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Citizens UK is a community organising group in the United Kingdom. It started as London Citizens in 1996, and came to national prominence during the United Kingdom general election, 2010 when all three leaders of the UK's three largest political parties addressed a large meeting of its members in what it billed as the "fourth debate", in reference to the three TV debates. The event was notable for Gordon Brown giving what was widely described as his best speech of the campaign.
- 1 History
- 2 Political philosophy
- 3 From London Citizens to Citizens UK
- 4 Campaigns
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Citizens UK has been promoting community organising in the United Kingdom since 1989. Neil Jameson CBE, the Executive Director, founded Citizens training with the Industrial Areas Foundation in the USA. Citizens UK, formerly the Citizens Organising Foundation (COF), has established citizens' alliances in Wales, Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Leeds and London. Alliances in other cities are in the pipeline. Citizens UK, initially known as London , has grown from a single city-based organisation to a nationwide community organising institution. Others had a less enduring run lasting roughly 3 years when COF was unable to finance them any longer. Along with its geographical expansion, Citizens UK is in the process of forming increasing numbers of professional community organisers. It has created a Master's course in Community Organising in affiliation with Queen Mary University, establishing the profession of 'Community Organiser' through the Guild of Community Organisers teaching the disciplines of strategy and politics.
Following criticism that the charity was working (in breach of charity rules) with a proponent of Islamic extremism: Shakeel Begg, Imam of Lewisham Islamic Centre, who had been described in court as promoting Islamic extremism, in March 2017 the body reported itself to the Charity Commission. As well as working with him before the court case in October 2016, Begg was an official speaker at a vigil for child refugees the charity held outside parliament in December 2016.
Citizens' brand of community organising is distinctive because it deliberately sets out to build permanent alliances of citizens to exercise power in society. It sees its role in the UK's political system as determinant of the distinction between Civil Society from the State and the Market. In a totalitarian Society all three may virtually coincide. In a fully democratic society the three will be distinct. Where the state and the market become predominant, even in a democracy, civil society is reduced on the one hand to voting and volunteering and on the other to consuming. This can undermine democracies because the sense of citizenship and agency becomes weak and ineffective. In other words, Civil Society becomes powerless. Community organising and the role of the professional Community Organiser is working out how to take back power from the State and the Market by holding them accountable. The state and the market cannot operate without moral values and direction. It is not the role of the state or the market to determine those values. In a democratic society there has to be a genuine public discourse concerning justice and the common good.
From London Citizens to Citizens UK
London Citizens is an alliance of four chapters of community organisations in London in England. It is composed of faith groups including churches, mosques and synagogues, schools, student organisations, colleges and universities, union branches, voluntary agencies and residents' associations. It is part of Citizens UK (formerly the Citizen Organising Foundation), which also includes similar organisations in other cities.
London Citizens is the largest civil alliance in the Citizens UK network. The four London chapters are The East London Communities Organisation, better known as "TELCO", formed in 1996 at a founding assembly gathering over 1,300 people from 30 different institutions. The other London Chapters are South London Citizens established in 2004, West London Citizens established in 2005, and North London Citizens established in 2011.
London Citizens' most high-profile campaigns included those to establish a London living wage, an urban Community Land Trust and CitySafe havens in high streets as a way of tackling knife crime and street violence.
London Citizens has in its four chapters over 240 organisations in membership. In local neighbourhoods small actions are undertaken such as those to prevent a factory from contaminating the area with noxious smells, stopping drug dealing in school neighbourhoods and getting safe road crossings established. Over time larger campaigns were undertaken. Before Mayoral elections for the Greater London Authority in 2000, 2004 and 2008 major Accountability Assemblies were held with the main mayoral candidates. They were asked to support London Citizens and work with them on issues such as London Living Wage; an amnesty for undocumented migrants; safer cities initiatives and development of community land trust housing. South London Citizens held a citizens enquiry into the working of the Home Office department at Lunar House and its impact on the lives of refugees and migrants. This resulted in the building of a new visitor centre at Lunar House in Croydon.
Strangers into Citizens
Strangers into Citizens was a political advocacy campaign from February 2007 to May 2010 by London Citizens. The campaign called for undocumented migrants in the United Kingdomto receive a work permit if they had been resident for four years. The campaign became definitively and formally defunct in the year 2013.
The campaign was organised by Austen Ivereigh, a former director of public affairs for the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, and as such had strong links with amongst others the Cardinal Archbishop, Westminster Cathedral, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and the Catholic Herald newspaper, all three being enthusiastic supporters of the political advocacy campaign.
The campaign attempted to influence the policies of the political parties and candidates in both the 2008 London mayoral election and in the 2010 general election. During the London mayoral election, the campaign was supportively endorsed by the Liberal Democrats and the Labour and Conservative candidates for the Mayoralty of London in their personal capacity, being Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson respectively.
Citizens UK General Election Assembly
In May 2010 Citizens UK held a General Election Assembly at the Methodist Central Hall Westminster with 2,500 people from member institutions and the world media present. This event was three days before the election and was considered to be the most dynamic and electric event of the election campaign. Citizens UK had negotiated to have David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown as the leaders of the three main political parties attend. Each candidate for Prime Minister was questioned on stage concerning their willingness to work with Citizens UK if elected. Each undertook to work with Citizens UK and come to future assemblies to give account of work achieved. In particular they agreed to work to introduce the Living Wage and to end the practice of holding children of refugee families in detention.
Living Wage Foundation
In 2001 a living wage campaign was launched by London Citizens. The Living Wage campaign calls for every worker in the country to earn enough to provide their family with the essentials of life. As a result of the campaign's success, other cities began to adopt the campaign and Citizens UK set up the Living Wage Foundation (LWF) in 2011 to provide companies with intelligence and accreditation. It also moderates the hourly rate applicable for the Living Wage outside London. The living wage is based on a basket of goods which ordinary people think are essential for a healthy, normal family life. An hourly rate is set independently every year. There is one rate for London and another rate for the UK outside London. In the capital it is set by the Greater London Authority. The rate outside London is calculated by the Minimum Income Standard team at Loughborough University, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. By 2014, the campaign had persuaded more than 800 employers to pay the living wage and has won over £210 million of additional wages, lifting more than 40,000 families out of working poverty.
People's Olympic Legacy
When it was announced that London would bid to be the host city for the 2012 Olympic Games, Citizens lobbied to gain a lasting legacy for Londoners from the billions of pound to be spent. Following on from hundreds of one-to-one meetings and a listening campaign across member institutions, in 2004 London Citizens signed an agreement with the London 2012 bid team, which specified what the people of East London could expect in return for their support in hosting the Olympic Games. The People's Promises, as they are known, had the following demands:
- 2012 permanently affordable homes for local people through a Community Land Trust and mutual home ownership.
- Money from the Olympic development to be set aside to improve local schools and the health service.
- The University of East London to be main higher education beneficiary of the sports legacy and to consider becoming a Sports Centre of Excellence.
- At least £2m set aside immediately for a Construction Academy to train up local people.
- That at least 30% of jobs are set aside for local people.
- That the Lower Lea Valley is designated a 'Living Wage Zone' and all jobs guaranteed a living wage The Olympic Delivery Authority, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games and the Olympic Legacy Company work with London Citizens to ensure that these promises are delivered.
Independent Asylum Commission
Citizens UK set up the Independent Asylum Commission to investigate widespread concern about the way refugees and asylum seekers were being treated by the UK Borders Agency. The report made a series of over 200 recommendations for change which are still being negotiated. In the lead up to the 2010 General Election a major campaign was mounted over the number of children being held in detention with their families seeking refugee status. Over 1,000 children were being detained annually. Promises to end this practice were made by all three political leaders at the General Election Accountability Assembly held by Citizens UK in May 2010 at Westminster Central Hall. This resulted in the ending of the practice of holding children of refugee families in detention by the Coalition government and a law was passed in 2014 to prohibit this.
Institute for Community Organising
Citizens UK set up the Institute for Community Organising (ICO) as part of its Centre for Civil Society established in 2010 in response to growing demands for its training. The ICO is the first operating division of the Centre and was established to offer a series of training opportunities for those who wish to make community organising a full or part-time career and also for Community Leaders who wish to learn the broad philosophy and skills of community organising and who are in a position to put them into practice in their institutions and neighbourhoods. The Institute provides training and consultancy on a commercial basis to other agencies which wish to employ the skills and techniques of community organising in their institutions. The ICO has an Academic Advisory Board and an International Professional Advisory Body drawn from the global network of Community Organising Institutes in the UK (Citizens UK), USA (Industrial Areas Foundation) and Germany (DICO).
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