October issue of the Spark online

October 18, 2012


Last month saw the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street Movement. Despite the New York Police Department closing off the financial district, the one year anniversary protest attracted just a few hundred people, far less than the thousands involved at the movements height. Marni Halasa, a protester interviewed by the Associated Press during the demonstration said “One year ago it was a movement about direct action, and thousands and thousands of people on the street, and I think now what you have is you have many working groups that do really good community activism, so I think in that sense the focus has changed.”

In its first year the movement brought about significant change. Following a coordinated nation-wide series of actions against ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), a number of their corporate sponsors and legislators dropped their support. After being hounded by protesters everywhere he went in New York City, Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had campaigned on the promise that he would not enact a “millionaire’s tax,” enacted a millionaires tax. Occupy Wall Street has influenced the minds of many. According to a Pew Research Poll, about two-thirds of Americans now believe there are “strong conflicts” between rich and poor in the United States, compared to just half in 2009.

The “really good community activism” that Halasa mentions is still ongoing, though we hear less about that this side of the world. Among those actions are ‘Occupy our Homes’ which involves protesters delaying home foreclosures by camping out on the foreclosed property, as well as rehousing the homeless. Occupy Providence struck a deal with the city to open a homeless shelter during the winter that would also provide social services, and many local Occupy groups across the US have set up community gardens; while not in itself a radical act, it is significant in a country where many people in poor urban areas lack even a supermarket in their neighbourhood.  Read the rest of this entry »

A radical mental health consumer’s thoughts on the welfare reforms

October 18, 2012
Welfare reform will have a negative effect on those experiencing mental illness or distress

Welfare reform will have a negative effect on those experiencing mental illness or distress

Polly Peek

This month, the Mental Health Foundation is organising activities and events for Mental Health Awareness Week. For the last few years, the theme of awareness week has been based on the ‘Five Winning Ways to Wellbeing’, the essence of a number of studies into what makes people (whether labelled with a mental illness or not) well and happy. From the research, five key aspects of wellness have been identified, namely, connecting with others – family or friends, being active, keeping learning, taking notice of the small things around us, and giving to others.

For people living with the assistance of welfare benefits, ‘giving’, this important aspect of wellness is considerably restricted. Not only do most people living on state assistance receive less than is adequate to look after themselves, let alone have surplus to give to charity or lend to friends in need, but they are also excluded from offering their time voluntarily to charitable organisations or community groups as Work and Income policy sees this as potentially interfering with their ability to find work, or, if they are receiving a Sickness or Invalids benefit, proof of their ability to be in paid employment. I spoke with one such person a few days ago who has received support for a long period of time due to disability and she expressed sadness and frustration that a person she knows in a similar situation is having to hide the fact that they are helping out with a local charity from WINZ.

Recently, the government has revealed welfare reforms which will have a further dire impact on people’s mental health and that of mental health consumers in particular. These follow an initial wave of welfare reforms which have made changes to assistance available to youth in particular. Announced changes to welfare policy include completely cancelling assistance for three months for people who are considered to have turned down a suitable job, halving assistance for people whose children are not enrolled with a GP or early childcare centre, and cutting assistance for people who fail or refuse a drug test at a new job, or have outstanding arrest warrants. Read the rest of this entry »


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