Monday, 3 August 2020

Dear SQA




3 August 2020


Dear Scottish Qualifications Authority,


My exam results arrive tomorrow.  


I was in 5th year when the schools closed -  the year school always tells you is one of the most important of your academic life. It should have been the year I sat 4 Highers and a National 5, but in the end it was a year that turned out like no other for any of us. 


It feels like the year and my exams have been taken away from me.  I have been so stressed and worried.  And I haven’t heard from you in all this time.


When I get the text tomorrow morning I’ll probably feel like throwing the phone against the wall.  I’m not very optimistic.  I know I could have done so much better than my prelims if I’d had the chance to keep working.  


I’d had a bad year at school.  There were personal issues which made it very difficult and stressful, but I still had time to turn things round.  


Before lockdown when I was feeling optimistic and thinking about how the exams could go, I thought I might get C’s and maybe a B.  I thought I would have the chance to keep working through March, April and May. 


Last year I got mostly A’s for my National 5’s, and that was what I was thinking I would have the chance to do this year, to strive better in the exam itself.


 I think I’ll just be reading ‘FAIL’ when I open the text tomorrow though.  This has all been a bit of a nightmare and caused me so much worry.


I remember back in March the feeling of disbelief when my friends were telling me the schools were  shutting.  I had already been self isolating for a week as I had symptoms of the virus, and couldn’t believe I wouldn’t get back in again.  That week was horrible. I mean, now we’re all used to it, but that first week, it was dreadful.


Then I heard the exams were cancelled.  My first thoughts were ‘Yes!  No exams!’ – sheer elation.  But as I thought about it I was like – ‘Oh wait, last year I did better in my exams, but now this is it all over, I don’t have any extra time to study. There’s nothing I can do.’


My friends told me at first, and then there was an official statement, but I didn’t hear anything from you at the SQA directly to me or to young people in general.  No official acknowledgement of the impact that decision was going to have on my life.  


I think my mum got one text from the school, but that was it.  When I think about it now, that’s kind of messed up.  Such a huge decision taken about my life and I wasn’t consulted or told about it – just left to stress my head off.  Left with all that uncertainty on top of all the uncertainty I had about what was happening to the world in general.


Although I’m dreading what the text will say and what will be in the envelope – although I’m pretty sure I’ve failed, I actually have no idea.  I still don’t understand how the exams have been graded.  That’s something else you have failed to tell me or explain to me.


The school said something about prelims and predicted grades.  As I said, I had a really hard year and I failed hard on my prelims.  Maybe if the teacher likes you and thought you could have done better they might have boosted your predicted grade.  But I don’t know.  


And that’s the problem.  I don’t know.  Surely I should?  Surely you should have spoken directly to young people, explained to them how this was going to work?  Not leave us guessing, stressing and making it up.


I’m just glad I have the opportunity of another year at school if this has gone badly wrong.  I can hopefully sort it all out.  I’ve been offered a Foundation Apprenticeship in Childcare.  That means I’ll be in school 3 days, college 1 day, and on placement in a nursery 1 day – I’m really looking forward to that, I really enjoy working with children, I hope I can make a career out of it.  


I can’t imagine what it must be like for 6th Years that needed specific grades.  If they’d had a bad start to the year like me and were hoping to be able to pull it all back for the exams.


My exam results arrive tomorrow.  It feels like one of the most essential years of my life has been cut off.  These last few months not knowing what was going on and hearing so little from the school and the SQA have been so stressful.  At times it has been overbearing.


 But I worked through it by saying, ‘whatever happens happens,  I’ll sort through it as it comes.’  That helped me let go, but before I developed that mindset, it was tough.    It affects your mental health, all that confusion, waiting and worrying.


My exam results arrive tomorrow.  I’ll finally get my communication from you.  










Friday, 3 July 2020

The Right to Work

I hear how so many people in lockdown are struggling without work and a sense of purpose. That their mental health is affected by not being able to contribute. That this is leading to depression.  And I understand exactly how that feels, but for a different reason.

I am an asylum seeker and have lived in this country for 6 years.  Because I am an asylum seeker, I do not have the right to work, even thought I want to contribute.  

I understand how people are feeling now in lockdown, because it is how I have felt for all these years. 

Being able to contribute to society, feeling involved, that is so important for your mental health.  My children can go to school here, I have a grandchild born here, but I am limited in my potential and in my life. I am limited in moving forward, and am living with the effect that has on me.

I hope others understand now something of how it feels to be in the asylum process, because now they have felt it too in their lockdown experience.  

Friday, 19 June 2020

Now I don’t want to Keep Quiet Anymore - Black Lives Matter

Before coming to Scotland, I did not know what discrimination and racial discrimination were.

Some events led me to associate discrimination with my status - I was then a person seeking asylum. I thought, I was treated differently because of my status. Then I got my leave to remain I still was treated differently I then started thinking of colour but I found it difficult to accept that I was treated unfairly because of my colour.  

To me there is no difference between white or black we are all from the human race, we are all human beings.

When I finally understood what racism is in terms of it being the fact of treating someone unfairly because of his/her colour I was in a denial. I was in a denial because it was hard to accept that racism exist.

When I finally accepted that racism existed I kept quiet when experiencing or witnessing it. I kept quiet because I was scared of not being listening to, not being believed and not being supported.

In housing for example, I experienced people being allocated difficult to live in houses because of their colour or because of them being poor.  I kept quiet because of fear and my heart was bleeding.

In term of employment, I have experienced not being properly trained and supported in my role and yet being told I am not making any progress.  And I kept quiet!

Now I don’t want to keep quiet anymore.

I believe that I can contribute to the flourishment of Scotlandbut for that I need to be supported, I need to be treated fairly, I need people to work in team and in partnership with me.

I also believe that the racial discrimination that we are facing is due to ignorance. With education, with conversations about racism, people can be aware of their biases and prejudices and overcome them by doing the right thing.

I also believe on the other hand that some people are deeply racist. For this minority, we, as individuals, as a community, we need to break the silence and let them know that racial discrimination is not ok in the UK, is not ok in Scotland.

I am willing to join my voice with other people, to share my experience and also to listen to their experiences and together raise our voices to say: Racial discrimination, discrimination on the ground of people’s ‘characteristics’ is not ok.

Poverty Truth Community Member


Monday, 1 June 2020

What does The Poverty Truth Community mean to you?

(Brian stands second row left)

Hi everyone, let me introduce myself, my name is Brian Scott and I was born, and still live in, Glasgow.  I have two boys - one a teenager and the other a ‘wannabe’ teenager’ and a mad cat called Ali, who, like me, has a dodgy back and dodgy legs.

I first became involved with the PTC (known as the Poverty Truth commission then) about 3 years ago.  I can honestly say that in that time I have met some fantastic people, made some new friends and achieved an awful lot.  If you had told me 3 years ago when I first made my baby steps into volunteering with the PTC that I would be meeting Scottish Government Ministers, Senior Civil Servants and delivering talks to conferences I would have said you were ‘having a laugh’.  But I’ve done all that, and more, during my time with the PTC.

When asked to write this short bio piece about myself (Carol emphasised ‘short’ as I could talk about myself for pages!!!) I was asked to write about my highlights, the kind of work I’ve done and anything I thought could be done better by the PTC.  

Let’s tackle the last part of that sentence first – what could the PTC do better.  We can all do things better but, in the case of the PTC, I really can’t think of anything they could do more for their volunteers etc.  Even during lockdown Elaine, Carol and Davy have went out of their way to keep in contact with us, making sure we are keeping well and had everything we needed etc.  The guys in the office, to me, have done so much in encouraging my journey with the PTC and giving me opportunities to take part in campaigns, meetings etc without any pressure put on me.  Talking to my colleagues in the PTC I am sure I’m not the only one who shares that view.

So, what have I been involved in during my time with the PTC.  In a simple word – ‘lots’.  I’ve listed below just some of the opportunities and campaigns that the PTC have allowed me to take part in over the past three years, though I’m pretty sure I’ve left a lot out:-

• Working Groups on the Assessment and Benefits System
• Taking part in various pieces of research on the physical and mental health implications of poverty.
• Addressing a national Joseph Roundtree conference on the uses of the Framing Technique.
• Opportunity to take part in a media course facilitated by ‘On Road Media’.
• To be part of a Q&A session addressing the Scottish Parliament Advisory Panel on Education concerning the issues surrounding childhood and poverty.
• Taking part in the Mutual Mentoring Scheme.
• To meet with other campaigners from not just around Scotland, but the rest of the UK.
• To meet with Scottish Government Ministers at the very highest level to discuss issues surrounding poverty.
• To be part of the Scottish Parliament’s Advisory Group on Fuel Poverty
• To be part of the advisory sessions regarding the Scottish Child Payment Scheme.
• To take part in both TV and Radio documentaries discussing poverty

And, finally, to meet all you wonderful people (all donations accepted – especially over £5).

Now what has been the highlight of my time with the PTC.  Difficult to choose just one, but I’ve done it!  The most enjoyable, informative and eye-opening thing I’ve been part of over the past three years has been the ‘Mutual Mentoring Scheme’.  Here the PTC partnered with civil servants working within the Scottish Parliament to pair up PTC members and civil servants.  I was partnered with a lovely chap from the Scottish Government called Tom.  I was lucky enough to take part in ‘Mutual Mentoring’ at the same time the Scottish Government was putting into legislatiothe stages of taking over welfare responsibilities for DLA/PIP/AA and Housing Benefit.  Through, Tom, I took part in working groups discussing poverty, was asked to address the Directors and Heads of several Civil Service Departments on life in poverty and growing up in an inner city housing estate and, generally, got to see the inner workings of government that I would never have been able to see otherwise.  For my part, I brought Tom to Possilpark on several occasions to discuss the issues growing up and living in the inner city.  Introduced him to local people, local groups as well as local activists and, hopefully, gave him much to chew to over when he went back to Edinburgh.  I was anxious to show Tom that life, living in a housing estate, isn’t all bad and that there are many, many people within the area who will, willingly, go the extra mile to help their neighbours.

Hopefully, I’ve given you an interesting overview of my time with the PTC.  It’s been exciting and fulfilling but there’s still work to be done out there.  So, join in, (if you haven’t already).  In the words of the late, lamented comedian, Rikki Fulton (yes, I am that old) – ‘It’s going to be one hell of a party’!

Not to be missed please see attached link to view Brians excellent version of a classic Stray Cats song:

Monday, 19 November 2018

In Case You Missed It - launch of Report into effects of two child policy and benefit assessments on 13 November
click on link here for Stories From The Benefits Front Line Report

Battling for Fairness and Dignity

A common theme of the stories that the Poverty Truth Commission, in Scotland, hears from individuals and families who have a lived experience of poverty is that of having to fight for fairness in a welfare benefits system that often deprives them of dignity and treats them with disbelief. Children inevitably suffer and as one of our testifiers put it “… the poor and innocents should not be the first people penalised with these immoral cuts.”

 The Poverty Truth Commissioners believe that what is needed instead is a benefits system that starts from the premise that all of us may need support from benefits at some point (s) in our lives and that therefore we have a shared interest in ensuring that benefit applicants are treated with dignity and respect. Thus, our Commissioners seek an approach that fully and meaningfully recognises people as individuals who are in possession of rights as well as responsibilities. Indeed, rights and responsibilities are critical to creating a dignified system of social security as opposed to a demeaning system of 'welfare.'

Today the Poverty Truth Commission’s Cuts and Assessments working group publish their Report titled 'Stories from The Benefits Front Line - Battling for Fairness and Dignity'. It makes several recommendations arising from research that includes stories/testimonies gathered by members of the group.  The focus of its research was two-fold, namely the two-child policy and the long assessment process for disability benefits for young people transitioning to adult benefits. One PTC Commissioner summarized this traumatic process by saying “I have never come up against anything as complicated, frustrating and stressful as I have with the whole Employment and Support Allowance process. My mental health suffered. I really didn’t need this on top of caring for my son.”  To seriously begin addressing these issues, the Report recommends:

  • Unfreezing benefits and uprating them annually, at least in line with inflation as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI).
  • The immediate abolition of the entire Two Child Policy for Child Tax Credits and Universal Credit.
  • A more holistic understanding within government of disability and its impact on the financial, social and health needs of benefit claimants applying for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and/or Employment Support Allowance (ESA).
  • A major reduction in the current minimum benefits assessment period of 13 weeks for ESA.
  • The back payment of eligible benefits to the date of first application. 

Alongside this call for action we have written  to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to invite her to meet us in order to discuss our Report and the recommendations that flow from it. We know that this is a challenge to current thinking and policy on Benefits for the Secretary of State. Nevertheless, we hope that many people and organisations will want to support us as we invite Ms Rudd and the DWP to a mutually respectful dialogue about our recommendations. We will let you know how the DWP responds to our request for a meeting.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018



 Stories From The Benefits Frontline


By Jane Fowler

When we first met as a group to work on the broad topic of cuts and assessments, we needed to find a focus for our research.

There were so many issues that provoked despair and bewilderment – and the anger that comes from being at the sharp end of a benefits system which many feel is uncaring.


I asked a question.

Which, of all the cuts, and the assessments that go with them, is the most iniquitous?

There was a short pause and then stories were shared from first-hand experience on one particular area: the impact of the various elements of Universal Credit on families, and thereby, on children.


It was from the personal experience of those within the group, and their knowledge of others who had encountered similar problems, that we decided to focus on disability benefit processes, as they affect children moving from one benefit to another as they enter adulthood at the age of 16, and the 2 child policy, which limits benefits to only two children, regardless of the circumstances of a mother or family. 


Statistics may be dismissed as ‘damned lies’ but when gathered with rigour, they can offer a stark truth. The Child Poverty Action Group estimate that 200 000 children will be pulled into poverty by the two-child limit in the next two or three years.

That is a horrendous figure.  And this, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.


There have been ongoing cuts to Universal Credit since its introduction in 2013.  These may be invisible to those lucky enough not to claim benefit.

But the figures, again from Child Poverty Action, reveal that couples with children who need benefits will be £960 worse off in 2020 compared with the income they could have expected in the absence of cuts to universal credit.  Single parents will be £2380 worse off.


This is the crucial fact.  Families with children lose out more under Universal Credit than any other group.  Universal Credit was supposed to reduce poverty – and yet this is its consequence.


Personal stories based on experience are at the heart of the Poverty Truth Commission.

Statistics can offer context.  (They can, of course, be fashioned by some to bolster a political argument.)

Personal stories offer the truth of people’s lives.

They take us to the heart of the matter.




Our group sought the personal testimonies of those with children.


As Barbara describes, her disabled son has always needed, and will always need, 1 to 1 care.

She had to give up full time employment to care for him and left a high pressured, well paid job to do so.  When her son approached 16, she had to apply for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) that marks the move from child to adult services. As soon as you apply, your Child Tax Credits and Child Benefit Stop.

The assessment period is 13 weeks, so you’re looking at a huge loss of money.


In her job, Barbara had managed stressful situations on a daily basis.  But her comment on the experience of trying to navigate the process on behalf of her son speaks for many.

‘I have never come up against anything as complicated, frustrating and stressful as I have with the whole ESA process.  My mental health suffered.  I didn’t really need this on top of caring for my son.’


Another story stays in my mind.  Amy has had ME for 7 years which causes her great pain and fatigue as well as cognitive impairment.  She came to speak to us and described how the questioning during her Appeal tribunal had been extremely leading and framed in terms of challenging her claim to be ill, asking her to prove that she was ill.  She was asked what grade she had gained in the Higher exam she took the previous year.  It was a good grade, and the reply was to the effect, ‘Well, there you are then’.

End of story.  Proof positive.  Guilty. Not ill.


Her mum thought to herself, ‘A person could do the West Highland Way on their hands and knees over the course of a year.  Just because they’ve done the West Highland Way doesn’t mean they aren’t disabled.’


Amy had a relapse after the tribunal and had to drop out of college.  She feels that the stress of the tribunal contributed to her relapse.


A culture of disbelief.  A system that is dehumanising.  And as Jackie says in her forward to our report, no sense that children have natural rights that do not depend on income.


Our recommendations are at the end of our report.  I hope you might find time to read them.  They matter.

link to Stories From The Benefits Front Line report









Friday, 2 February 2018

Book Review - 'Poverty Safari' by Darren McGarvey

Ex-PTC commissioner Darren McGarvey has found his voice. The book is a series of personal memoirs and reflections, often controversial, that sometimes link and often go off at tangents. His mother’s early death from alcohol and drug abuse is the framework on which he hangs a contrasting account of the changes he has made in his own life, overcoming addictions and an attitude of blaming everybody else. It’s a moving story and he tells with great honesty.

But what makes the book compelling is his often angry perspective on how the world looks from where he grew up in a troubled family in Pollok. He suggests that child abuse and domestic violence, even if they are not at the root of poverty, play a role in holding it in place. He describes the stress of living in poverty, naming it as “the connective tissue between social problems such as addiction, violence and chronic illness, as well as the multiple crises in our public services”. There’s plenty to take in from the perspective of the schemes.

So why Poverty Safari? I understand this to be Darren’s interpretation of what middle class people are doing when they are paid to “regenerate” working class areas. The well-meaning middle class folk are parachuted in with middle class values and alien agendas prepared by remote institutions. In a chapter called “The Outsiders” he illustrates the discrepancy between government rhetoric and what is delivered on the ground, and the consistent failure to meet local needs. PTC Commissioners should read this chapter, even if they skip the rest.

It’s lucid and articulate, and a great read. I recommend it.

Patrick Boase