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We need to look at alternative ways to push policy change

We need to look at alternative ways to push policy change

Greenpeace members hold up a sign in protest during 2022 Conservative Party Conference | Alamy

Kimberly McIntosh

Kimberly McIntosh

4 min read

In a recent article for OpenDemocracy, former charity campaigner Janey Starling said the sector needs to be bolder and more confrontational to get the structural changes people in vulnerable situations need.

Last week, my Twitter timeline was peppered with the same square shaped yellow banner with a simple message: Who Voted for This?

Two Greenpeace activists disrupted Prime Minister Liz Truss’s flagship speech at the Conservative Party Conference, protesting the policy announcements made by Truss and her ministers that were in opposition to the 2019 manifesto. This direct action by Greenpeace’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, and political campaigner Ami McCarthy made headlines, secured broadcast slots and received strong support on social media, chiming with the public mood on the cost of living and climate change.

Campaigners from organisations like Greenpeace and movements like Green New Deal Rising are using disruption to spotlight the issues they’re fighting for. But, in such an unpredictable political environment where the rule book has been ripped up, how much change can they realistically make?

I’ve worked in the charity sector for the past seven years in policy and research, working mostly on racial justice and poverty. When you’re trying to change a policy or law, the approach normally follows this plot line: identify a problem that needs fixing and find evidence to prove it exists, raise the profile of it in the public imagination, come up with some solutions to the problem and try to get MPs or civil servants to support it.

Sometimes it worked. In 2018, while working at The Runnymede Trust, I was part of a coalition of charities, diplomats, journalists and individuals bringing attention to the Windrush Scandal. hundreds of Commonwealth citizens, many of whom were from the “Windrush generation,” had been wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights, losing their jobs, homes and even lives in the process.

People who had been directly affected by the scandal told their stories powerfully in the media, which led to public outrage – at least in the short term. Supportive MPs championed the issue in Parliament. Within a few weeks the Home Secretary had resigned, the immigration minister apologised, and a scheme was set up to issue free biometric cards to those affected. A review into what went wrong and a compensation scheme was announced. This, on the face of it, is a success. It demonstrates how campaigning for policy change can have a material impact on people’s lives.

But there are limits to this type of work.

Until the government shows us that it’s interested in progressive causes or responsive to the public mood, we need to look at alternative ways to mobilise our supporters

If we fast forward four years to 2022, the reality is more mixed. The review into what went wrong has released recommendations. But government is yet to implement many of these recommendations or has watered them down.  The Compensation Scheme is up and running but only one in four applicants have received payments. Fewer than seven per cent of the 15,000 compensation claims the government originally expected have received a payment. As an issue, it has fallen much further down the news agenda.

In a recent article for OpenDemocracy, former charity campaigner Janey Starling said the sector needs to be bolder and more confrontational to get the structural changes people in vulnerable situations need.

Changing policies and laws that harm the people we’re meant to be fighting for is still significant. It’s important to lobby government and win the hearts and minds of the public.

But until the government shows us that it’s interested in progressive causes or responsive to the public mood, we need to look at alternative ways to mobilise our supporters and make a difference to people’s lives.

Kimberly McIntosh is a policy professional and writer who works as the Grants and Programme Manager at Action for Race Equality

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