Pepp Iceland helps people in poverty through peer support
Statistics released by Save the Children in March 2023 illustrate the stark reality of poverty in Iceland. According to their report, 13.1% of all children in Iceland live in poverty – about 10.000 young people.
One of the groups fighting for better conditions for Iceland’s poor is Pepp Iceland. Pepp originates from the umbrella organisation European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN), an association of people in poverty and marginalisation, and derives its name from the English acronym People Experiencing Poverty. The group only recently split from the European parent, going independent in favour of increased flexibility.
However, the group ultimately lost its housing, reducing the limits of the operations. Led by activists Laufey Líndal Ólafsdóttir, chairman, and Ásta Þórdís Skjalddal Guðjónsdóttir, treasurer, the duo aim to get back on their feet as soon as possible with the opening of a new base, as the work they did brought much-needed support to people in poverty.
“In order to be from the grassroots, we needed to be independent,” Ásta states. Both former representatives to EAPN and with experience of being poor in Iceland, the duo sought to found Pepp Iceland.
Searching For Housing
“First and foremost, we established [Pepp Iceland] so marginalised groups can have a voice. Nobody listens to individuals in the public discourse unless united,” explains Ásta, referencing the bargaining power behind a formal organisation. With this authority, Pepp Iceland are given a seat at the policy-making tables of municipal and governmental agencies.
During Pepp’s time with functioning housing, they operated a centre for their clientele, which they aim to reopen. “We want to have a place where people can come and feel safe. Where you can be among your peers and not feel bad because you don’t have money for a slice of cake with your coffee,” Ásta says.
Volunteer-driven by people experiencing poverty, Pepp’s approach is in peer support. Ásta recounts their time in the centre. “The atmosphere was so positive. The volunteers sang while brewing coffee and joked around. It was fun, which made it all the harder to lose it,” she confesses.
At the centre, an air of solidarity was established between people who sought support from each other, whether with translations, printing necessary documents, or applying for support schemes.
Laufey says the people visiting the Pepp centre were a cross-section of people in Iceland experiencing poverty. “There were single parents, immigrants, refugees, low-income people and homeless people. It was a space where everyone came together,” she reminisces.
No poverty paradise
In Pepp’s view, the Icelandic welfare system is riddled with hurdles. Among their criticisms is the multiplicity of support networks, ranging from local and governmental to civil society schemes, where disparate information is given. “The fact that people need to visit these different institutions is very time-consuming,” Laufey laments.
In the women’s experience, this systemic inaccessibility breeds unnecessary barriers. “As the system is so square, it sometimes forms gaps in between. If you fall in one of those gaps, there’s nothing that catches you,” says Ásta.
“I’ve sometimes described the welfare system as a patchwork quilt. Maybe you can apply for some benefits with your union, maybe you have some rights at your pension fund, which you need to puzzle together yourself,” Laufey states.
For Pepp, the sole aim is to put a roof over their operations. “We want to create a society where people feel well. We’re also excited about building up a new group of grassroots members. To help them help themselves,” Ásta says. “We always try to lift them up and help people find their own potential. We all have strengths, even though attempts have been made to diminish them,” Laufey concludes.
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