Niall Cooper: Struggling, but NICE
Ray Wright spent a decade in prison for armed robbery, which was committed at the peak of his drug addiction; since he came out of prison three years ago, he has been clean and volunteered for several causes, but he’s found it impossible to find a job. In July, Ray and a dozen other folk from Salford launched the NICE group – a group of people who are Non-judgemental, have Integrity and Compassion, and are committed to Equality.
In an age of welfare reforms and austerity, the NICE group is sick of the fact that public opinion often sides with a government keen to portray those in poverty as a drain on society. For members of the group, and millions like them, reality is much more complicated: “If it was up to the media we would be pigeonholed as scroungers, immigrants, ex-drug addicts, single mums and criminals,” Ray told the audience at the launch of the group: “But we want to show you that we are all worth much, much more than that – and stand up to those who want to put us down. As a group, we give over 25,000 hours a year as carers, mentors, parents and volunteers, saving the government thousands of pounds every month. According to many, we are scroungers. But without people like us, society would fall apart.”
The NICE group is made up of people who are working, but still struggle to make ends meet; older people who are spending more on the bedroom tax than they do on food; parents desperate to find work that will fit in with childcare – but who are unable to find anything but zero-hours contracts…
Niall Cooper is director of Church Action on Poverty and convener of the Inner Manchester Network of the United Reformed Church. To read more about the NICE group, visit www.stigmastories.com
This is an extract from the September 2014 edition of Reform.