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The Rise of Solidarity Funds in London and Beyond

by Annie Pick, Sandy Goddard, Lily James and Ester
December 14, 2020

Recent months have seen the development of solidarity funds aiming to redistribute wealth locally and build the connections necessary for stronger community movements. 1021 words / 4 min read

Since the first national lockdown in March, over ten resident run solidarity funds have been set up in the UK, from South London to Manchester. Their aim is to redistribute wealth locally, without judgement or means testing.

This is by no means a new concept. Black, Queer, intersectional, sex worker, and disabled activist networks have developd practices of mutual aid for many years. Mutual aid allows people to support each other through sharing resources or services, and this support goes both ways. One day you might help provide aid, the next you might be in need of it yourself.

The mutual aid groups created during the early days of lockdown were a start, but in many cases these spaces were politically limited – they ran on the assumption that our individual acts of kindness could combat big systemic issues in our communities. It became increasingly clear that while people badly wanted to support each other, they needed financial help to do so: how do you buy groceries for a neighbour when neither of you can afford a full shop? Or drive someone to the hospital if you can’t afford to fill up the car?

The aim of these solidarity funds is to find a local way to redistribute money to those who need it, so that people can buy their own groceries, and not rely on foodbanks or other forms of charity. Charity is often one-way: a group of people give to others in need and the support ends there. Charities often expect to help with specific issues, and increasingly require would-be recipients to meet certain criteria before help is provided.

Solidarity Funds are different in that there is no criteria for accessing support, other than living in the local postcode. These funds can be used for any purpose: there is no judgement, nor any obligation to pay back the money. The fund is also created from the premise that wealth is distributed unequally in society, and this needs to change. Part of the political aims of the funds are to encourage people to recognise their wealth privilege and give money, no questions asked, in order for others to use the funds as they wish, and know best. The funds work on the basis that individuals themselves know what they need and how to get it.

With Solidarity Funds there is no criteria for accessing support, other than living in the local postcode. These funds can be used for any purpose: there is no judgement, nor any obligation to pay back the money.

An additional goal of the solidarity funds is to diminish the stigma associated with financial need, and to recognise that ‘money troubles’, far from being simply the result of individual choices, are systemic. Inherited wealth is still the biggest measure of projected wealth. Simply put, if you’re born rich, you will most likely stay rich, and vice versa. We don’t just ‘earn money’ in the way many of us like to believe.

Aid agencies learnt a long time ago that giving cash is more dignified and more impactful than food aid, or other forms of charity. As Salome Ntububa of Christian Aid said in the New Internationalist, ‘We know [giving cash] is more effective – and it gives people choices, it changes lives.’

It is no different in the UK. Yet some squirm at the idea of giving cash directly to those in need, with no strings attached. The aversion of some London-based charitable foundations to solidarity funds show how entrenched the belief is around ‘the deserving and undeserving poor’. To bring about a more equal society, we must trust each other to support each other.

Each solidarity fund may operate slightly differently, depending on local needs and circumstances. But several core principles apply: these are not formal organisations, there are no paid positions, and those who administer them do not take money from the fund themselves. Solidarity funds are run democratically, and decisions are taken collectively, by consensus or by majority vote. This democratic principle extends in some cases to the fund’s recipients: the Goose Green Solidarity Fund has established a committee of fund users, who provide feedback on the fund and suggestions for how it will operate in the future.

Solidarity funds are not just a practical way to redistribute wealth locally in a time of crisis. They also represent an attempt to provide longer-term neighbourhood support, and to build connections that can grow into stronger community movements. At least one of the funds takes inspiration from Cooperation Jackson, which has spent decades building a local ‘solidarity economy’ through co-operatives, economic democracy and community land trusts. Cooperation Jackson also practices mutual financial solidarity, both within the community and to others locally in need. The strength of this project has been an inspiration for others trying to build longer-term infrastructure for local wealth redistribution and democratisation, which has been severely lacking or degraded by decades of neoliberal individualism.

Solidarity funds are not just a practical way to redistribute wealth locally. They also represent an attempt to provide longer-term neighbourhood support, and to build connections that can grow into stronger community movements.

There are presently six solidarity funds in London and four more in the rest of the country, with others in the process of being set up. At present, they are facilitating the essential care and support that the state is failing to provide. But their future will depend on building deeper connections with the communities in which they operate. To build a better, more equal society out of the wreckage of austerity capitalism, we have to make new avenues of collective action, and the solidarity funds are just one step in that.

The six London solidarity funds (Herne Hill, Goose Green, SE16, SE15, Newham and Brent) have set up a collective winter crowdfunder, to raise at least £10,000 to split proportionally between them. To support them, you can contribute here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/london-solidarity-fundraiser

If you would like to contribute money to or request money from a specific fund, search its name on www.opencollective.com

If you are interested in starting up a solidarity fund where you live, contact [email protected]


Author:

Annie Pick, Sandy Goddard, Lily James and Ester

We are four people from across London, admins of solidarity funds in Herne Hill, Goose Green and Brent, who have come together as part of this solidarity fund Crowdfunder.