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 ...as 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.”