24 May 2018

We are now in Iceland without a bus because it would have taken two weeks to ship it over. Our first meeting took place in Reykjavik.

Initially the plan was to hold the event in a tent in the main square but because of the terrible weather condition the event was moved to a parish hall. Thumbs up to Vilborg and Asta, the two representatives of the EAPN in Iceland for coming up with a Plan B in a flash.

Reykjavik is holding municipal elections next Saturday (26th May) and Vilborg and Asta decided that for the event they would invite the 16 politicians standing in the elections to explain their take on minimum income schemes and the fight against poverty.  The format was fantastic: 8 of the politicians that attended the event agreed to stand up on a box and answer questions from people experiencing poverty that were taken from a hat ( one question for example came from a child who asked: what will you do to make sure i don’t grow up to be poor?). As Laura, a volunteer on the bus put it: “where else would politicians willingly accept to be put on the spot like that?”

In Iceland the situation is that the rate of the minimum income scheme depends on the personal situation of the recipient. While it is more generous than in most other European countries it is nonetheless inadequate mainly because of the high cost of housing. Like in other countries Iceland faces issues of non-take up either because people are not aware of their rights or because the process is too bureaucratic or even because of the shame and stigma attached to requesting MI . As someone in the audience pointed out the system is not designed to help but rather designed to save money and tire you out so that you give up. Another one admitted that only 12% of people are given a fair amount on MI. “Our system does not work”.

Vilborg told politicians Iceland is one of the richest countries in the world yet there is still poverty “we [EAPN] want to help you to have the courage to do something about it”. She called on politicians to speak directly to people experiencing poverty rather than go through intermediaries and insisted politicians needed to share their good ideas rather than keep them to themselves. “Its human nature but we need to put a stop to it. DARE TO SHARE.”

All in all it was a very successful meeting with all the politicians present expressing their support for a unified MIS. All of them signed the petition with one politician suggesting adequate MIS should be mandatory. The meeting was also the first time in Iceland  that the the topic of working poor was broached.

The volunteers on the bus, who came from all over Europe,were most impressed by  those politicians  who all stayed until the end and were happy to answer all the questions thrown at them. Fantastic work Vilborg and Asta!!!

The next stop is AKureyri.