Steve Harwood

Labour Activist, #Sharkstoppers Campaigner and Blogger

Labour Activist, #Sharkstoppers Campaigner and Blogger. All views are my own (well, some were originally my mother's...) 

From Shame to Anger to Action

This post originally appeared on the Movement For Change website

Me Not Telling Ed Miliband Off

When I went to my first Labour Party conference in 2011, I couldn’t help wondering whether I really belonged there. Everyone I spoke to seemed to be a national activist or an elected official, and they all seemed to know one another. I was working in a residential care home and I didn’t know anybody. While other people were busy keying contact details into their iPads and tweeting about campaigns, I didn’t even have a mobile phone. I couldn’t afford one.

And then there was the other thing. The shameful secret that separated me from everyone else. I couldn’t possibly be one of these people – for you see, I was one of those people. At that time, I was still stuck in the payday loan trap. At the beginning of the month I had paid back a loan, and it’d taken such a chunk out of my wages that I would have to take out another one before the end.

I understand if you assume I must be a certain type of person for taking out a payday loan, because at the time I thought so too and I’ve actually met me. I know I’m not a stupid person, I’m not reckless and I’m not lacking in will power, but at the time I felt all of those things and worse. All because of one bad decision, eighteen months earlier, when a friend called me and said he didn’t have the money to get home. I offered to help before I thought it through, never considering that I wouldn’t have the money the next month, or the month after that… By the time of that party conference I was washing my hair in soap and skipping meals, all so I could claw my way out of debt without anyone knowing. I was adamant no one would ever know.

Then I saw that Movement For Change were hosting a fringe event on the Sharkstoppers campaign. I went along because of a personal interest, not because I imagined I could contribute anything. I wasn’t an activist or a councillor; I had no influence and no training. But I did have a story.

At first, I wasn’t going to share it. Then someone from Movement For Change started talking about anger and what it can achieve if its organised. The whole room was angry about what payday lenders were doing to people, and slowly I realised that I was angry about what they’d done to me. And the more angry I got, the less shame I felt. So I raised my hand, and I began ‘I don’t know how useful this is for your campaign, but…’ Having heard my story, Movement For Change did more than offer me an opportunity to get involved – they taught me how to make those opportunities for myself.

Yesterday, I, the girl who didn’t think she belonged at conference, met with Ed Miliband to discuss payday lending. At last legal loan sharking has become a priority, because people like me got angry. Labours proposed policies on payday lending have been drafted on the basis of stories like mine. In the two years since that conference, I’ve received countless e-mails and tweets from people who have sought help because of me.

I used to think that my story meant I couldn’t really make a difference. Thanks to the support and training that I received from Movement For Change I now know that my story is how I make that difference. I’ve seen the changes community organisers can make – and I’m proud to say I’m one of those people.

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