7istooyoung is a dynamic, energetic and apparently very effective campaign, focused on protecting lone parents from the worst excesses of the austerity Budget 2012. Despite the remarkably unpopular subject area (lets face it lone parents are not sick children or puppies), the three key organisations involved have not only generated public sympathy, but also political willingness, where none had existed. No mean feat.
And what has this got to do with dedicated publicly funded advocacy organisations? Two of the organisations (OPEN and the NWCI), are dedicated representative bodies for lone parents and women respectively. Their primary function is to deliver representative, effective advocacy for the individuals and groups they represent. They are publicly funded (albeit increasingly sparsely) to do this. The third, Barnardos, while a strong service provider, also has very credible record of influencing public policy processes.
These issues, and more specifically this campaign, proves that you need multi annual and reliable sources of core funding for this work. Without the long history of both OPEN and NWCI, its hard to imagine they could have responded so quickly or so effectively, and indeed with very little financial capacity. They have strong networks with the parents affected, they know their stuff, and they know who to talk to. The have the trust and credibility of the broader NGO sector, many of whom did not hesitate to weigh in behind this campaign. I am not saying that this core funding has to be publicly provided, but it is hard to imagine any other source which can provide the same longevity.
But why dedicated advocacy organisations? Put simply those organisations which are primarily concerned with service provision are firstly too busy delivering more services, to more people, with less money, and secondly are too bound up in protecting a close working relationship with the statutory sector (a very necessary one from their perspective) to risk that relationship by coming out of the trenches guns blazing. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but rather the reality of the role they are playing in sorting out peoples problems, and lone parents certainly have problems.
Regardless of where you stand on the substantive issues (and to be honest from where I am siting its hard to imagine too many people defending a decision to reduce to age 7, the age at which lone parents, will be bumped off a lone parent allowance and onto the job seekers allowance), this campaign has been a sophisticated contribution to Irish democratic debate, public consciousness, and the quality of our often chaotic policy-making process. Its hard to imagine how it could have happened without consistent and sustained funding for the specific representative function of the organisations involved. Surely the quality of that contribution is worth investing in?
And that, is why I am doing this PhD.