Monday, 28 April 2014

What’s the Poverty Truth Commission? Well, let its commissioners explain

“I think in an environment where people feel they count for nothing the Poverty Truth Commission gives people a voice, to make them feel they are worth something”

Tricia, Commissioner with the Poverty Truth Commission

On Saturday 21, June, from 2pm until 4:30pm, at the Woodside Hall in Glasgow, the Poverty Truth Commission will be Turning up the Volume on Poverty. It will be a fantastic opportunity to listen to, and understand, an inclusive model for addressing poverty, which places those from marginalised communities at its heart.

However, to first get a real flavour of the Commission and how it works, you should look no further than those individuals at the core of the organisation: the commissioners. 

These are folk with experience of poverty and social exclusion, and earlier today I had a wee chat with four of them, Cathy, Darren, Tricia and Marie, to find out more.

When asked why they had joined the commission, all four expressed the idea of speaking up for those who feel marginalised and ignored by the mainstream.

“I believe the Poverty Truth gets to the grassroots of poverty and also they help others irrespective of what the other people do for a living”. Cathy

The commissioners also spoke honestly and frankly of how the work has effected them personally. Darren said it had had a strong effect on him:

“It has been a real empowering process. Very hard, don’t get me wrong, very hard, but at the same time I understand my poverty a lot more, which was never there previous.”

The conversation concluded by turning to the event in June and the future of the commission. All four were clear that the message of the Poverty Truth Commission is needed to be heard by everyone across society. Marie said it wasn’t just for those in power but:

“the people that are struggling, I want to hear the message, so that they can grow stronger, to have a voice…to give them strength, to keep fighting”

If you are passionate about tackling poverty and want to hear real insights from those with experience then come along in June as we aim to Turn Up the Volume on Poverty.

To register at this free event click here; call 0141 248 2911; or email #TurnItUp2014

Friday, 25 April 2014

The Poverty Truth Commission Model for Addressing Poverty.

On Saturday 21, June, from 2pm until 4:30pm, at the Woodside Hall in Glasgow, the Poverty Truth Commission will be Turning up the Volume on Poverty. It will be a fantastic opportunity to listen to, and understand, an inclusive model for addressing poverty, which places those from marginalised communities at its heart.

An event in June, the run-up to the referendum in September, poses a great chance for everyone across Scotland to ask themselves what kind of society they would like to see and realise, regardless of the constitutional framework.

The referendum debate so far has seen many politicians and representatives from both sides trade blows on a few specific issues, claiming to have the best interests of the population at heart.  What these important individuals appear to have done little of, however, is take the time to sit back and listen to the people they are claiming to speak for.

The Poverty Truth Commission’s model of working, on the other hand, places this listening process at its centre, recognising it as the foundation for the creation of a sustainable anti-poverty strategy.

The Commission draws together people from many different walks of life across Scottish society who might not normally have the chance to meet and discuss issues important to them. It aims to build bridges and make connections to ensure those with experience of poverty have their voices heard and are listened to properly. Those invited to work with the PTC, known as commissioners, are drawn both from these communities and from those deemed to be key decision makers in Scotland.

The focus of the Commission is then shaped by the conversations which take place within this special group of people. However, this is not merely a talking shop. Instead, it generates a clear path forward, combining the power and insights of the stories of those with experience, with the connections and reach of those well placed in society.

The Commission’s journey over the last two years has seen it tackle a range of different issues which affect those on low incomes, including the welfare reforms, sanctions, the costs of being poor, stigma, food poverty and in-work poverty. This work has seen our commissioners hold serious and frank dialogues and discussions with politicians at local and national level, speak at conferences, participate in local authority decision making processes, engage with the media, and develop partnerships with other third sector organisations.

The strength at the core of the Commission is the close relationship which develops between commissioners. When these individuals come together, the formalities and titles often evident at meetings are left at the door, as the conversations place everyone on an equal footing and level of importance. It is this recognition of the inherent expertise of all which is the bedrock of the Commission’s approach.

In June, we will have assembled a new round of commissioners who will generate a fresh range of issues which they believe to be most pertinent. We very much hope that the work of the Commission is of interest to you. If you think it is, then why not come along in June as we report back on our work and look forward with anticipation to the future.

To register at this free event click here; call 0141 248 2911; or email #TurnItUp2014

Monday, 21 April 2014

Mutual Mentoring: Tackling Poverty through Partnership

"If people don't live with poverty it is hard to explain it to people.”

This was the reflection of Alison from the Scottish Government civil service, talking about her experiences as part of a Mutual Mentoring Scheme with the Poverty Truth Commission (PTC). The project was envisioned as a process of reciprocal learning between the Commission and Scottish Government Civil Servants and is part of the PTCs process of bringing those with experience of poverty to the heart of the decision making process. 

The Commission’s innovative approach to tackling poverty, centred on mutual understanding and respect, will be showcased at Woodside Halls, on June 21, as it seeks to Turn Up the Volume on Poverty. #TurnItUp2014.

Changing Views through Conversation

“You don’t actually meet someone just by being in the same room as them…
Being introduced made all the difference.”

The Mentoring Scheme saw five people with local knowledge and experience of poverty paired with five Scottish Government Civil Servants. Meetings alternated between government buildings and the communities within which those with a direct experience of poverty live. This allowed for all participants to share their environment and also venture out from their usual setting. Over a six month period those with a direct experience of poverty met with their paired Civil Servant six times, approximately once a month.

Through this structure there was a strong emphasis on sharing of experiences and perspectives through two way communication. This resulted in new insights gained by the participants into the lives of a group of people they are otherwise unlikely to meet. Reflecting on her views of decision makers prior to the mentoring scheme, community activist Ghazala said:

"I thought civil servants were removed from the issues that affect people.”

However, through mentoring Fergus from the Scottish Government’s Health Improvement Division, she has developed a far greater appreciation of the work and constraints placed on civil servants. Her mutual mentor echoed positive reflections of the process.

“There is a lot of untapped potential out there that is being bypassed. I think this will help my team when we look at how we might best implement health policy, especially in areas like Govanhill. I will continue to meet with Ghazala, if she is willing, perhaps even after this scheme has concluded."

Positive Change Going Forward

The mentoring scheme is part of the Commission’s wider aim to not only change the decision making culture in Scotland but to ensure this effects positive outcomes for people living in poverty. It is based on mutual understanding and the notion that those with experience of poverty should be part of the solution, and not viewed negatively as being part of the problem.

‘Nothing About Us Without Us if For Us’

The Poverty Truth Commission was set up  on the basis that those living in poverty are the true experts on their situation and that poverty will not be properly addressed until those with direct experience are involved in the decision making process. Just as the struggle for civil rights in America required a movement led and articulated by African Americans, and the campaign for gender equality has been shaped by women, so the campaign to eradicate poverty must have an inclusive movement centred on the real experts.

If you are passionate about tackling poverty and want to learn more about the Commission’s approach and work then come along in June. To register at this free event click here; call 0141 248 2911; or email #TurnItUp2014

Friday, 18 April 2014

Want to address food poverty? It’s time we involved the true experts.

Food poverty and emergency food provision has hit the headlines again recently, with the Trussel Trust claiming it handed out almost a million food parcels in the past year across the UK. Individuals across society, including charity spokesmen, religious leaders, elected officials, and many in our communities have stated their shock at the presence of food poverty in a country as wealthy as Scotland. There has been much debate as to their causes, with some highlighting the UK Government’s welfare changes, especially the tougher conditions around sanctions. However, without including the experiences of those suffering food poverty, these statistics and accusations merely illuminate part of the issue and do not provide any sustainable long term answers on their own.

The Poverty Truth Commission believes that in order to reduce and eradicate food poverty in Scotland, those with the experience need to be listened to by decision makers. The Commission has developed a working model which seeks to bring these two groups together, based on shared understanding and expertise, in order to make decisions in partnership. The model is based on mutual respect, with the stories of our commissioners at its heart. John’s story is one such example:

Benefits are not adequate to meet basic needs. I am not living on benefits but struggling to survive on them, and with the introduction of the “bedroom tax”, I have less to spend on even the basics like milk and bread, let alone healthy fruit and vegetables.

I am in receipt of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) as I have a chronic illness. I receive a reduction of £6.00 a week on my bedroom tax, but in order to meet the shortfall I often only eat toast 2 days a week. Last week I felt I was being penalised for being poor and disabled when I had to pay £10 for a doctor’s letter. It was money I did not have, so it had to come out of my food budget. Foodbanks were not an option for me, as many can only be accessed through Social Work Services, and if I don’t have money to buy food how would I find the money to travel to them. There is also the stigma attached to them. I would be ashamed if my family found out I was using them. Foodbanks are “modern malnutrition.”

I want to feed my family a healthy diet, but rising food costs prevent me from doing so. I can buy 20 sausage rolls for the price of 1 melon, or 5 packets of biscuits for the price of a loaf of bread. The unseen costs of cooking meals are also a barrier I face. I have a prepayment meter. It costs me £4.00 to cook a chicken in the oven, so instead I opt for unhealthy ready meal chicken dinners, which only cost 12p to cook in a microwave.

Accessibility to food is also a barrier to those on benefits. Small local shops both urban and rural, sell poor quality expensive and short life foodstuffs, yet in order to access large supermarkets with high quality, cheaper products, it often costs 7% of your food budget, so it is not a viable option

Reading through this story, it appears that John has suffered clear injustices and that radical re-thinking of policy and practice is needed. However, his story also captures the complexity of the situation and how at every turn there appears a new barrier for those on low incomes, with connections often missed by decision makers.

The most important detail which emerges, however, is the fact that John, far from being a poor decision maker, is actually demonstrating a tremendous resilience in the face of adversity. A resilience many would struggle to find, if placed in a similarly relentless situation.

In order to move the focus beyond just the creation of food banks to fire fight the rising demand of food poverty, we badly need to recognise this expertise and strength of the individuals involved. This does not mean to merely encourage people to carry on in the face of adversity. Rather, it should be at the centre of a new approach which places those with experience at the heart of the decision making process, working alongside key decision makers.

On June 21, in Glasgow's Woodside Halls, the Poverty Truth Commission will demonstrate the successes of this approach. If you’re interested in new models, founded in common sense and expertise and working together, and which achieve clear success, then come along.

To book your free place at this event click here; call 0141 248 2911; or e-mail                                                                        


Monday, 14 April 2014

It’s Time to Turn Up the Volume on Poverty!

I have no doubt that on both sides of the referendum debate there are people who are passionate about the need to end poverty in this fabulously wealthy country of ours. Indeed, I know some of them and count them as my friends. But the voices of the hundreds of thousands of people who are struggling against poverty remain overwhelmingly absent from the debate. Both sides compete for their vote but neither side seems particularly attuned to listening to their experiences.

When I listen to these experiences – when I listen to people like Darren, Caroline, Jean, Diane, Moira, Aimee and Cathy – I am filled with both rage and hope.

I am angry at the way that people I know and care about are being treated in job centres, in the papers, by politicians, in the pub, in the church, in shopping centres, in gossip around meal tables.

I am angry at the lies that are being told about them. ‘They don’t care about their kids.’ ‘They don’t want to work.’ ‘They are just here to take our jobs and use our Health Service.’ I am angry because if people say something about us often enough we start to believe it. I am angry because it is such a waste of talent – a talent that we can’t afford to be without. I am angry because some of the people that get talked about are my friends and I know that what is getting said just isn’t accurate.

However, I am also hopeful. I am hopeful because I see parents who have had horrible childhoods determined that things will be better for their kids. I am hopeful because I see the determination of people to find work. I am inspired by the asylum seekers and refugees who want to make such a positive contribution to our wee country. I am hopeful because people refuse to buckle to vile prejudice and uninformed myth.

On the 21st June, in Glasgow’s Woodside Halls, Scotland’s Poverty Truth Commission will be sharing its findings from the last two years as well as setting out our plans and membership for the next 18 months. These are 18 months which will reshape Scotland regardless of what happens in the referendum vote. We are passionate that Scotland’s poorest citizens need to be much more effectively represented amongst the decision makers who will shape that future.

The Commission is a combination of people who experience the struggle against poverty on a daily basis and those who occupy powerful and key positions in the life of Scotland. We are government officials, kinship carers, faith leaders, foodbank users, police officers, parents, think-tank advisers and community activists. Whilst other Commissions gather evidence and make recommendations, the Poverty Truth Commission seeks to be the evidence that a better, fairer and more equal Scotland is possible.

Some of what we say will make you angry. Most of what we say will make you hopeful. We would invite you to come and take part in an afternoon of laughter and tears, of pathos and performance.

We would invite you to come and turn up the volume on poverty! 

To book your free place at this event click here; call 0141 248 2911; or e-mail                                                                        


Martin Johnstone

Martin Johnstone is secretary of Scotland’s Poverty Truth Commission.