Category Archives: Blog

From Benefits to Poverty to Crime: Time for a new approach

A guest blog post by Graeme Strachan, a member of our Tuesday night ‘Unbound’ group.

A still from Ken Loach's 'I, Daniel Blake', an uncompromising examination of the current benefits system and it's impact on people's lives

Ken Loach’s ‘I, Daniel Blake’ takes an uncompromising look of the injustices of the current benefits system

Visiting the job centre has become an unpleasant parody of community service. This is a by-product of our benefits system that was set up to look after those in need but has been utilised by the government to penalise and criminalise the weakest in society. This article will discuss how this works and what we can do to change it for the better.

Our current benefits system is based around “conditionality”. Conditionality is where you are required to do exactly what the government or advisor tell you or you will lose your benefit. This is where sanctions come in to play. Sanctions are used to psychologically and socially criminalise the poor, sick and unemployed. Incredible amounts of unreasonable pressure and stress are placed upon those who are already the weakest in society.

Sanctions can hold more financial weight than that placed by a criminal court for example. They are imposed by people with no duty of care or legal standing. They leave claimants with no option but to use food banks and in many cases criminalise themselves to find money to simply live on. These circumstances are fertilised by conditionality, which in itself breaches the UN convention on human rights, some argue. Sanctions do not work. They take people further away from work and into poverty, leaving them with no choice but to find other ways to survive.

This clearly hits one parent families the hardest. Looking after a child or children while being forced to undertake conditionality to survive is bordering on medieval. OPF have other priorities; in this case conditionality interferes with their duty of care for their children, another factor contravening the UN charter. This clearly leaves an unregulated system with unqualified personnel making decisions that leave families and children living in poverty due to sanctions.

Advisors hold the lives of people in their hands and are not scrutinised in any legal capacity. Some for example will be happy to work round parent’s commitments to their children; others will not, leaving parents suffering sanctions for not turning up for appointments. The other option is where parents have been forced frequently to leave young children standing at the job centre door or on the street. This is quite simply unacceptable. Refusing to work for free, disagreeing with advisors, homelessness issues, and being a few minutes late for appointments are just a few commonplace examples of other situations that can leave OPF facing sanctions.

We can change this – there are other alternatives. Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Finland and Denmark for example have higher benefit rates and a lower crime rates. The one common theme that keeps occurring is to implement a Universal Basic Income. Scotland is now looking at bold decisions by those in government to address this situation.

An income that every citizen would receive – no matter what their employment status – would guarantee them a means to live. This is in contrast to the current system, in which individuals and families, stripped of their confidence and dignity, struggle simply to survive. If we wish to eradicate poverty and lower crime rates, we must not push the weakest in society into poverty through conditionality and sanctions for simply being poor, unemployed, sick and trying to survive. We must look to build confidence and instil a desire to succeed rather than fear of losing everything, which understandably drives people to survive by any means.


For more on Universal Basic Income, see this recent TED talk by Jamie Cooke, head of RSA Scotland. 

Opening the Door to our new home

You may have noticed that things have been a bit quiet here at Vox HQ. Change has been coming thick and fast, with a new office, two new members of the staff team and a new website in the pipeline.  Thanks to our generous supporters during the ‘Open Doors’ campaign we’ve been able to move from our old home in the Briggait to shiny new digs in Glasgow Collective, just across the road from the mighty Barrowlands Ballroom. (Two musical powerhouses, so close together!)

The Main Space (Shutter Up)

(The Upstairs Space, with the shutters up)

We’ve got two floors in our new space, aptly named The Music Shop in honour of it’s former life. At street level we have a flexible and spacious open-plan office and a basement that lends itself to a myriad of uses, from a rehearsal room to workshop or meeting space; there’s plenty of space for Unbound and other projects or events. It’s an exciting prospect and has really exceeded our expectations of where we might land! Thanks for making this a reality.

The Basement

While the finishing touches are being made to The Music Shop, we’ve been camping temporarily in the Collective’s main space. This has been a blessing in disguise, giving us more time to get to know our neighbours, but it’s meant we’ve held back from celebrating the move until we can show you around properly.

During the ‘Open Doors’ campaign we pledged to incorporate the names of campaign supporters into an artwork in the new space. We’ve been in touch with the wonderful Gabi Froden, who some of you might remember did the artwork for our ‘Silent Seconds’ EP, who has been tasked with working everyone’s name into a piece. We can’t wait to see what the final piece looks like.

Soon, we’ll be opening the door of our new space, with a free concert (to be live streamed for those who can’t make it) and an opening party for our supporters. Watch this space for invites and updates!

Thanks again to all of you for your support through this exciting time for Vox!

Nice NeighboursNice new neighbours!

KIN – Still Breaking Ground

It’s now 5 months since the KIN folk brought ‘Breaking Ground’ to MANY Studios on a freezing cold day in January 2017. Whether walking round the Barras with the ‘Golden Thread’, or making their own postcard responses to ‘The Thing’, around 300 people joined us for the day. Check out KIN on Twitter to see how the postcards continued breaking ground and challenging stigmas after the event.

Next week KIN will be presenting to both the National Prisons Visitors’ Centres conference and the National Youth Justice conference. They will also present to the cross party group for families of prisoners at the Scottish Parliament.

Massive congratulations to the crew for everything they’ve achieved, we can’t wait to see what they come out with next. Video courtesy of our friend Sandy Butler.

Things Left Unsaid – EP Launch & Event – 23 / 05 / 17

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Photo: Andrew Downie
This week sees the release of our new EP ‘Things Left Unsaid’, at an event in St George’s Tron Church, Buchanan St, Glasgow, on 23rd May 2017, 6pm – 8pm.

‘Things Left Unsaid’ is the result of six-months of workshops exploring community justice and what it means for women in Scotland. We were lucky enough to bring together a remarkable cross-section of women, from prison governors and retired judges to service managers and women who’ve been sentenced. These women then joined forces with some of Scotland’s best songwriters to see how making music could help them tell their stories.

Musicians on the project have included Louis Abbott (Admiral Fallow), Donna Maciocia, Lucy Cathcart Frödén and Ross Clark (Three Blind Wolves), all of whom will be performing at the event on 23rd.

There are big changes taking place in the way that community and custodial sentences are being handled for women in Scotland. This project gave women who have experienced that system a chance to tell their stories.

We are inviting anyone who comes to the EP launch to add their voice to the discussion of community justice in Scotland, by responding creatively to the songs that are performed. There will be a series of interactive art installations based on songs, lyrics and ideas developed within the workshops.

Award winning radio producer Steve Urquhart has also produced a podcast based on the project, which you can listen to below:

Things Left Unsaid was commissioned by Glasgow Community Justice Authority, in collaboration with the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, the Scottish Prison Service, and Creative Scotland. It is also part of our wider project, ‘Distant Voices’, which you can learn more about HERE.

This event is free. If you’re interested, please sign up HERE

Facebook event HERE

From 23/05/17 the ‘Things Left Unsaid’ EP will be available HERE

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Photo: Andrew Downie

All who attended the event have been sent a password to download the EP songs. Please click here to download your songs:

 

In Tune and BBC Children in Need

In Tune is our family music making project with families with a Dad in prison.

in-tune-photo-2To coincide with the 2016 BBC Children In Need campaign, BBC Radio Scotland have been playing a short piece fronted by Bryan Burnett recorded in the project, highlighting the importance of In Tune to prisoners and their families, particularly their children. You can hear the piece streaming here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04gfcxs

The Evening Times have also picked up on the story and run a short piece here: http://www.eveningtimes.co.uk/news/14908597.Prison_dads_writing_songs_for_their_children_with_Glasgow_music_project/

In Tune is currently funded by Children In Need to run in two Scottish Prisons – HMP Barlinnie and HMYOI Polmont. It is a joy of a project to be involved in – being part of a project with families making music together, having fun and making positive memories together is so life-giving. And hearing the songs that imprisoned dads have written for their children is pretty special too. You can read some more detail about the project and hear some of these songs on our In Tune page here: www.voxliminis.co.uk/in-tune

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-17-25-36BBC Children in Need have also been involved in making a documentary called Prison, My Parent & Me which was broadcast on Tuesday night on BBC1. It is a brilliant piece, highlighting the challenges of the unknowns the prison system throughs a child into, the realities of visiting, the stigma a child of a prisoner might face, and the losses they encounter. It’s well worth a watch to understand the whole issue more : http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0834tmt/prison-my-parents-me

Talking about In Tune, Children In Need National Head Dr Mary Duffy said:

“The children of prisoners can be affected in deep and long term ways by the imprisonment of a parent, and are often also dealing with many other challenges in their family circumstances. This is a hard area of work but the right support can be transformational. We are delighted to fund Vox Liminis in its work pushing boundaries and stretching aspirations for some of these most disadvantaged of Scotland’s children.”

KIN-Zine

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KIN spent the weekend at Shielbrae House near Stirling, weaving together their work into a zine with a print-maker and photographer, developing plans for release for all their work to date, and writing the KIN Manifesto.

“Working in collaboration you get to see all the different things people put into it and all the approaches to it. I love working collaboratively cause it just completely changes the way you think about your work. ” -Dylan

“I’ve had a really brilliant weekend. I’ve tried things I wouldn’t have tried before. It’s nice to have a year on from when the project started, a nice wee reflection to see how much we’ve come on over the past year and then I’m really excited for the event and to get everything out there.” -Morven

Watch this space. KIN is a call that demands a response.

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SINGING

Here’s a guest blog post from Mindy Soriti from Sydney, on visiting Unbound – our weekly music making group…
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I sat in a small rehearsal studio with some of the loveliest people in Glasgow last week.
Possibly some of the loveliest people in the world.
We played some tunes together. Talked about songs and structure. Cracked jokes about nuts key changes. All the things.
One guy had started playing bass only a few weeks earlier.
Others were working musicians.
But everybody brought something.
Alongside the noise of voices and instruments.
The act of singing together, of playing music in a room, and of writing together can be wildly connecting.
Not just in a therapeutic, hearts bouncing off the walls type way (although oy vey it can be ALL of that) but in terms of community.

And if into that space of making music, you invite people from a whole bunch of different backgrounds, including people who have spent time in prison, and people whose professional work is somehow prison related, and you ask that group to make something together, the impact can be profound. For everybody.
Oh man.
I guess I fell a bit in love with Glasgow.

Over the last five weeks, as I have sunk deeper into the question of ‘what to do’ about post-release, and recidivism I have found myself drifting off into territory that is situated somewhere kinda down the road, and round the corner a bit from where  I thought I was heading.

The whole point of my Churchill research project is to try and unpack what ‘best practice’ in post-release looks like. And although after all of these weeks of traveling, much of what I have grown to understand about the need for adequate resourcing and funding of basic transitional and reintegration services still holds, I guess what has become apparent is that it is not nearly enough to frame this conversation in terms of best practice inservice provision.

So often – too often, services that provide support to people on release from custody are funded to fix people. To address offending behaviour. To rehabilitate. Every funding submission I have ever written for my organisation (and that’s about a trillion over the years) has in one way or another suggested that this underlies what it is that we want to do.

The individual rehabilitation of people on release from prison has become the template around which consensus between the funded community sector and government now exists. It is easy. It is the template that philanthropists understand. It is the template for every media story on post-release. It is the quick explanation at the pub. But it is too often a lazy explanation. And even when it’s not lazy, it is not nearly enough.

Because once again it situates offending at the centre of the conversation; as if understanding criminality and risk are the only explanatory tools we require to ease the grip of imprisonment on those groups who are relentlessly locked up.

There are structural and cultural threads that connect incarcerated people globally. There are threads of poverty, and disconnection and and colonisation and racism. The demographics of who goes to prison are not contested by anybody.   Yet when people are released we tend to ignore those threads. We adopt instead an individualised approach. We ask people to take full personal responsibility for their crime and for their imprisonment. If they’re lucky we might offer some service that is funded to assist them take this responsibility. And if they’re especially lucky, the services that are progressive might wrap concrete support around this process; housing, employment and education assistance.

And all of this is vital. People should take responsibility for their crimes. Services should be funded to assist this process. But at some point, we need to call bullshit on this being enough. We need to stop turning our backs on our structural understandings of imprisonment. And we need to start thinking carefully about what can happen at the level of community and culture to shift this. So that the process of reintegration stops justbeing an individual struggle and starts being something that all of us are part of.

Because if you stop framing the conversation in terms of curing and fixing and start thinking about it in terms of building community, you find yourself on very different ground. The kind of ground occupied by Vox Liminis the small but vital group of folk in Glasgow who are sitting in rooms in and out of prisons writing tunes together.

And I know, I KNOW, writing songs isn’t everyone’s bag (WEIRDOS). And playing music in a room isn’t going to solve the affordable housing crisis in Sydney, or resolve discriminatory employment practices. And there are frequently limits in terms of the scalability of grass roots community building projects. But these small projects are becoming for me, more and more significant in the landscape of reintegration services and practices.

Because of what we can learn from them about approach, social movement, and about building connection and community. There is something radical and deeply pragmatic in terms of reintegration about finding ways to create spaces so that the common ground that exists between people (Social workers! Formerly incarcerated people! Academics! Musicians!..) can expand into something larger than all we might imagine divides. (And beautiful! The tunes are freakin’ beautiful…check their work out here).

Mindy Sotiri is currently travelling on a Churchill Fellowship, exploring things of reintegration after prison and community, blogging about it here 

Supervision: Seen And Heard

On 18th and 19th February 2016 we ran a Vox Session in Glasgow in The Old Hairdressers with a group of 18 people, half who had experience of being under supervision in the community, a social worker who delivers community supervision, a couple of criminologists, a visual artist, a radio producer and 3 musicians – Louis Abbott, Tim Davidson & Rollo Strickland.

Starting with the stimulus of 12 photographs taken by people exploring what supervision means, we wrote and recorded demos of 12 songs. The project is part of the Offender Supervision in Europe COST Action (this additional project funded by an IAA ESRC grant from the University of Glasgow) and some of the songs written are today being performed at the Offender Supervision in Europe conference in Brussels.

It’s pretty amazing to see and hear what can be made, in music and in community, by such a diverse group of people in two days! Enjoy the demos above.

Richard Bull made a brilliant short audio documentary during the project. It’s best told in the voices of all involved:

 

Words from a Vox Session

Have you ever wondered what goes on in a Vox Session? What the stories might be behind the writing of the songs… and what the process means to those involved?

Monica Brown created a brilliant wee feature for Radio Scotland, coming into a Vox Session in Castle Huntly and chatting with some of those involved.

Have a wee listen to the 7 minute insight below: