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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Martin Johnstone is secretary of Scotland’s Poverty Truth Commission.