By Ruhana Ali
Passing through the first decade of the 21st Century, witnessing illegal wars, a deepening poverty gap and a global financial crisis makes me reflective over our nation’s commitment to the Millennium Development Goals and the reduction of poverty and provision of opportunities in our communities. As I think about the dormant potential of our communities and the cloudy reputation we take forward as Muslims living in Britain I am filled with an enthusiastic optimism that together we can achieve a better and stronger civil society if we work together and organise. My hope for the next ten years is that we are more proactive in our role as public citizens and take responsibility for the state of our communities in a way that I have started to see in the last ten years. This optimism comes from seeing the silver lining; witnessing the pockets of hope, activity and accountability that working with other public citizens brings, and joining the fight to reduce poverty in our communities.
I spent my university degree studying the causes and impact of poverty on society. Postulations about poverty reduction meant that I was often left with more questions than answers. What I really wanted to know is how as an individual I could help make society a little more equal? What could I do as a citizen to help my community overcome disadvantage and the lack of opportunities that are synonymous with those who are in low income families? I knew that the correlation between poverty and opportunities was strong. The solutions about how to change this were not.
That was until I joined London Citizens. Inspired by the stories from the Living Wage campaign I had to get involved.
The Living Wage campaign was borne out of member communities in London Citizens experiencing the effects of low income on families and trying to think practically about how to change this. Stories which include the loving father from the Mosque working in HSBC as a cleaner, earning in a year what some staff would in a week. The loving mother from the Church, making herself ill, working in an overcrowded sandwich factory for poverty wages. The single parent from the local school, having to work two jobs to keep things afloat, fearful that the more time spent away from their kids the more time they spend being brought up by the streets.
Diverse experiences bound by a common interest. Common, in the sense they all want to work towards a better life and situation for their families. Unusual, because they are willing to stand shoulder to shoulder united in achieving this for each other, together through public action.
The public action to all three scenarios seemed obvious, although individually unwinnable, collectively a realistic challenge. Living in London was expensive, there needed to be a basic rate of income above the National Minimum Wage that would reflect the cost of living in London and bring dignity back to families.
And so the London Living Wage Campaign which is now set yearly by the Mayor of London was calculated. £7.60 per hour is what companies should be paying this year to employees to ensure that they are able to have a decent standard of living and are not caught into working poverty.
Since the campaign was launched in 2001, London Citizens communities have won over £25 million pounds into the pockets of low paid workers often those in cleaning jobs. Alhamdulillah. Through creative actions and the ability to organise these diverse communities to speak up against the injustice of the poverty gap, our communities and brave leaders are paving the way in being the change they want to see. All safe in the knowledge, that working in silos as individual communities this would be difficult to achieve. But together, with their neighbours, their voice is stronger, diverse and more powerful.
Through organised campaigning those now paying the Living Wage to all contracted and sub contracted staff include Queen Mary University, LSE University, HSBC Bank, Barclays, KPMG, GLA and LDA, Olympics Development Authority, Department for Children, Schools and Families, Tate Modern, Westfield Shopping Centre, Linklaters, Tower Hamlets Council and many more.
What is even more pleasing is that the Muslim community is at the forefront with other communities calling for a Living Wage and highlighting our strong passion for social justice. What better way to put your faith and values into action? As Muslims, we should be leading social justice campaigns in our communities and through the Living Wage Campaign we are being given the opportunity to do so. One of the best examples of Dawah, building relationships with others and making a real difference for poor income families, I can see for our community inshaAllah. In the last 10 years, by working with our neighbours we have been able to redistribute large amounts of wealth to make society a little fairer. In the next ten years as the campaign grows, I hope the community is at its heart, prepared, relentless and continuously sewing its seeds.
Ruhana Ali, aged 23, is a Community Organiser with London Citizens and is responsible for working with and developing 23 different member institutions in a major London borough. She also works as the Senior Organiser for the Muslim community with Citizens UK, the national organisation that aims to teach and train leaders in the art of politics in action. She read Social Policy, Criminal Justice and Psychology at the London School of Economics, where she was involved in the Living Wage Campaign through the Students’ Union.
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