CEO Blog – Poverty of Information

A New Crisis

Many of the people who come to the Centre for help have either been ‘lost in the system’ or simply confounded by it. By ‘system’ I mean how our world, our society, is run. There are rules. And it doesn’t matter whether you understand the rules or even if you don’t know there are rules, ‘it is what it is’ in all aspects of life.

If you are way down anyone’s priority list, if your command of English isn’t brilliant, if you are struggling to read, if you have been reduced to the virtual rabbit in the headlights because of all the barriers put in front of you, then what you need most is clear information, provided in a way that you can understand.

Cathy and Cardinal Hume in Ethiopia
Cathy and Cardinal Hume in Ethiopia

I am English (well Yorkshire) born and bred. I have a reasonably active brain and I am used to receiving and analysing information in bucket loads. And yet I can be reduced to despair, to helpless frustration or sheer incandescent fury by the mystifying language used by suppliers of services, by various government departments, even most ‘how to..’ guides.

One of the growth areas (sadly) of our work is that of providing basic information and objective advice. In the middle of Westminster, within a stone’s throw of the mother of democracy (well that’s how our Parliament used to be called), we are now one of the few providers of the kind of information that can make all the difference to a person’s life. Every day we see more and more people who are being punished for not knowing something. For not knowing the rules that no-one has bothered to tell them exist, for not knowing a letter has been sent by the Job Centre demanding they present themselves at a certain time or have their benefits cut (which arrives after that time has come and gone), for simply not having access to a computer so they can get the information they need.

This is truly a new kind of poverty and exclusion, and one that is on the increase. What on earth is the (common and economic) sense of making it so difficult for people who, in my experience, are genuinely trying to make their lives work – both for themselves and for that same ‘society’ that makes the rules?

Cathy Corcoran OBE
Chief Executive, Cardinal Hume Centre

Cathy is bravely participating in the London CEO Sleepout, you can sponsor her through her JustGiving page here. The event raises awareness of homelessness issues in the UK, in addition to her participation Cathy also contributed to a homelessness piece on Radio 4’s Sunday show. You can catch up on the show on BBC iPlayer (Show originally aired 5th October 2014, Cathy’s story starts 10 mins in).