Don’t call me Disadvantaged – Removing labels

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At St John’s Foundation, our work within the local community is driven by our mission to affect change in the lives of those who are marred by stark disparities, inequality, and inequity in their daily lives.

Our work is centred around ensuring everyone – from children to older adults – have access to opportunities that allow them to lead happy, healthy lives.

In the past, we have used the word ‘disadvantaged’ to refer to those who face inequity, and as a result, have experienced unequal opportunity at the hands of a prejudiced system at some point during their lives.

The word ‘disadvantaged’ is a common place phrase and one which most people can understand and use in various contexts. However, we believe that when referring to inequality across our community nothing should be ‘common place’ and in fact should be addressed with the care and understanding with which we would all wish to have our problems approached.

In response to this thought process, and following the example of Olivia Taylor, who speaks candidly about the effects of being labelled in an incredibly moving video, we have made the conscious decision to move toward using the term ‘underserved’ to describe those who rely on our charity to give them a helping hand.

Olivia talks about how labelling anybody – though especially a child – can result in the creation of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Through this vicious cycle, children suffer from being denied the attention they require, due to being considered a ‘naughty child’. It is vital we recognise and understand the harmful effects of labelling children and instead identify and address their individual needs rather than assuming them a ‘lost cause’ or ‘beyond help’.

‘Disadvantaged’ puts emphasis on the individual and what some would consider ‘weaknesses’ within that individuals upbringing, or life experiences. We believe this to be incorrect. The individuals and families whom we support are unfortunately underserved by the overall system that society adheres to, and we are eager to move away from negatively defining people who have needs that may have been forgotten or neglected.

Whilst no one is to blame for the mistreatment suffered by these individuals and families, the disparity in who receives a fair and equal chance is glaring. We want to change the narrative surrounding those who need our support and that begins with how we perceive not only the inequity they are subject to, but also the circumstances which in a lot of cases, are unavoidable.

At St John’s, we strive to create a fair foundation for all, regardless of age, class or standing in the community and to do so we must identify first the underlying issues within the society in which we all live and contribute.

Moving to using the term ‘underserved’ is a conscious step from our organisation to create a more caring and inclusive community. We want to start a conversation about those who are underserved throughout our community and ensure we identify and acknowledge these individuals as human beings, whilst we work to support them in creating a happy and healthy future for themselves and their families.