The campaign aims to:
Raise the amount of the care allowance to the minimum wage and recognise homecare as work. (To start with: extend all benefits for large families to these families. But this was later dropped.)
Until 2013, when our campaign started, people who were caring for seriously injured or permanently ill relatives and therefore unable to work, received a maximum net monthly benefit of HUF 34,515 for working 24 hours a week, 7 days a week.
For comparison, in 2013 the minimum wage for 8 hours of work per day was 98 thousand HUF. A person providing continuous homecare does the work of four people, working 168 hours a week without holidays or sick leave. In other words, paid as wages to the employees who do the work they do, the care of one person in need of care would have cost the state nearly 400,000 forints.
At the start of the campaign, 58,000 people were in receipt of a care allowance, according to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office (KSH), the number of people who were caring for a family member without any other income.
Chief Campaign Organiser:
"Let's move so they can move!" Public Benefit Association
The association was founded by parents of disabled children at the Pető Institute. At first it was a parents' club, which organised lectures and family activities. They launched their first advocacy campaign against the much higher fees for their children's canteen meals compared to normal kindergartens. The success of this campaign confirmed in our association that they wanted to engage in advocacy.
Homecare campaign duration: 2013 - 2018 (2020)
Choice of topics:
We wanted to tackle the most serious problem, the one that affects the widest range of people. To get a decent, predictable financial support equal to the rights of those who work, and more visible and predictable for all those who care for a family member - whether a child or an elderly family member - who is in a serious condition, whose care requires a full-time person and whose work cannot realistically be supplemented by other gainful activities.
In several forums, we announced a meeting for the parent community to gather all the issues that affect families. In the first instance, we sent invitations to parents who are in contact with us, but as many parents are also members of other organisations, they were indirectly represented by these organisations. Several pages of A4 were filled with challenges that specifically affect families, but of all of them, the unjustly low amount of the care allowance was unanimously rated as the most serious, and the direction of our advocacy campaign was thus set. It also seemed a good choice because it was aimed at helping the most vulnerable, who were a very large group, and the amount was so far below the normal living wage that there was no need to explain why people wanted change. It was also plausible that it was impossible to survive on 35,000 forints a month.
When we jointly set the goal of raising the care fee, we started to reach out to all the relevant organisations we know to work together on the issue.
Our specific objective was:
A well-justified, genuinely helpful and affordable amount and status for the state to recognise and continue to provide for the work of carers of family members.
As for the amount of money to be raised, the specific target was set after much deliberation and debate. Initially, parents felt that a much higher monthly care allowance was realistic for the weight of the work, but it was clear to us that our starting point was that there was no governmental intention to raise such a 'huge amount' for such a mass of people. So together we finally decided that the minimum wage would be the amount that we would have to reach for all homecare workers.
The other aim was to have the state interpret this activity as an employment relationship. Recognition as work was considered important for several reasons:
- would open up the possibility for anyone, not just a close relative, to do this work and have the motivation to do it alongside a disabled person
- all tax benefits and employment rights for homecare workers
- would be guaranteed a salary equal to or above the current minimum wage
Find a partner:
Our aim was the broadest possible collaboration for the cause.
Confident that all disability organisations are equally committed to the campaign's mission, we have contacted all such organisations we know to join us. We ended up working closely with the ’Only Together We Have a Chance - CSEVE Group’ and the ’theVoics’ (aHang) platform, and it was this trio that made the cause a success. At the same time, the other organisations helped by signing letters and statements that we sent to the government and the press during the campaign, and some of them were also speakers at our campaign events.
The work of the three organisations was sometimes hampered by a lack of capacity, but the small team of organisers was able to react more quickly to any situation, which helped the campaign.
The methods and principles used in the campaign:
1. Plan your strategy, prepare thoroughly
Before the campaign started, the association's management attended a training session where mentors helped them to create a strategy and to grasp the key elements that can lead to success in a campaign. In another programme, the head of one of the largest disability organisations in the US told us about how the disability movement in America has developed, how NGOs work together and what actions they organise. We gained a lot from these experiences and knowledge.
To give just one example: when the strategy was being designed, it was important to know who was making the decision and who or what could influence it. We have been listening to this throughout the campaign, which is why we knew that we had to win the whole public opinion, otherwise we had no chance.
Part of our preparation was to observe the "opponent's" disarming tactics and try to build a campaign that would prevent them from being used against us.
The key to the success was Anett Csordás, the leader of the association and the driving force behind the whole campaign, who is herself a community organiser and a caring mother. She was the Project Hero who carried the whole campaign on her back, she was the subject of countless interviews and the main organiser of events. Her personality and her son Erik, who often appeared with her, made the whole process credible. Without them there would be nothing to talk about.
It was also important to find the argument and the message that makes it unquestionable that homecare workers deserve at least the minimum wage. This sentence proved to be a hit: "Instead of a nursing fee, a minimum wage, because caring for an injured person is work!"
2. The Sequence
We have been very careful to always first make a request in a letter to a decision-maker, MPs, the President of the Republic, other relevant people. When we received a negative or even inconclusive response, we turned to public opinion, the media, and various actions were taken.
Some of them simply sent us their campaign video and put it on the news. But over the 5 years, we found journalists in many media who were open and sensitive to these issues. In addition to that, we had staff at the aHang platform who were journalists themselves, with lots of contacts, so we managed to get a lot of personal stories into several online and print newspapers again and again.
It also made a big difference that Anett, the head of the association, was always available to the media and always went when called, whether it was dawn, late at night, on weekends, whenever. And there was always a new piece of information, a powerful phrase that she would say, so we weren't just saying the same things, we tried to pay attention to that.
Then, some time after the action, we would again send a letter to someone in charge, but usually a different person than the previous time. Year after year, this strategy has always allowed us to make a little progress towards our goal. Either a small increase, or a new benefit, such as a pension supplement of HUF 50,000 for 20-year carers.
And in this way, we were able to prevent them from attacking us by saying that they would have given us what we asked for, but we didn't ask for it, we went straight to the media to put our specific request on the air.
3. Everyone's business, a matter above politics
Winning public opinion was important because we believed that the decision-maker would make his or her decisions based on public opinion polls. So if the polls measure that homecare workers are right, that they deserve this money, only then do we have a chance. And we thought we could achieve this by, on the one hand, making people aware of the plight of these families and their difficult financial situation, and on the other hand, making them aware that they could find themselves in this situation at any time.
Therefore, a large number of interviews and the dissemination of family stories to the media was a central element of the campaign.
However, we were very careful not to let parties or politicians impose themselves on the campaign, although we worked with politicians throughout. We did not let politicians do the speeches, we did not let politicians do the messages, it was important that they could be represented by the people who were implementing the campaign. At the same time, we were able to effectively approach opposition politicians to make gestures of support, such as wearing our support T-shirts, displaying our banners in parliament or even signing a declaration that they would implement a minimum wage for nursing care if they came to power.
4. Personal stories, relatability, involving stakeholders in the campaign
Speaking to the families concerned was the central 'outreach' part of the campaign, so we had to keep showing new and new stories. Fortunately, we were in touch with many families who agreed to tell us about their lives, however difficult, for a cause. We knew they were committed by stressing to them many times that their personal stories would be the best way to help us win. At the same time, we had to be careful not to let them be attacked, which unfortunately we could not completely prevent, despite our best efforts. Among the attacks was the general criticism that the organisation's campaign was political in nature and represented political interests. We openly communicated our position on our mailing list, preparing all concerned to respond: the situation of family carers and cared-for people is a public issue, society cannot leave them alone in exchange for their valuable work, and change can be made by policy makers.
We also watched our language to prevent attacks: demonstrations were not called demonstrations, but a stand. We didn't want to put on a banner that we were attacking the government, but we wanted to state our action: we were standing up for homecare workers. Nor were our campaign slogans ever offensive, but rather a summary of the difficulties of the target group. We also knew that there would be very few people at the demonstrations, so we always explained the reason: the people concerned cannot even leave their homes because of their caring responsibilities, but we are here to tell the world about their difficult situation. So our narrative overrode any communication that would claim the unseriousness of the problem from the few who turned up.
5. Regular, varied and creative promotions
We had to respond to the challenge of keeping the theme of the campaign alive for a long period of time, without it falling into disinterest on the part of the co-administration or the media. So we held regular actions and stands, always with a different angle and a different form of presenting our cause. There were, among other things, Mother's Day balloon pings, a drone short film, a Parliamentary "We've been waiting 1749 days for recognition of homecare" banner display, a Mother's Day children's sketch-parent short story book for MPs, a video of a parent's day out, celebrities doing the work of parents - video, poll, signature collection (over 40,000 signatures), father-parent stand, parents and children stand, Special displays on Disability Day, mailing to MPs. Really everything we could think of.
6. Make rejection uncomfortable
At the end of the fourth year of the campaign, our main strategy became to embarrass the government for still refusing to listen to our demands after all this time.
That's when we started organising actions such as the "It's been 1749 days since ...." motto and collecting signatures in support of our demands. It was also the time when we published the poll showing that 95% of people support our demands. It was also the time when politicians from the Christian Democratic People's Party were already saying that our demands were justified.
Finally, we started to compile press material on how much homecare nurses in the surrounding former socialist countries were paid, as a reference for us.
7. Perseverance and results
Many people said the campaign will fail. We did not listen to them, we were confident that we could achieve the goal in 1-2 years. When it didn't work, we said we would keep going until we did. In the end it took 5 years to make the changes we did. It's not a total success, but we are confident that we will have someone to continue the fight.
Our original goal of having all homecare workers recognised by society and policy makers as employees and paid the prevailing minimum wage has only been partially achieved. But the results of 5 years of campaigning are still visible:
- the benefit for carers of a child has reached the minimum wage in 4 years and has been increasing with it (GYOD)
- all homecare workers have had their allowance increased every year
- those who have been providing homecare for at least 20 years are entitled to a pension supplement of HUF 50,000
- pensioners can also get GYOD
Although the GYOD reached the minimum wage in only four years, and is only available to carers of children, it was a huge success, as there has not been a social benefit of this scale for a long time.
8. Challenging circumstances and lessons learned
- Overloading some people
The campaign organiser Anett Csordás and the nursing homecarers involved were the main ones to bear the brunt, but others also put in a lot of nights and weekends. Basically, a handful of people were involved in the planning and organisation of the 5-year campaign, we could hardly meet in person, but rather by email and phone. In addition, we did not want to give up on our many other ongoing projects, so all these tasks together were very demanding for everyone involved.
For these reasons, we were ultimately unable to focus much on building and strengthening the community, which could best be done through face-to-face meetings. We also made little use of social media to build online communities, as it is also a time-consuming task, but we did not have a dedicated person for it. We regret this, today this line would certainly be a priority in the campaign. Because the way to reach the most people through social media is for our activists to get our key messages into large parent groups. In retrospect, it would have been important to better share information and contacts among each other.
- Small resources
Although we are in contact with many parents, the membership of the association itself is small. The active membership is even smaller, as parents are terribly overworked. The financial resources are minimal, as 'Let's move so they can move!' is not a state-funded organisation, and only receives income from grants and donations. When planning actions, it was only possible to make plans taking this into account.
Incredibly, we did not do a specific fundraising campaign. We did it all with the few resources we had. Thanks to aHang, a few individual donors and companies, we were able to produce a banner or rent a drone for the film. But it was also a gift for the poll we did - a colleague asked her husband-to-be for it as a wedding present!
- Lack of a professional campaign team
Because of the small resources, in the beginning we did all the work related to the campaign ourselves. This worked at the beginning, but as the need to reiterate the theme in the media became more and more frequent, it became clear that dedicated professionals were needed to organise this. Luckily, that's when aHang Platform came on the scene and took over this task from us, and it was largely thanks to their work that we were able to make the story that kept our theme alive for years.
- No precise, prior definition of the rules of partnership
There were disagreements between the parties because it was not clear who exactly would determine the course of the campaign. Eventually we managed to agree on this and it worked, but the lesson for us was that it is worth defining this at the outset to avoid misunderstandings and friction.
- A larger community should and could have been built and kept alive through constant communication
It is also due to a lack of resources that we no longer have the energy to build closer relationships with the parents concerned who have contacted us during the campaign, or to try to involve them as members of the association.
- We "accepted" the first offer
The government did not consult with 'Let's move so they can move!' before the introduction of GYOD. If it had, we certainly would not have agreed to give only carers of their children the minimum wage, and much less for the rest.
We thought that the organisations that represent carers of their adult relatives would continue the fight, because it's not fair to discriminate, everyone does the same job for a patient. We have said this every single time we have had the opportunity to do so.
Some of us were accused of having achieved the high amount just for ourselves. We offered to help everyone get started on a similar advocacy journey. However, so far no one has started to pursue the campaign.
We are proud of what we have achieved, but we must not forget that the changes do not yet cover the full range of homecare workers. Currently, those who have worked more than 4 hours a day outside the home to support themselves are not covered. Those who have not cared for a close relative for a lifetime or are currently caring for them (e.g. carers for a sibling are not entitled to a care allowance as they are not considered close family members under the law, they currently do this work for free) and pensioners were no longer eligible for a care allowance.
Despite the difficulties, we have been strengthened by the support of many people throughout, even government MPs, who we knew were with us in spirit. We have also felt the support of the police officers who have been there at our events, they have cheered us on, as they may have been among those affected, family members caring for someone at home, so they could empathise with our struggle.
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