A Women’s Manifesto for Living Well with Debt

Working with Venus – an organisation dedicated to improving the life chances of women and families living in South Sefton and artist Jeanne van Heeswijk, we propose to rethink the issue of debt, and develop plans for action and artmaking that will create agency for people affected by it.

Venus has provided money management advice and support to low income women since 2012. But need is not declining: with the advent of Universal Credit and rising household costs. Year on year funders, volunteers, staff and referral agencies such as foodbanks, social housing providers and credit unions attribute both cash and non-cash spend to providing a thin safety net for our women and families. We need radical new and different thinking on this issue and a platform from which to zoom out of the day-to-day management of debt to how we shift the balance of power. With a distinct lack of systems and processes for citizens to assert how policy should be determined at a national level, we want to explore how women can make change within their individual and community realms.

Jeanne’s practice aims to “radicalise the local” and in projects such as Homebaked, Freehouse, and Philadelphia Assembled, has established sustainable new frameworks for local people to design their own futures through participatory, performative and practical actions. Her work creates spaces and situations that generate new relationships and connections that can be established and activated between groups of people and institutions.

Using a “commoning” approach that acknowledges the women we support as experts-by-experience, Jeanne will design a process that will formulate actions to bring about change, bringing in other artists and experts. The outcomes may include shifting the mindset about living with debt; or presenting different policy options to funders; propose new ways for supporting people in debt; or a series of debt protests, actions or publications; or it could be a way to wipe out community level debt through creative enterprise, crowd funding or campaigning models. Whatever their form, it will allow local women to regain their power and agency in the situation.