Thursday, 10 December 2009


Drawing from his own experience of alienation and homelessness, Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey recently reported on Volition, a project that he is initiating together with a group of Scottish youth with whom he has been working for the past several years.

Volition engages 14 to 25 year old youth, many of whom are victims of a society that provides limited opportunities for young people. Meaningful jobs are scarce. Families are often in disarray. Drugs and alcohol are everywhere. Where do young people turn? Where do they release their anger and find new meaning for their lives?

While some young people at risk find diversion in football and other sports, significant numbers of youth are still adrift. Loki has found that engaging with hip hop can give new meaning to their lives. When it was first introduced, rap, a form of hip hop, was often violent and homophobic, but it has since changed and has become a universal language among young people.

In Volition youth find an environment where they can freely explore their ideas and express their opinions in a context where others understand. The medium, as well as other forms of hip hop, draw on the creativity of youth, which often has few other outlets. Writing, recording and performing rap enables the participants in Volition to express their anger, their outrage and then move on from there. Hearing and critique one another’s works they find release from their own pent-up anger and can reflect on their own lives and how they can find a place in this world. The participants in Volition are encouraged to aspire and gain a sense of achievement and identity. In community with others, they can develop their literary skills using figurative language and multi syllabic rhyme structure.

Furthermore, Volition is organized in a totally democratic way giving all participants a real sense of ownership. Members are currently engaged in the process of writing the organization’s constitution, coming to understand the importance of clear goals and aims, as well as an effective structure

Volition is in the process of equipping a work space where participants can listen to and assess each other’s work as well as compile CD’s and plan for performances.

The testimony of the participants speaks volumes.

Jamie writes: Before hip hop music was introduced to me, I was into the usual crap music, but I never really felt as though I had a connection with any genre. When I heard hip hop I instantly felt a strong bond with both the lyrics and the beats.

Alie writes: Hip hop to me personally is a way to chill out and listen to other people’s life stories.

Doug writes: I believe that Hip Hop has changed me personally for the better; in a way I have grown up with it; it has kept me from using my spare time from vandalising, etc. Instead I devote most of my spare time to writing for collaboration with others who have the same interests.

Janet writes: The feeling of belonging is something that hip hop has given me, where family and career have failed. Without Hip Hop in my life I would be a lost soul with no aims or direction.

David writes: It’s time to say that hip hop has always received bad press and that is unfair as true hip hop is all about peace, love and unity.

John writes: Hip hop has given me a way to express my feelings; it gives me a chance to give my opinions on different subjects and helps me understand other people’s situations and feelings. I realize now that Hip Hop is a musician’s equivalent of a painting a picture. It is just a different form of art and I am disappointed by the negativity which often surrounds it.

Andrew writes: Writing is a way of expressing feelings that I would not usually talk about with other people, helping me open up to what is really going on in my mind. It helps me understand other people’s; views as well. Putting my anger on paper helps me deal with it. I realize now that words are a more effective release then acting out.

Calum writes: Hip hop has had a massive affect on my life. I started listening when I was 15 and at 16 I started writing. I enjoy this because I am a creative person and use writing as a way to reflect on something. It is also a good way to release stress without being aggressive.

Angela writes: I was bullied as a youth and as a result have confidence issues and social contacts are a struggle for me. But Hip hop has given me an outlet and has upped my confidence. It has also given me an opportunity to meet people who have become good friends. It has helped me in more ways than I can even describe.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Violence Work Group

The first meeting of the work group on violence met on 19 October. (Sadly the first meeting that was scheduled earlier had to be cancelled because of the memorial service for Daniel Boyle, one of the young men from Ruchazie who had prepared to be a testifier at the Poverty Truth Commission. He died a violent death at the age of 18.)

John Carnochan who is the Detective Chief Superintendent of the Violence Reduction Unit of the Strathclyde Police and a Poverty Truth Commissioner, hosted the meeting. John launched the meeting by describing the work of the Violence Reduction Unit, which is considering the basic causes of the considerable violence in Scottish Society and developing programs that intervene at appropriate points within the life of the society and individuals.

Violence is identified as a public health problem and John used the metaphor of Tuberculosis to explain the practical meaning of this designation. In former days when someone was diagnosed with TB they were sent away to a sanatorium until they healed. Today, there is early intervention that seeks to prevent the onset of TB. Likewise, if the society waits for a violent crime to occur and then sends the perpetrator away to prison, very little is accomplished. Far better to intervene at the earliest possible point in the life of the child to reduce the possibility that violence will mark the life of this child.

This requires examining the entire environment in which the child is nurtured. Violence in the home, in the neighbourhood and in the media can serve to program a child to do violence. Early intervention (parenting classes, alcohol awareness training, diversionary activities, preparation for positive employment) can help prevent a life of violence.

Such preventative measures do not substitute for strict law enforcement today, but are actions to reduce violence in the future.

It is hoped that the testifiers can draw on their own personal experience as victims of violence and as the work group continues to meet to examine ways in which violence can be reduced.

On 21 March at the meeting in City Chambers, one former gang member told the story of the useless and tragic murder of a beloved member of the gang. After the murder the entire neighbourhood sought to understand the causes of this tragedy and is taking steps that would prevent further such violence. The question that is asked is what can be done, street by street to change the culture in which such violence occurs.

Violence affects everyone and everyone needs to be recognize the changes that will lead to its reduction. This includes recognizing that every individual in creation is made in the image of God and society must maximize the opportunities for every person to grow to their full stature and potential and to realize their own role in the continuing creation of the world.. This is a task that requires the efforts of all of us.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Latest Updates

On 21st March the members of the Poverty Truth Commission came together at City Chambers for the first time. Fourteen “Commissioners”, leaders from Parliament, academia, the religious community and the media came together to hear the stories of a dozen people (“Testifiers”) from some of the poorest communities in Glasgow. These were more than stories of the struggle to survive. Using dance, drama, poetry, rap, dialogue and monologue, the Testifiers demonstrated their creativity and insights and advocated for change that would greatly improve their lives and their communities. Many of the audience of 400 were deeply moved by the testimonies – perhaps the majority having shared some of the same struggles themselves.

After conferring together the Commissioners proposed that the group keep meeting in the days ahead. “We would want a number of testifiers to join us together we tackle the issues which [the testifiers] have so wonderfully and eloquently raised.”

Since that time the whole Commission has met twice with plans to continue meeting for 18 months and to then report back to the public on the progress that has been made. The Commission is co-chaired by Tricia McConalogue (Bridging the Gap, Gorbals) and Jim Wallace (Former Depute First Minister of Scotland).

The commissioners have divided into work groups that meet regularly around the following issues:

When the parents are unable to care for their children (because of addiction or disease) a social worker often asks a grandparent to raise the children. But there are no benefits available to help. What can be done so that grandparents caring for their grandchildren receive benefits similar to what foster parents receive?

Caring and supporting children is a heavy burden for grandparents many of whom are themselves struggling to survive. In many cases the children have been traumatized (some are methadone babies) and need counselling. These are children who deserve the best. What can be done so that grandparents caring for their grandchildren receive benefits similar to what foster parents receive?

Reaching a solution is a complex challenge requiring action by the UK, Scottish and Local Governments. The working group on Kinship Carers is striving to cut through the red tape to assure that the grandparents receive adequate financial assistance and children receive the support they require.

On 21st March, William, Nicola, Loki and Carol all spoke about violence – violence in the home and violence on the streets. A work group is meeting to consider what can be done.

The root causes of violence run deep. These include: an education system that does not adequately equip youth for productive lives; an economy that provides fewer and fewer employment opportunities for young people; and broken and violent homes.

This violence work group, including Detective John Carnochan who leads the Violence Reduction Unit of Strathclyde Police, is looking for fundamental ways to free the neighbourhoods, especially in the poorest places, from the grip of violence.

The mass media seems to thrive on stories of failure and violence. Poor neighbourhoods are often described in negative terms. The courage, originality, resilience and generosity of people struggling with poverty doesn’t often make the news, yet there is so much that is positive in these communities.

The Church of Scotland speaks of these neighbourhoods as ‘good places to be.’ What can be done to assure that the media adopts a more balanced approach to its reporting – recognising the quiet heroes and heroic acts that occur on a daily basis in often forgotten neighbourhoods. This is the task of the media working group.

In introducing the Testifiers on 21st March, the Chair of the Poverty Truth Commission, Tricia McConalogue, compared those who know about poverty because they observe it from afar with the real experts who live in it day in and day out.

Despite their expertise, the voices of poverty have often not been heard where policies affecting life in poor communities are made. If no one is going to listen, then those who have a lot to say are not motivated to speak and soon lose their confidence. When we are overlooked and ignored we begin to feel like objects rather than subjects. The Poverty Truth Commission is dedicated to changing this. “Nothing about us without us is for us.”

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Kinship Carers

Over the last few days it has been great to see articles in the Herald (Glasgow-based Scottish newspaper) about kinship carers. Check them out at On Monday this included a major interview with Jessie Harvey, one of our Comissioners and a Kinship Carer.
And in today's paper (8th July) we have a letter from Jim Wallace (Lord Wallace of Tankerness) and Tricia McConalogue, the Commission Co-Chairs calling on the government at local, Scottish and UK levels to get together to address the problems. You can read it at:

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

I'm Tommy and a Kinship Carer

I’M Tommy and a Kinship Carer

Esteemed friends, guests and fellow kinship carers, can I thank you for the opportunity to address you as to the scandal of children in kinship care.

Can I first of all say that I do not intend to exaggerate, even in the slightest way, do not have to, every kinship carer here and beyond will confirm and testify to what I say nor would I disrespect you by misleading you.

Children in kinship care, or should I call it, “relative foster care” are unique. It is different from all other forms of caring because in the vast majority of cases, the state or local authority have legally intervened and removed the child or children from the family home for reasons of neglect, abuse, bereavement or the child is deemed to be at risk.

Once the local authority has applied to the court for custody, a Children’s Panel is convened and they then apply for a supervision order, Section 10 Children’s Act, they then assume corporate parenthood, they have a responsibility for these children, they cannot wash their hands of them.

Yet for children in kinship care, that’s exactly what they do. There are a number of options they can pursue when a supervision order is granted:
1. Age appropriate, they can place the child in residential care at a cost of £1,000 to £3,000 per week.
2. They can place the child in foster care which can also be expensive with some fees as much as £300 per week plus generous allowances for the needs of the child.
3. Then there is kinship care which has been demonstrated historically through extensive research is the best option. A more loving environment, stability in their lives (as opposed to foster caring where in many cases they are continually being moved on), children in kinship care are healthier, do better at school and their life’s prospect is enhanced. These are the facts

When a child is placed in residential care, he or she has their needs met, no overcrowding, their own room, pocket money, speedy access to special services and as we say in Glasgow “make sure they are well turned out”

Similarly when a child is placed in stranger foster care, every effort is made to ensure they have their own room. There is a start up process where beds, clothes, toys, home and car adaptions are made available. There are weekly allowances to meet thei r needs, currently at £119 to £198 per week. There is extra financial support for birthdays, Christmas and holidays and again fast track access to essential services such as counselling, psychologists etc and rightly so, they are looked after vulnerable children.

But what happens to children in kinship care? The same looked after children with the same legal status.

Can I focus on what is often referred to as Scotland’s greatest city, big hearted Glasgow, my own local authority and to how they treat children in kinship care:
My own experience – not a brown penny in eight years
Moira’s experience – non drinker, non smoker, church goer

This is innocent children we are talking about. Children who have witnessed and experienced things no child should be subjected to. The indifference and discrimination against these children is breath-taking and every kinship carer here can tell their own story.

For years kinship carers across Scotland have campaigned to end this disgrace, to end this discrimination. We have leafleted, lobbied, we have formed numerous support groups across the length and breadth of Scotland, driven by anger as to how we are treated. We have now set up the Scottish Kinship Carers Network – all voluntary. We have also gathered many friends on the way.

It appeared that our efforts had been successful when Adam Ingram, Minister for Children on 5 December 2007 announced to the Scottish media that kinship care children would receive allowances, equivalent to children in foster care at the rate of £119 to £198 per week, age related. There would also be parity of esteem and parity of support to services, an admission you may think, there was previously none. Grandparents and carers were understandably elated, over the moon.

And when the proposals were put to the Scottish Parliament, there was an unprecedented show of unity in support of them, total agreement amongst all parties.

Payments would begin on 1 April 2008, money was being made available to local authorities to introduce them, all kinship children would qualify, the postcode lottery would end. Then fine details were published and it slowly began to unravel – yes the allowances would commence on 1 April 2008 but only for children in foster care. For children in kinship care, they would be phased in over the next three years – it gets worse – only children on a “looked after” supervision order or subject to a new order called “permanence” would qualify.

Excluded would be hundreds, possibly thousands of previously “looked after children” whose grans had gone to courts and taken out “residence orders” often with the encouragement of social workers and often at great expense to themselves.

Also excluded were the many children who had previously been “looked after” but the supervision order was removed because they were thriving with Gran and Grandad. The proposals that were made to Parliament in December 2007 have been so diluted that they are almost meaningless for kinship carers.

There was understandable anger in Parliament with MPs stating that this is not what they voted for and claims that parliament had been misled. Robert Brown MSP with his keen analytical lawyer’s intellect summed it up perfectly when he stated that this was a “cruel deception” that was being perpetrated on Scotland’s most vulnerable children and the elderly carers who look after them.

After intense campaigning by kinship carers, a motion condemning the Government was moved by Rhona Brankin MSP in December 2008 for failing in their promises to kinship children. It was passed overwhelmingly but sadly nothing has changed. It was also pointed out that kinship carers save Scotland in excess of £200 million every year.

It then gets even more insidious. Early this year a new regulation was introduced, it was called a “permanency order” but lo and behold it only applies to foster carers. It was devised on the premise that permanency will offer “looked after children” more stability in life and avoid the trauma of regular children’s hearings. Allowances would continue to be paid under permanency order to foster carers and foster children.
But if kinship carers want the same stability in their children’s life, we have to apply for residence orders and are disqualified for allowances. Kinship carers cannot apply for permanency, you couldn’t make it up if you tried.

This whole legislation has been crafted and designed exclusively for foster carers (the composition of the consultation committee)

Everywhere we turn we are faced with indifference and discrimination, every level we encounter it, we can smell it, it comes wrapped up in patronization and condescension. It is cultural. You know what I mean but nobody says it. THEY ARE JUNKIE’S CHILDREN and yet these are innocent children who have done nothing wrong.

They are stereotyped, this is our experience but wrongly stereotyped.

I am aware of what I am about to say may surprise some of you but the situation facing these children is almost comparable to apartheid
· “apartness”
· They are treated differently
· They are treated inferiorly
· They are grossly discriminated against
· This is Scotland’s real shame

How can we be serious and sincere about eradicating child poverty when we are treating our most vulnerable children like this. You couldn’t treat a prisoner like this they’d sue you. The campaign for justice will continue. We are preparing to challenge the government and local authorities through the courts under the European Convention of Human Rights Article 8 & 14.

It is equally important that we win the support of bodies such as the Commission, we need you to speak out on our behalf.

Can I once again thank you for the opportunity to address you. I am sure you will be listening to some interesting stories from our kinship carers.

Thank you

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Queen's Letter

Today was the opening day of the Church of Scotland's General Assembly. The Church of Scotland is one of the partners behind the Poverty Truth Commission and the Commission was given a special mention in the Queen's Letter to the Assembly. In lots of different places, this work is getting noticed.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

"Put Yourself In My Shoes..."

Poverty Truth Commission
Glasgow City Chambers
21 March 2009

By Paul Chapman, Coordinator

The Poverty Truth Commission was a special event that took place on Saturday afternoon (21 March 2009) at Glasgow’s City Chambers at which time twelve competent people, representing many others, described the harsh realities of living in poverty in this prosperous land. Listening to these stories was an audience of 400 people, including fourteen especially-invited leaders from politics, the media, academia and several faith traditions.

The Poverty Truth Commission is part of a process, with antecedents in the 1996 Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and since then in twenty other countries – a process that looks at deep and violent divisions within society and takes steps to overcome them.

Violence may seem a strong word for the effects of economic divisions in Scotland; yet, statistics demonstrate that in many ways, poverty destroys human life. As one of the Testifiers said eloquently, “Life expectancy for white men in Calton is 54 years and in Lenzie it is 84 years. In all Scotland it is 74 years. Poverty kills.”

Testifying to the ways in which they were suffering from the effects of poverty required considerable courage for the Testifiers, some of whom had never spoken out publicly before. They described how, again and again, they had been objectified and humiliated by welfare officers and housing officials, that they were constantly treated as objects with little or no regard for their uniqueness or opinions or competence.

It became clear in the afternoon that poverty is not only a question of food, but it is about dignity as well. Beaten down by economic and system failures, the Testifiers affirmed how difficult it is to maintain their confidence.

The Poverty Truth Commission demonstrated clearly that the people who suffer the hardships and indignities of poverty are the real experts. To regard them as objects of charity or regeneration projects will continue to perpetuate the very poverty that the society seeks to eradicate. As one Testifier said before the afternoon began. “This is not Victorian England in which the upper class claims it knows what is best for us.”

And then she referred to one of the constant themes of the people struggling against poverty in South Africa, “Nothing about us without us is for us.”

People from the grass roots must be seen as actors, as principle actors, in the anti-poverty movement. Until they are participants at every stage of the decision-making process these policies will ultimately fail.

On Saturday afternoon, after a word of welcome from Glasgow’s Lord Provost, Bob Winter, and an introduction by David Lunan, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Tricia McConalogue, Chairwoman of the Poverty Truth Commission, set the theme for the day, and outlined the program.

“Poverty is neither inevitable nor is it acceptable. Where do we as a society put our values? Today, in the midst of a recession it can often seem that the more money you earn, the more important you are and the more you will be respected and rewarded. Footballers are a prime example of this, earning phenomenal amounts of money. I was disgusted this weekend to learn that a Scottish football club would be paying £100.000 to each player if they won all three major trophies, whilst at the same time the organization was cutting back on their domestic staff. Where are our values in today’s society?”


Jamie-Lee Smart, William Barrowcliffe, Donna Barrowcliffe,

Three people from Ruchazie presented the first of nine testimonies, beginning with a graceful modern dance by 16-year-old Jamie-Lee Smart, demonstrating that life in Ruchazie is not just about struggle, but includes the creativity and joyful expression of life lived to the fullest. No one mentioned that shortly before her compelling performance a young man from Ruchazie had held a knife to her throat because she was walking in “his territory.” The issue of territorialism was spelled out later in a conversation between Darren McGarvey and William Barrowcliffe, who said, “There is a kid I know who wants to go to university and is smart enough, but it’s too dangerous in Ruchazie for him to walk from his house to Smithycroft Secondary to get the preparation he needs. So he stays at home wasting his life because the neighbourhood is so dangerous.” He further said that is was a trip to Malawi, sponsored by ‘Together for a Change’ that opened his eyes. He could freely walk anywhere and wherever he went people greeted him warmly and with head held high, despite their destitution. So different from Ruchazie where people often don’t dare look each other in the eye , and where certain areas are off-limits.

This was followed by Donna Barrowcliffe from Ruchazie, in conversation with Jamie Lee, talking about the immense stress afflicting people in her neighbourhood, often leading to depression and a lack of self-confidence. She strongly objected to people being judged by the postcode they came from rather than by their character and ability. Supporting each other in the struggle gives strength and hope.

Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey

Loki grew up in a troubled family and found himself as a teenager living on the streets and a prisoner of the drug and alcohol culture, but using music as his inspiration and guide was able to move beyond this life, and is now dedicating his life to helping other young people also find their humanity His rap represents the struggle that many young people face:

Childhood leaves a million minds engulfed in abuse
I'm not an artist on the fine line between fine lines of substance abuse or any other misuse
Far from recluse
Just privately unravelling while others peruse the daily news
And the horrors ensure
I’m trying to see around corners for the unspoken warning I’m assured will ensue
Psychological spew
To many viewed as a nuisance
Too honest for your crew

Ghazala Hakeem

The situation of Muslim women, often immigrants from lands of other languages, was articulated by Ghazala Hakeem of Govanhill. Speaking personally, she talked about the deprivations that she and her 8-year-old daughter must endure because she was born into poverty. “Poverty ensured that my daughter wasn’t able to get a birthday party with all the trimmings in a children’s play area like her peers... Poverty ensures that I cannot take my daughter away on holiday... Poverty ensures I cannot buy my daughter the toys she desires or the appropriate school uniform instead of a version that is merely the same colour... One of her friends didn’t go on a school trip as the mother couldn’t afford the £3.00 fee.”

She referred to the campaign of the government to get people off benefits into paid employment, and the many problems of living on a minimum wage job – child care costs, transportation, the end of benefits, more Council Tax and most important, the loss of quality time with her daughter and time for volunteer work to which she is deeply committed.

Nicola Boland

The testimony of a former gang member came next. Being in a gang was just a way to make friends and have fun until James Thompson, one of the gang members, was murdered – a tragic event for the whole community. And that forced Nicola Boland from Blackhill to reassess the meaning of life and how she would live. “You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back or you can do what James would have wanted, open your eyes, love and go on.”

After each testimony, a slide appeared on the screen with an appeal to the audience, and especially the Commissioners, to work with the Testifiers to make a difference. Nicola’s plea was to call for more effective resources to end the need for gangs, especially for greater resources to support young people – resources that will help young people fulfil their potential, encourage community and develop leaders.

Marie Shankley

Among other issues Marie Shankley who volunteers at Bridging the Gap in the Gorbals, dramatized her search for employment. She wants a job, she has talents that she wants to use to the benefit of society but in this economic climate there are few leads and the job centre is not helping. “They send me off to training courses for skills where there are no jobs. And then they send me off to a job site just to get me out of their system. They know I can’t get this job. And I don’t get the job because I don’t have any experience. And how would I get the experience without a job?... They should look at the pressure they put you under, at what they do to people.”

Jessie Harvey, Jean Forrester

One of the most stirring testimonies came from Jessie Harvey and Jean Forrester, members a network of organizations called Kinship Carers, with branches throughout the city. They came to the platform with thirty other women, some in their 60’s and 70’s, who are raising their weans. These are grannies and other relatives who are looking after the children of parents who are unable to do right by the children because of drugs, other addictions and mental illness. In many cases, the grandmothers are called to take these children by the welfare department, but the grannies are often poor and the government provides no financial support. A lot of these children are damaged by the circumstances of their birth. Some are born addicted. They have behavioural problems and early intervention is badly needed. As Jessie Harvey testified to a mostly sympathetic audience, help us to take care for these kids now when we can make a difference, or you will have to be taking care of them for the rest of their lives. She called for improved support services. “I mean psychologists, GPs, nursery teachers, healthcare and respite workers, Kinship Carers all getting around the table to make the future better for these children.”

Jean Forrester, the founder of Kinship Carers, stressed the need for money. “I am here today to talk about financial struggle. Family members have taken these children on to care because the children are at risk. In many cases the social work department has asked family members to take over the complete care of these children until the parents show signs of recovery... It takes a weight off the social work department to know that these kids have been placed in a safe environment. But there is no financial support.

“It is very hard for carers with kinship children as most are on very low income. To try and buy nappies, milk and eventually school uniforms out of your very low income is a struggle. Some Kinship Carers have had to quit full time jobs in order to raise these children....”

Later in the day the Commissioners agreed with the Carers that finding money for Kinship Carers is immensely important, but a huge bureaucratic tangle must be overcome to succeed. However, it is certainly wrong that the Carers and their grandchildren must suffer because of the bureaucracy, and the Commissioners, vowed to work to cut through the tangle.

Carol McMasters

Carol made an animation to illustrate the autobiographical poem that is printed below. In her introduction to the animation she said, “You have to fight to get yourself out of poverty and sometimes the fight is within yourself.”

Put yourself in my shoes...
I am eight years old.
I am hungry
I go round to my friend’s back door and eat the bread put out for the birds.

Put yourself in my shoes...
I am twelve.
I feel so ashamed of the holes in my old shoes.
It’s a constant worry.
I can feel the grit in between my toes during PE.
I wish I had a pair of nice white sand shoes.

Put yourself in my shoes...
I am a teen ager needing my first bra.
Nobody notices;
I have to steal one from someone else’s drawer.

Put yourself in my shoes.
I am 21 years old.
A young bride, hoping the future will be different,
But he will give me my first black eye three weeks later.

Put yourself in my shoes...
I am 26
With three young children and three more to come.
He has just told me that Myra Hindley would make a better mother than me.

Put yourself in my shoes...
I am 32.
Another wedding, the same man.
Another borrowed dress, no shoes, bare feet.

Put yourself in my shoes...
I am 40.
I have paid a heavy price to break free and am on my own now.
I am reduced to tears by the bullying behaviour of staff at the Benefits Agency.

Put yourself in my shoes...
I am 45.
It’s taken a long time, but
Despite everything, I believe in myself.
I am finally able to buy myself a new pair of shoes.

My name is Carol.
Put yourself in my shoes.

Stephen Lynch

Stephen Lynch of Hamilton told the story of several people who struggle with their budget day by day – not having enough to eat, unable to pay bus fare, even to go to a job interview, unable to open a bank account and having to clothe children with charity shop hand-me-downs.

“Let me tell you about Aggie. When she was a child she was always encouraged to drink her milk because it helped make you grow. It helped your bones, it helped your teeth. Then she had her own children and took all the advice and made sure her boys had plenty of milk to drink. Over the past few months the price of milk has soared. So much so that things in her house have changed. Her sons’ freedom of drinking milk by the glass has been taken away now and is limited. They are now drinking cheap fizzy drinks”.

Blair Green

Blair Green was the final testifier. His was the story of a working dad who is constantly on the edge financially. Growing up extremely poor he vowed to make a better life for himself and his family. But again and again his efforts have been thwarted – beginning with a car that he bought on good faith but began to fall apart at once. And then a house where he was suddenly assessed an extra £400 a month for renovations – payments he could not meet which led eventually to losing the house. He had to move into a decrepit city-funded flat in a building of drug dealers and users. Working up to 70 hours a week he has now managed to find a new flat and stabilize his finances, And now in this uncertain economy, “you’re constantly working under the pressure that your job might be next, your company might be next.”

And despite the stress, he has been concerned about others suffering a similar fate. “I want things to change. I want to make a change for myself and for others. And I’m not stopping until things change.”


The Testimonies had gone on for an hour and a half. It was time to a break. The Commissioners went off to a City Chambers Committee Room to discuss what they had heard and to prepare their response. While the Jiggery Pokery Ceilidh Band played familiar Scottish tunes, the audience filled out pledge cards that they had received when they arrived, completing the statement, “As a result of what I have heard today, I will___. In a few weeks these cards will be mailed back to folk to remind them of their commitment. Large sheets of chart paper had been placed on tables in adjoining rooms and people were invited to write their impressions of what they had thought and felt during the testimonies.

Typical of the hundred or more comments was this: “We’ve been tellt ! – well and truly – can’t say ‘we didn’t know’ any longer. Feel I’ve been hit really hard – what to do? Thanks for the courage and true humanity of those who ‘told their stories’ – was at one pint reduced to tears ! Hope the testifiers are truly listened to not just by those with the power, ‘the decision makers’ but by all of us becoming decision makers. !! The problem of riches...a live issue even at a time of ‘financial depression.’”

For half an hour the audience wrote, walked about and chatted, reflecting on what they had heard. They were summoned back to their seats when some of the audience started singing freedom songs from America and Africa. “Oh freedom, freedom over me. Before I’ll be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free.”

Four Commissioners were chosen by their group to represent them all – Archbishop Mario Conti of the Archdiocese of Glasgow, Glasgow’s Lord Provost, Bob Winter, Chief Detective John Carnochan of the Strathclyde Police’s Violence Reduction Unit, and Janette Harkess, Deputy Editor of The Herald. Each spoke very briefly, voicing appreciation to the Testifiers for being so clear and forthright in representing the issues.

Archbishop Conti described a conference of academics that he had organised several years ago, also held at the City Chambers – an important event that reviewed statistics of poverty in Scotland, at the end of which one conferee remarked on the lack of representation of people from poor communities at the event, saying, “Without these groups bringing forth solutions from within these communities, it would be unlikely that appropriate solutions would emerge.”

Glasgow’s Lord Provost praised the testifiers, calling them competent, capable people with talent and courage, and vowed to work especially to overcome the bureaucratic barriers that prevent Kinship Carers to get governmental help.

Detective John Carnochan said, “We need to make sure that children are nurtured where there is no violence. If you bring children up in a was one you make warriors and that’s what we have...No one is safe until we are all safe.” Then referring to the afternoon’s presentation and discussion he added, “What is happening here today is the right thing to do.”

Janette Harkess said, “These are hard stories to listen to, but not stories of gloom. They re stories of hope.” She ended with reference to the statement of Margaret Thatcher that there is no such thing as society. And added emphatically, “Keep proving her wrong.”

Next, Martin Johnstone, the leader of Faith in Community Scotland that sponsored the afternoon event, reported on the discussion that had taken place when the Commissioners met. They began by acknowledging that they should be meeting with the Testifiers and that they needed to find a way to make that happen. Perhaps the Poverty Truth Commission will become an ongoing organization made up of both the Commissioners and the Testifiers tackling together some of the major issues that the Testifiers raised. The Commissioners fully understood that the full participation of people struggling with poverty is essential to any effective restructuring of society. Top down policies do not work.

This was perhaps the most positive result of the afternoon. Stay tuned.

Friday, 15 May 2009

hello world

Welcome to the blog of the Poverty Truth Commission. Over the next 18 months we will be looking at how we can tackle the causes and symptoms of poverty in Scotland today.
The Poverty Truth Commission was launched in Glasgow City Chambers on the 21st March 2009 in front of an audience of 400 people. At its heart lies the beief that in order to overcome the scandal of poverty, people with direct experience of it must be involved.