Friday, 4 December 2015

Behind Closed Doors

Poverty is about much more than a lack of money.  A year of hostels, sanctions and lack of heating can take its toll.  One of our Commissioners writes:

"After an amazing year in 2014, 2015 has been a bad year. People don't always know how deep depression and mental health can take a hold on you.  2015 has been a year from hell.

My mind drifted from reality, I even didn't know what was real and what wasn't.  There were days I wished I wouldn't wake up.  That's what people don't understand.

I was a strong person before and felt I could take on the world.  Now I've been reduced to a wreck.  I was so close to self harming to get an escape from the pain I was going through.  My mind was full of negative thoughts, I was on the point of a nervous breakdown.  I can understand now that I wasn't well. I understand my illness a bit better now.  I've still got a lot to learn though.

Even strong people can crash and burn at times.  It's how you bounce back.

Thanks for listening to my story, I hope it can help someone out there.  If you're struggling, don't lock yourself away at home.  Find people.  Talk to people.

Thank you."

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Never Stop Being Human

Gatherings of all members of the Poverty Truth Commission are always special events, bringing people together across social and economic divides. Yesterday morning’s meeting, however, felt unique and had a distinctively international flavour, connecting struggles for dignity, equality and justice throughout the world. They reminded us all of our shared humanity and how we must work collectively for change for everyone.

We were joined yesterday by a South African and Bolivian community land rights activist. They told a story of an incredible community’s resilience and togetherness when a natural disaster had left them with nothing, and of a collective of shack dwellers coming together to challenge the rising xenophobia they saw around them. 

As well as learning from their experiences, commissioners shared connections between what they heard and between inequalities and injustices in Scotland. A story, for example, of a teenager who had fled violence and persecution in her country of origin, only to be met with further contempt and brutal treatment in the UK asylum system where she thought she was safe. 

From Powerless to Powerful

Global problems, such as the current refugee humanitarian crisis, or local issues, like the need for foodbanks in Scotland, can seem almost impossible to solve and leave individuals feeling powerless. Dehumanising language frequently used by certain politicians and newspapers undoubtedly makes matters worse. 

Many across the UK, however, have chosen to ignore this narrative and instead look for the truth. They have been moved to act by the human suffering they have seen and heard. At this morning’s meeting, one MSP spoke of how her office had received numerous offers of help and assistance for refugees from her local constituents, from both low-income and more affluent families.

Within the next few weeks around 60 Syrian refugees will arrive in Glasgow. This will be the first instalment of around 20,000 arriving in the UK over the next five years, and we should be proud that our city will be the first in the UK to host. The message of the Commission is simple: welcome them and help them to feel human again.

This does not to mean that there won’t be any challenges to integrating refugees in Scotland. We know that if done in a top-down government led manner, where local communities feel excluded, then tensions can develop. We need, therefore, an inclusive planning process, centred on shifting the narrative from seeing refugees as a burden, and a further housing statistic, to seeing them as the human beings they are. We can only do this by hearing their stories.

We must never stop being human: sharing stories and learning, treating others with respect and standing up for each other. 

Nothing About Us, Without Us, is For Us

Monday, 14 September 2015

How can we help refugees in Scotland feel human again?

Asking for refuge can be a traumatising thing because people asking for refuge most of the time are running for their lives and have had to face difficult situations such as war, torture, rape before reaching a peaceful place. In other words some of them have lost their humanity and have forgotten what love means, what understanding means, what trust means, what support means, what being listen to and being valued means, what being safe and secure means. 

French and German governments are supporting people coming from Syria and other parts of the wold by placing them in centres where they will be registered and where they status will be decided. Other organisations and people are collecting goods, foods, and clothes to support people at Calais. We could collect goods, foods and clothes as well to support people at Calais. In addition, when refugees reach Glasgow, we could for example invite them to join groups where they can be listen to in term of sharing they experiences, telling they needs, they hope. 

This would be a place where people can be loved, supported and understood by local people and people who have had the same experience and have been able to cope; in other words this would be a way to support people seeking refuge to relearn how to be Human and interact with people without fear. This space would also be a place to show how people here are welcoming and friendly, this would help them feel secure and safe as it is what people seeking refuge are looking for.

Written by Aimee

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Society is an Elite Club that Bars the Poor

Pity and blame are the words going round my head today. An election campaign which blamed people on benefits and pitied those compelled to use foodbanks on more than one million occasions in the last year has resulted in a new government who tell us that cuts must be made in the name of "people who do the right thing", whoever they are.
They are definitely not people in poverty, who are referred to as scroungers and cheats, as somehow lacking. We are encouraged to stereotype and see people in poverty as part of the problem, not part of the solution. Such divisions have made it easier to suggest that we need a government who believe the poor should pay for the deficit rather than the rich. And such a government we have.
Pity and blame – it’s easy to do both from the outside. Where are the voices of those who understand poverty from the inside, who know what it means to have to choose between putting money in the gas meter or having breakfast in the morning? By ignoring these voices, we are missing out on a wealth of wisdom.
At the Poverty Truth Commission we believe people with experience of poverty are the experts who must be at the heart of any strategy designed to overcome poverty. Before the election we called on the government, media, political parties and each one of us to stop the culture of blame in this election campaign and in the future. We challenged everyone to seek and to listen to the voices of our poorest citizens as a crucial first step to overcoming poverty and figuring out how to build a better society.
Following last week’s election, I spoke to some of our commissioners.
“I’m even more frightened about the cuts now,” said one carer. “I’m dreading the postman coming with forms to fill in that might mean cuts to my Carers Allowance. Things will get so much tougher for my community.”
Another said: “Thousands of disabled people will suffer from the results of these changes, putting them at real risk of deterioration and open to sanctions.”
And a third added: “The divide that is already there is going to increase. People are going to be pushed further apart. The focus is on those who have money, it feels like an elite club we are kept out of.”
Pity and blame are not the only words going round my head today. There is also the Poverty Truth Commission motto: “Nothing about us, Without us, Is for us.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Nothing About Us, Without Us, Is For Us

During this General Election Campaign we have heard people living in poverty referred to as scroungers and cheats, and it has been inferred that they are not from, or are somehow fundamentally different from, ‘hard-working families’.  We have also heard that in the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, people were compelled by poverty to use food banks on more than one million occasions in the last year.

Rarely have we heard from people who actually understand poverty, who know what it means to have to choose between putting money in the gas meter or having breakfast in the morning.  We are encouraged to stereotype in one way or another; to blame or to pity - to see people as part of the problem rather than as part of the solution. We are missing out on a wealth of wisdom. It does not have to be this way.

At the Poverty Truth Commission we work differently.  We believe that people experiencing poverty must be at the heart of any strategy designed to overcome it.  We believe that we must listen to and respect each others’ opinions.  That we must take the time to learn what it is like to walk in each other’s shoes.  And that is what we do.  As a Commission we have left our labels and titles at the door and are discovering what it means to say together that nothing about us, without us, is for us.

Therefore, we call on government, the media, political parties and each one of us to stop the culture of blame in this election campaign and in the future.  We challenge you to seek, and to listen to the voices of our poorest citizens as a crucial first step to overcoming poverty and figuring out how to build a better society.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Growing food justice now!

Beyond Food banks Conference 28 February 2015


This conference took place in the iconic Pearce Institute in Govan, Glasgow. It was organised by the Church of Scotland, Faith in Community Scotland and the Centre for Human Ecology. They brought together a large number and wide range of people united in their desire to ensure Scotland can change from a situation in which real hunger is suffered, to a situation in which everybody has access to sufficient, nutritious food.
We heard Rachel Gray from Toronto, Canada speak eloquently about the ways that the Stop project (launched 35 years ago) has developed from an initial food bank type service into a community in which the provision and sharing of food is a means to reduce social isolation and foster long term relationships. We also anonymously heard from the experiences of two food bank users. One of the  food bank users, who is in part-time employment, reported  ".... I am still using the Food bank now because my housing benefit was stopped.... Security of housing is so crucial for us all and yet it  can be so insecure for those whose benefits are suddenly stopped.

Another food bank user reported her experience of having no employment and her benefit being reduced to just £57 a week while her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was reviewed. At this time, after all her bills were paid, she was left with only £7 per week to feed her family of three; she could not do it on such a small amount of money and had to accept referral to a food bank. She said, "I was very reluctant to use the food bank. I would rather have gone without food than use one, but I had to think of my family. I felt ashamed and very upset that my financial situation had sunk so low. I was very depressed which had a big impact on both my physical and mental health."

However as one person commented the real shame is the UK's for creating the economic and social conditions conditions in which food banks flourish; those who use food banks have nothing to be ashamed of. 

It was a stimulating day indeed that got participants thinking and more importantly committing to ideas and actions to combat food poverty and to stop food banks being  accepted as part and parcel of the welfare system. Different ways of fighting food poverty were explored. For example, participants heard about the experience of food co-ops in North Lanarkshire and a prospective community food centre in Ruchazie. Using a variety of such approaches and others, for instance, campaigning work around the General Election, could enable the growth of this emerging food justice movement. Beyond Food Banks successfully marked the beginning and definitely not the end of this process. As a demonstration of this a follow up event  will look at concrete actions or pilot projects etc., so please keep a look out for details.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

My Story - part 8

I don’t feel like a strong person.  I’m using food banks and stuff the now and gambling. I want to be strong but I’m not yet, there’s a long way to go.  It’s a long slow road, but it’s a road, not a stop.

I get £104 a fortnight to live off.  Crisis loan repayments and Council Tax comes off that first.  Then £30 to the hostel.  £40 for messages.  I will have to start paying back my old rent arrears if I want a new flat with the Housing Association.  I have very little left at the end of it.  It’s hard to cope.  Even though I get my Housing Benefit, it’s hard times.  Everything is money.  Everything.  And everything is going up apart from what you’ve got in your pocket.  

Sometimes I end up going back the Bookies because I’m desperate to make my money stretch a bit further.  I used to gamble a lot in the past.  It gets a hook in you; it’s like control in the head.  Sometimes it’s like it’s just whispering to you.  But you can never beat a bookie, no matter how hard you try.

They push you and push you at the Job Centre. I’m always worried I’m going to trip up and get sanctioned.  Every time I go in there it’s a worry.

One of our Commissioners gives us a privileged insight into their life. They give us the good and they give us the bad. The story helps us understand poverty a little better. Here is part 8.

I feel trapped because I’m living in a hostel, and if I took a job and lost my Housing Benefit, I wouldn’t be able to pay the hostel.  It would be too hard.  But they don’t listen to me at the Job Centre, I’m just another number. I really want to work, but I don’t know how, and it feels like they’re choking to sanction me.

At times I feel socially excluded out of everything.  I feel like people look down on me because of the way I look, the way I dress.  I start to think in my head that I’m a waste of space.  I might look homeless, but there’s still good inside of me.  Don’t insult my intelligence.  I don’t want people to pity and patronise me when I walk down the street.  I am still a human being.  Every time I get up, get a shower in the morning, get ready, go out, every day is a battle.  Sometimes it really affects my mental health.  But I know there will be low days and try to keep going.

I try not to use food banks because they make me feel worse.  They make me feel low, ashamed, it shows I’m struggling, it feels like another judgement.  I know they’re there to help people, but that’s how they make me feel.  Sometimes I have no option though.

I’m much more than someone who is struggling with money, mental health and homelessness.  I am a singer, an actor, a striver.  My strength is being with people, building relationships, and supporting them.  I know what it is like to be alone and isolated.  

I volunteer with Bridging the Gap in the Gorbals.   I feel happy when I go there. They are amazing.  Every time I go in there it’s always a positive and something I’m good - I can be somebody.

And now I am part of the Poverty Truth Commission too.  I want to help change things.  Actions are better than words.  We all need to take a stand together, and I want to be a part of that change.

The most important thing I’ve learnt about myself is to never give up on yourself.  If you give up on yourself, what chance have you got?