"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 firstname.lastname@example.org #TurnItUp2014