are living with needs unmet and great strains and anxieties”. Those who lost the most in conflict will again bear the weight of the Tory welfare cuts.
Focus in the time ahead must be on he need for a comprehensive reparations programme. A programme that recognises that essential equality of grief and victimhood and which equally and respectfully acknowledges the grief of all. Equally politicians would send out a powerful statement of intent if they adapted a ‘victim-impact assessment’ that proactively considered impact of Tory welfare cuts on victims and their families.
In addition the Northern Executive must seriously engage with the Eames-Bradley recommendation of a recognition payment for all victims. At a minimum this would create a new baseline that at least brought those most marginalised to a basic level of living that defined minimum respect and dignity.
Prevarication, ambivalence and inaction – and the implementation of Tory welfare cuts – will simply reinforce victimhood for so many.
Thank you John your comments are as always both contributory and generous. I think that moving to a reparations debate is essential and would contribute materially to the wellbeing of those who survived the worst of our conflict and also serve to tell them that they are valued and valuable. For too long words such as “ignored”, “no one cared” and “we were abandoned” have been used by so many victims and survivors to describe the aftermath of conflict related trauma. That place of common isolation needs to transform in a transformed society.
We must all recognise that reliance on benefits is not a chosen culture of lifestyle but a forced necessity of need. Particularly for victims of conflict.
We must also recognise the immense need for support and services. Currently there are no schemes open to the bereaved from the Victims and Survivors Service and groups are closing down full schemes of support due to imposed cuts.
A different way needs to be found that is based on rights to reparation, compassion for experience and recognition of need.
It is not easy but our society has a duty.