In their new play, feminist writer Beatrix Campbell and social worker Judith Jones look at class, poverty and power
New Labour has lifted 700,000 children out of poverty. But 3.1 million remain there, writes Graham Hopkins.
While writer and broadcaster Bea Campbell agrees that important reforms such as Sure Start “would never have happened under the Tories”, she remains unconvinced about New Labour: “The working class – as does the care profession – needs a Labour government. But despite making grandiose claims about child poverty, it has failed to meet its own targets. And, despite its successes it is uncomfortable in its relationship with the poor.”
The need to revisit class, poverty and power was the guiding force behind Blame, Campbell and Judith Jones’s second play. “We felt strongly that part of the working class had become permanently pauperised and an object of scorn and mockery. It’s a part of society blamed for everything.”
The play is set in east London. “We chose Hackney because it is emblematic of these difficulties. Almost half of the population lives on income support,” says Campbell. “The proportion of people who are poor in Hackney hasn’t changed in the past 10 years. Despite that it is also a place of enormous resourcefulness and an index of fantastic cultural change. It is one of the most comfortably cosmopolitan areas in these islands – and we love that.”
The play centres on a troubled child, resilient but vulnerable, living in a chaotic household in a flat on an estate when a catastrophe happens. And working in and among such people has inspired social worker Judith Jones “Social work allows you to have access where sometimes people don’t want you to go,” she says.
And, of course, it’s a social worker’s role to be an empowering presence. “When I trained, it gave you a capacity to develop skills of empathy, of being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes” – also a useful skill for a playwright. She adds: “Social work is a great profession that seems to get knocked more and more the longer I’ve been in it. But the more I think about it the more I’m grateful for the qualities that it endlessly develops in me.”
● Bea and Judith are happy to talk to any social workers attending the play when they are – just make yourself known!
Theatre Review – Blame
This article appeared in the 29 March issue under the headline “Blame culture”