In November the Commission’s secretary Martin Johnstone, along with Ian Galloway, the convenor of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, wrote to Chancellor George Osborne inviting him to meet with the Poverty Truth Commission, so that he could hear firsthand about the stories and struggles of surviving in poverty.
Now, a number of the Commissioners have also written to Mr Osborne asking him to come and meet with the commission and as well as visiting the communities of some of our members where he might hear the stories wisdom and insight at first hand of those living in poverty.
The sending of these letters has been featured in two articles in today’s Herald (Chancellor is challenged to visit Scotland’s deprived communities and Listen, Mr Osborne).
Chancellor is Challenged to visit Scotland's deprived communities
Poverty campaigners in Scotland have challenged the Chancellor to visit Glasgow to hear first-hand accounts from people living in deprived communities.
Members of Scotland’s Poverty Truth Commission have written to George Osborne, in a bid to challenge the misinformation they say has characterised the welfare reform debate.
The commission, which includes representatives of the Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church, the police, and the voluntary sector, was set up to bring together community leaders and people living in poverty to find solutions to hardship.
Founding commissioners include three former moderators of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Bishop of Glasgow Mario Conti and Lord Wallace of Tankerness.
Rev Dr Martin Johnstone, commission chairman, said too many statements from Government treated people on benefits as if they were all the same.
“At the spending review, the Chancellor spoke about £6 billion being lost through benefit fraud, when the real figure is £1.8bn and the rest is down to overpayments,” he said.
“You end up blaming a group of people who are not homogenous. It doesn’t do any good – that group of people could be part of the solution, not part of the problem.” Letters have also gone from representatives of poor communities.
Commissioners hope that if he can be persuaded to visit, Mr Osborne may change his perspective on poverty, as his colleague Iain Duncan Smith did after a visit to Easterhouse.
Listen, Mr Osborne
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has been challenged to come to Scotland and meet people living in deprived communities, in a bid to tackle what campaigners say are stereotyped attitudes promoted by the Coalition Government.
Members of Scotland’s Poverty Truth Commission have written a series of personal letters which will be sent to George Osborne this week. The commission was set up to fight for people in some of the country’s poorest communities, and has been meeting regularly since March 2009.
It is backed by the Church of Scotland and Faith in Community Scotland, and includes representatives from the Catholic Church, the police, academia and the House of Lords.
One of Scotland’s most senior ministers, the Rev Ian Galloway, convener of the Kirk’s Church and Society Council, has already written calling for the Chancellor to follow the example of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, who famously revised his views on poverty after visiting Easterhouse in Glasgow.
Mr Galloway wrote: “Sometimes it is hard to understand something that you have never experienced yourself. This is why we have invited the Chancellor to hear first-hand the stories of struggle and survival.”
Letters will also reach 11 Downing Street this week from two of the Kirk’s former moderators – Dr Alison Elliot, now chair of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, and the Very Rev Dr David Lunan – as well as Poverty Truth Commission chairman the Rev Dr Martin Johnstone. A number of people from communities affected by poverty have also called on the Chancellor to make time to meet with them.
Those behind the initiative say they want to challenge representations of the jobless as feckless and unwilling to work, or as fraudsters.
Another letter due to reach the Chancellor this week, from Anne Marie Peffer of the Frank Buttle Trust, says: “There is a real feeling amongst those living in poverty that their views are not actually sought in the first place, and where there is opportunity to speak those views are ignored.
“There is now alarm and distress that the Government itself is buying into the view that people on benefits are workshy, lazy and happy to cheat their way to a better income. “I would urge you to come to Scotland and attend a meeting of the Commission.”
Dr Lunan has written: “This is not a politically motivated exercise.
“I know you and the Prime Minister want the Government’s policies to be seen in the light of us ‘all being in this together’, and it is in this spirit that this invitation is being made.”
Single mum Ghazala Hakeem, from Govanhill in Glasgow, is among the people who have testified to the Commission about poverty. She has also written a letter to the Chancellor.
She said she was alarmed by some of the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform. “I am not a scrounger,” she says. “I am not too lazy to work. I am not a benefit fraud.”
Instead, she says, she is a single parent who has been a victim of domestic violence – and who cannot find a job that would pay enough to allow her to come off benefits.
She said she would like to explain in person the efforts she had made and the costs involved in being a working parent.
“I would like Mr Osborne to listen to us so he gets the actual feeling of what it is like to be in our situation. People like me feel insignificant, as if we are not part of society. We are not a partner in the discussion – we are viewed as a problem.”
Dr Johnstone said members of the original commission had found that talking to people facing poverty in their own communities had been eye-opening.
“It changed their ideas,” he said. “We know visiting Easterhouse had a very significant impact on Iain Duncan Smith’s attitudes.
“There are some good bits of the welfare reform bill, and they came about as a result of that.
“We believe a movement to tackle poverty will not succeed until it is people in poverty who take the lead.”
Nobody from the Treasury was available to comment.
‘People who are working are living like this’
Blair Green, from Drumchapel in Glasgow, defies the stereotype of a victim of poverty. He doesn’t claim benefits and has always tried to work.
Yet in his letter to Chancellor George Osborne, he says: “I have struggled to survive my whole life.”
Mr Green, pictured left, was brought up by his mother. His family was reliant on clothing grants and charity shops, but he says he was determined to “do better”.
He studied horticulture at college, but had to drop out to work to help his mother.
He bought a flat, moved into it with his partner Diane, and started a family. He was working and getting by – until he took on a bad finance deal to buy a car.
The family lost their house and ended up living next to drug dealers in a decrepit council house.
Now he is back on his feet, but still works an average 70-hour week to make ends meet.
“I would ask you to meet either with myself or with the Poverty Truth Commission, to hopefully change the way you see people who have to work hard to feed themselves and their kids on benefits,” he wrote to Mr Osborne. “People who are working are also living in poverty.
“Policies like welfare reform can be very destructive if they are created by people who have no idea what the situation is like on the ground.”