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How I battle injustice through principles

by Hugo Sugg about a month ago in humanity
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The fights I have with authority and power are based on what is right, not what is easy.

My BBC Midlands Today appearance talking about homelessness, 2nd January 2019. Location: London

Since I was a little child and got bullied in school, I have always had a burning passion to tackle injustice and pain. Feeling the pain of being hurt from a young age filled my heart with little resentment and more kindness and that is something that I have always carried through.

It was being bullied at middle and secondary school that made me go to the headteacher after I finished my last GCSE exam and ask for a print out of the Bullying Policy. Not quite knowing what I was going to do with it, the headteacher gave it to me and I went to the library and rewrote parts of it. In its form when I received it, it was inadequate because it didn't stop the bullying I sustained for the 4 years I was at my high school.

After I made my edits, I took it back up and put it on his desk and said please read what I have written and implement it for all future students that will go after me. He took it but I don't know what happened after, but I was satisfied I spoke truth to power about my experience and tried to mitigate this happening to anyone else again.

It was because I was homeless at 18 in 2008 when this came to actioning my principle of tackling injustice in a more public way.

I became a youth worker during the time I was living in temporary accommodation and spoke to many young people about my experience and the realities of losing your home, friends and family. Through the organisation that housed me, Herefordshire SHYPP, I became a member of the National Youth Reference Group - speaking at conferences to Local Authorities, charities and lawmakers about the injustice people who are homeless face. I did this for a number of years and stood down soon after going to University.

But I didn't stop there! Whilst in my final year at University, I wrote the above blog post about my experience of being homeless which sparked the campaign and subsequent charity I now run: the Cardon Banfield Foundation. It was built about sharing my experiences and highlighting to the general public and organisations that things are wrong and need to change.

Homelessness isn't the only thing that needs to change, albeit the cause I carry the torch for the most, but injustice needs to change.

When Cardon Banfield was left to rot and found in a tent in July 2016, I knew this was an injustice on a man who lived for 74 years but was left in unimaginable circumstances. From October 2016 when the news broke, I mounted one of the biggest injustice battles I would face to this day: Getting #JusticeForCardon. For over 5 years, I challenged authority and power to make sure Cardon's name lived on and he did not die in vain.

It was the principle of tackling injustice and unfairness that was cemented in me from an early age that drove this cause. I didn't know how it would pan out, but I was determined to use every resource I could to ensure wrongs were made right. In 2021, this was conquered and big strides have been made by authorities to not only recognise Cardon but also that the system needed reform. I am now working with the organisations that once called me a nuisance to make sure this level of injustice is not repeated.

But it's not just in homelessness where this principle is applied. In the last 2 years there have been other occasions where I have faced an uphill battle to get justice which was deserved.

The first was my last employer, a care home. After I submitted two whistleblowing reports about the care our residents received (one was upheld), I was dismissed at the end of my 6 month probation because I 'had not completed the mandatory training'. Did I complete it? Not all of it, but the issue went deeper than that. Other staff, including the director's own son, had not completed all this training but remained in post. I wasn't going down without a fight - why should I be sacked, whilst the management were protecting other staff who had the same red flags beside their name?

After I left, I contacted ACAS and started mediation with the care home bosses and stated my case of unfair dismissal on the grounds of different treatment and a false reason to not continue with my probation. I didn't want my employment back, but I wanted the amount of money that was due to cover the time I would have been working there because I was made unemployed in the back end of COVID and couldn't pay my rent.

The care home wouldn't back down and they were adamant they weren't going to pay me, so I gave them the option of paying me the £1,700 I wanted or I would take them through an employment tribunal. With the kind help of the ACAS conciliator the care home, who were once so stubborn of not moving, gave me one offer to stop this going further - they were offering me £1,000. This wasn't the amount I wanted but my hard-held principle of injustice came into it's own and I accepted it. There was an NDA signed and in that the care home said they were not admitting fault or wrongdoing, but the move to do this was enough to satisfy the injustice.

The second occasion was with my previous landlord and my deposit. I lived in a rented house for 6 months and paid my rent on time every month. When I came to leave, the wardrobe door had come off through wear and tear and I had taken some paint off the wall through having LED lights attached to the doorframe. Out of the £250 deposit I had paid, I accepted responsibility for the paint damage and gave them £60 to cover the cost instead of the £100+ they were asking me for.

This estate agent was trying to trying their chances to take more money because I put up a fight. The principle of fairness drove my determination to get my deposit back and I went to the Deposit Protection Scheme (DPS), where my deposit was held, and asked for their assistance. Much the same as ACAS, they had a conciliation service which I used. The DPS gathered evidence and a statement from both myself and the estate agent and went away to consider their findings.

They came back with their decision, and it came down in my favour. A decision, backed up in law, to give me the remainder of my deposit. Because I had admitted responsibility and paid for the paint damage, the DPS ruled I had sought to remedy the inconvenience and that I owed no more.

Because I believe in fairness to my core, I knew it was right to pay for the damage that I had done but what I wasn't prepared to do was settle for the unfairness of what the estate agent was trying to do.

In both cases I was told by friends, family and professionals that I didn't have a case, that the law was against me and that I should cut my losses but I was determined. I wasn't going to let justice go by the wayside. I stood by my principles in the face of opposition because I believed in what was right.

There are many injustices in the world, and it's impossible to battle them all - but as the saying goes 1 million raindrops causes a flood. Would it be easier to be blind to unfairness? Of course, but that is the easy way out.

It's harder to tackle injustice, especially against those more established and powerful than you, than it is to be blind.

My experiences in life have engrained in me a fierce sense that injustice should not just be accepted and that the battle is worth it for the longer term. I will never know that there won't be another Cardon, the care home won't sack someone and lie about the reason or the landlord won't extort sums of money they're not entitled to from their current and future tenants, but I can be sure that I made them very uncomfortable and that is something that makes me sleep at night.

Sometimes you can forget what happened to you, but you'll never forget how that experience made you feel inside. It's those feelings that ground my morals, ethics, beliefs, values and yes - my principles.

The battle scars are worth it for everyone in the long run.

humanity

About the author

Hugo Sugg

28 years young and a Homeless Campaigner / Self-proclaimed Londoner / Podcaster / Politics geek / Human Rights activist / Youth Worker / Humanist / Cocktail lover / Twitter addict (@HugoSugg) / ex-barista

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