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- Treat the poor with dignity

- The poor need money to survive, but equally important is that everyone has the same right to be met with dignity and respect in all situations, says Ben Borgen and Bjønnulv Evenrud from Slumbyen at Soria Moria.


In two tents just outside Soria Moria in the woods behind Holmenkollen, several people have settled in what they call Slumbyen. Others come with their own tents and spend the night here. They stay there until they receive guarantees from the Labor Party, the Center Party and the SV that they will do something about poverty in the world's richest countries. They have set specific requirements they want to meet before they pack up and head back home. Those who have a home.

The initiators of Slumbyen are Ben Borgen and Bjønnulv Evenrud.

- We see it as natural that representatives of the poor get to meet the Storting as the first when they gather again. And we reckon that the government agrees with us that the fight against poverty is also their number one job. We do not have an hour to lose if no one is to die on the streets this winter, says Ben Borgen.

- Ben, I and everyone else who has participated in the distribution of food and clothing to the poor in Norway know that we have a very big and serious problem here. We must have a system where everyone gets what they need to be able to survive in a dignified way. No single person can survive on 22 kroner a day for food, clothes and other necessities. No family with father, mother and a couple of children can survive for 50-60 kroner a day for food and clothes. These are examples from Norway in 2005. We do not need words. We need action, says Bjønnulv Evenrud.

- But who is poor in Norway?

- We do not know for sure how many are poor. What we do know is that there are very many who need a helping hand every day to get through the day. If we look at the statistics, the number of poor people in Norway is somewhere between 200.000 and over 400.000 people. The lowest number is what the current government chooses to use. If we use the calculation methods that the UN has, the number rises to over 400.000, says Ben Borgen

- We who know the situation in Oslo can see the problems every single day. But the biggest problem is that those who need the most help are the most invisible in society. Those we do not see on the streets or elsewhere. We are many poor people in this country, and we have seen through the poverty policy of the current right-wing government. Now it remains to be seen if the red-green option is any better. A couple of years ago, SV's Kristin Halvorsen was quoted as saying that she could eradicate poverty within four weeks. Now she says she needs four years. We will give them the chance to get started, but they have a bad time, says Bjønnulv Evenrud.

- Do you think that poverty is visible in Norway?

- He who wants to see, he sees. When we distribute food to the poor at Jakob Church in Oslo, we see that the queues get longer. Many people in today's society do not receive any social assistance. Many live in cabins and small creeks that are not dense or warm. Or they sleep in stairwells where they enter. When we were to have a planning meeting on Saturday in advance of this slumby action, we were greeted by a person who was sleeping in the upstairs where we were to meet. This is how it is every single night around Oslo and the other cities in Norway. Many do not get the help they need, and are rejected by a square system, says Ben Borgen.

- What do you demand of the new government?

- We demand nothing more than that the Norwegian government must follow the UN's international conventions on human rights. Norway must recognize and implement the right of everyone to have a satisfactory standard of living for himself and his family, including satisfactory food, clothing and housing. And people should have the opportunity to improve their own life situation. This is resolved from Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We find the same guarantees in Article 110c of the Constitution. If the government signs the conditions in this article and follows our own constitution – and does something about the situation, then we are well on our way, says Bjønnulv Evenrud.

- While Bondevik has talked about that an important task for the world's richest country, Norway, is to eradicate poverty, poverty has increased in Norway. The leaders of the red-green alliance have given guarantees that they should follow up, says Ben Borgen.

- This is an open requirement with many possible solutions. Do you have any specific requirements for those who will form the government – and the Storting majority that will adopt the changes?

- We have said that if those who sit inside Soria Moria sign the five demands we have delivered to the delegations, then we pack up and go home. But we will stay here as long as they have not signed these demands, if necessary until they go home with a new government in their pocket.

We have five specific requirements:

1. Food, health and dignity for everyone staying in Norway.

2. Hausmannsgate 37 and Osterhausgate 10 in Oslo shall be opened to the very poor. Here they will receive shelter, health care and have positive experiences.

3. The new state budget must take into account that everyone is guaranteed a dignified life. The SIFO standard for subsistence must be introduced no later than 1 December, and the payments to those in need must not be made depending on the municipal finances in the individual municipality. This will, for example, mean an increase in the rates for singles by more than NOK 2000 per month – from NOK 4300 to kr. 6500.

4. The government must immediately set up a broad-based poverty commission, with a majority of the organizations working daily with the poor.

Representatives of the poor will be invited to meet the new Storting – and we should be the first delegation they receive.

These are five points that cannot be difficult to agree on. It still requires that those in charge of the country see the challenges that lie ahead for us to rectify the situation for the poorest, says Ben Borgen.

- What do you want a poverty commission to look at and propose?

- We have received very broad and solid support for our action. Among those who support our poor demand, we find LO-Oslo, Kirkens Bymisjon, Attac Norge, Fattighuset and Leieboerforeningen. So far, 16 organizations have supported the claim.

This shows that we are not alone, but have so many understand the situation. Now the goal is to wake the politicians.

The Poverty Commission should consist of, among others, representatives of the poor, the trade union movement and others who in their everyday lives meet those who are struggling. Through consultations and open meetings, the Commission will receive input from those who know the challenges, and the Commission's mandate must also be to provide input on how Norwegian legislation should be updated so that we also comply with the international obligations we have in the human rights area. The commission should have a result it can present six months after it has started its job, says Bjønnulv Evenrud.

- Our demands mean that the future red-green government is willing to use the necessary funds to rebuild Municipality of Norway, and to correct the imbalances that the system has today. In addition, funds are needed, and not least a willingness to meet the poor with dignity and respect in all situations. The welfare system needs a new and healthy attitude towards all vulnerable groups. Too many people experience every single day that the state's representatives in social services and other public offices do everything to prevent people from getting what they are entitled to. It is important that user participation is introduced as a guiding principle in the design and quality assurance of all support measures. We must also have a system where everyone gets what they need to be able to survive in a dignified manner. Minimum rates are an important issue here, says Ben Borgen.

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