Monday, 16 December 2013

Reflections from Lynn

Reflections from Lynn Hendry (Commissioner)
12th December 2013
Christmas is a time for community spirit and generosity.

This year that bond has been made even more acute with happenings in Glasgow at the Clutha Vaults and the loss of Nelson Mandela.

People young and old and from varying backgrounds have come together to express their support for those they see as less fortunate than themselves.  Their desire to do something good for their fellow man made so much more acute by the festive spirit that grows across the city.

But at this time a life in poverty becomes much more acute.

I’d like to share with you my personal reflections of a year working with the Poverty Truth Commission.

In my meetings with the other commissioners I’m always struck by their desire to improve the lives of others – really against the odds.

Since becoming involved I’ve begun to understand that not only can your life be turned around overnight, but that once you are living in poverty there are actually structural and institutional barriers that keep you there.

It’s astonishing that commissioners whose income is around a fifth of mine are paying twice as much for their electricity and gas because they are forced to use a card meter and can’t negotiate for a better tariff.

It’s heartbreaking that when my child is sick I don’t think twice about calling NHS 24, while others have to work out whether they can afford to make the call. Why? Well that free-call service comes with a cost when you have to use a mobile phone to make the call as you don’t have a bank account to secure a landline contract.

And I leave meetings with a heavy heart as I’m told of families who visit shopping malls not to shop, but for warmth as they can’t afford to heat their homes.

It is tough. But, as my fellow commissioners have made clear to me…change is possible

It is too easy to blame others, but that is pointless and counterproductive; we all share the responsibility of tackling child poverty and to do so effectively we need to work collaboratively – with a focus on the long-term.

We must tackle poverty and disadvantage at its roots with sustained action.

And we need to work together.

Child poverty is a bigger issue than any political party, any politician or indeed any one organisation. We need a poverty reduction strategy that we all buy into and commit to over the long-term.

The commitment to end child poverty by 2020 across all political parties is not enough - it needs to be a commitment by all local authorities but also all agencies of government. Health, education, enterprise, public, private and charities - it’s not someone else’s problem its everyone’s problem. 

Children are not a private problem. They are a public responsibility.

We need to ensure benefits are adequate not just as a safety net but so families can improve themselves, get healthy, get new skills. The benefits system should be a service which leaves you healthier, stronger and more confident, not the opposite…

I believe Mohammad Yunus when he said in his noble peace prize speech that poverty isn’t a natural consequence of the human condition and that if we expect nothing to change then nothing much will.

To me changing the face of poverty in Scotland is about galvanising a collective will for change and that journey begins with a lifting of the scales from the eyes of those who would blame families for living a life less well. There are no deserving and undeserving poor – just people who find themselves locked in a cycle of living day to day, hand to mouth.

But we can all be part of that change.

So let’s take the same generosity and hunger for change we see at Christmas and make it a lifelong gift, not one that is left unwrapped when the tinsel falls.