Friday, 23 May 2014

The Poor are Lazy? We are the Lazy Ones more like...

You probably have heard some friends and family say it. I am sure you have read politicians and journalists say it. You might even have said it yourself: 

“People are poor because they are lazy.”

I have heard it countless times, sometimes from people I consider to be good friends. So why do I not accept it as true?

I don’t believe it because I have listened to the experiences of many people living in poverty in Glasgow. Through working with the Poverty Truth Commission, I have met people who are resilient and intelligent, very active in their community, yet, because of factors out-with their control, have been trapped by poverty.

I have heard of people forced to accept a minimum wage job where half of their wage is immediately lost on childcare and travel. I have heard of unpredictable incomes due to being on zero hours contracts, with workers turning up for a shift only to be told “not today”. I have heard of people being sanctioned unfairly and of the mental anguish of undergoing the undignified Work Capability Assessment.

I have learned how these factors can prevent saving and instead create a day by day existence, forcing people to pay extra for goods and services, further trapping them in poverty.

I don’t mean to sanctify these individuals or hold them aloft as superior. They are still human beings after all, with strengths and weaknesses just like you and me and everyone else.

Yet, as a society we often appear to show our own collective weakness in failing to treat them as equal members of our communities. We claim to understand their lives but how can we justify this when we don’t actually take the time to listen to them? It seems to me that it is us as a society who is being lazy here.

The Poverty Truth Commission seeks to challenge this laziness by enabling the voices of people in poverty to be heard by those in power.

On Saturday 21, June at the Woodside Halls in Glasgow the Commission will be doing this by Turning Up the Volume on Poverty. The Commission is inviting the great and the good from Glasgow, and across Scotland. They are being asked along, however, primarily to listen.

Through music, drama, poetry, comedy, interview and film, they will be presented with the findings of the Commission over the last two years. However, the PTC will not just be presenting problems. It will also be making proposals about some of the changes we know need to happen. The afternoon will be entertaining – the topic is anything but.

If you are willing to take the time to listen to those in poverty then we would love to have you along to our event in June.

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

Monday, 19 May 2014

A Time to Listen

It is time for some of us just to shut up and listen.
When I was a wee boy my Mum told me that I had two ears and one mouth in order that I could listen twice as much as I should speak. I’ve remembered her advice but not always followed her wisdom.
A great deal of the current independence referendum has been characterised by politicians shouting over one another in a desire to get heard. The sadness is that are we in danger of hosting such a brutal debate that it will be very difficult to come together as a nation on the 19th September whatever the outcome.
Perhaps even more worrying, as the voices of some get louder and louder and the accusations between sides get more and more inflammatory, others are being completely drowned out. Most critically amongst those are many of Scotland’s poorest and most disadvantaged citizens.
I am not suggesting that people are being ignored. As the referendum points to one of the highest turnouts in our history, both the Yes’ and ‘Better Together’ campaigns are vying for everyone’s votes and making all sorts of promises. But that doesn’t mean that those who talk are actually listening. And we all need to listen a lot more.
It was for that reason that Scotland’s Poverty Truth Commission recently wrote to all our MSPs and Scottish MPs inviting them to attend Turning Up the Volume on Poverty this June. This event is for those who want to listen, who want to learn, and who want to build a fairer and more equal Scotland.
The Poverty Truth Commission brings together two groups of people. We include people who occupy significant positions in Scottish society as civic, political, religious, medical, community and academic leaders. We also include refugees, benefit recipients, kinship carers, community activists and folks in low-paid work or unable to find paid employment.
We believe that we stand the best chance of changing things for the better by listening and learning from the real experts – the people who struggle against and overcome the grinding reality of poverty every day. ‘Nothing About Us Without Us is For Us.’
Over the last two years the Commission has been working together to consider some of the things that we know need to change. Our concerns include food poverty, welfare reform, in-work poverty, the additional cost of being poor and the ignominy of being labelled as ‘scroungers and skivers.’ However, we will not just be presenting the problems. We will also be making proposals about some of the changes we know need to happen.  

We want those who are passionate and outspoken on either side of the current independence debate to come and listen. We believe, just for a little while, that it is time to turn down the volume on politicians and turn up the volume on poverty. 

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

Martin Johnstone

Friday, 16 May 2014

‘An Economy for All’ by Turning Up the Volume

It’s time we turned up the volume on the economy and listened to those voices often excluded from the debate.

On June 21, the Poverty Truth Commission will be inviting many distinguished politicians, academics, public service professionals, and journalists to come along. However, instead of being given centre stage, they will be asked primarily to listen to the views on the economy of those with experience of poverty.

Long-term sustainable solutions which benefit the most in society will only be shaped by including those suffering at the hands of our current system.

Why Now?

With the Independence Referendum drawing ever nearer, now more than ever seems the perfect opportunity for us as a society to think about what kind of Scotland we believe we should have. The vote on Thursday 18, September may or may not herald a significant alteration to the constitutional framework, but when we wake up on the Friday morning we will still have shockingly high levels of poverty and inequality in our country.

Figures revealed by the Office for National Statistics showed that the top 1% in Britain had levels of wealth comparable to the poorest 55%. Currently around 870,000 people, 17% of the population, live in poverty in Scotland.

We are not hearing from everyone

The way we organise our economy and society clearly impacts on the standard of living we have and those at the bottom of the ladder financially also have the least power to change their situation.

Despite this, debate on the economy played out in the media is almost exclusively amongst professors, politicians, bankers and journalists. Most, if not all, have substantial experience working and analysing the “field” and are, of course, entitled to their opinion.

However, they are resoundingly drawn from a very privileged social and economic elite and as a group have not nearly been as affected by the austerity regime as those with the lowest incomes.

In addition, their grip on the debate has become almost self-reinforcing as the jargon they often use – ‘amortisation’ to mean paying back a loan is a personal favourite  – serves to put off the vast majority of us, not well versed in the terminology, from expressing an opinion.

This leaves us in a situation where we have rising inequality and decreasing living standards for the poorest in society, yet those who are most effected are excluded in practice from having their say. 

It’s time to hear these voices

The Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) has tried to kick start a proper debate amongst third sector groups in Scotland with its recent paper entitled ‘An Economy for All’. It recognises that rising inequality is bad for everyone, and commendably calls for the economy to be viewed as a means to a greater end, the benefit of our society, and not as an end in itself.

If we are serious about reshaping the economy to benefit society, however, we need to engage with everyone across society to hear about the changes they would like to see.

This means expanding the debate beyond well-meaning charities, to include those who are suffering in silence. Over the past two years the Poverty Truth Commission has started this process by listening to the stories of people with direct experience of poverty.

This has given the Commission a deep understanding of how the economy structurally traps those earning the lowest incomes. Those in poverty often have to pay more for basic goods and services, have lowest levels of job satisfaction, are least likely to receive further training and often have to choose between eating or heating.

The Commission has heard impressive tales of resilience and strength in the face of such adverse circumstances, yet the impact on health and well-being can be significant.

‘Hopeless’ and ‘Relentless’ are often heard when stories are told.


Expanding the debate to include those in poverty will not, of course, produce dramatic changes overnight. However, these individuals are the true experts on their situation and any serious aim of creating an economy to benefit all in society, centred on equality and economic justice, must have their voices at the heart of it.

June Event

On Saturday 21, June at the Woodside Halls in Glasgow, the Poverty Truth Commission will be Turning Up the Volume on the Economy. We will be presenting our findings in music, drama, poetry, comedy, interview and film.

If you believe in an economy for everyone, created through an inclusive debate, then please come along to our event in June. If you are not sure, come along anyway: we will try our best to convince you!

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

Monday, 12 May 2014

Getting to the Truth of Zero Hours Contracts


On Saturday 21, June at Woodside Halls in Glasgow the Poverty Truth Commission will be turning up the volume on zero hour contracts. By placing those with experience of poverty at the centre of the process, the Commission will be getting past the headlines and getting to the heart of this, and many other, important issues.

The Zero Hour Contract Debate

Zero hour contracts have been making the news recently and have surfaced on the political agenda. Just yesterday in fact the Sunday Herald  reported that almost 120,000 Scots are employed using this arrangement, showing a 100% increase from a decade ago.

Trade Unions and others have often spoke out against the use of such schemes, highlighting potential negative consequences on workers such as being left  at the mercy of unscrupulous bosses.

However, others have countered that in certain circumstances they may provide much needed flexibility to both worker and boss.

Truth Behind the Stats and the Politics

Regardless of where you stand on the debate, however, it is crucial to recognise that zero hour contracts are having a major impact on a huge number of families in Scotland, as across the UK.

To properly understand their impact, we need to get to the truth behind the statistics and the politics by listening to those with experience of zero hour contacts. They are the true experts on their situation after all.

The Poverty Truth Commission Findings

Listening to these stories over the past couple of years, the Poverty Truth Commission has heard of remarkable resilience mixed in with feelings of utter “hopelessness” when faced with such uncertainty and frustration.

It seems clear that to move the debate forward to a more sustainable solution, those from all sides of the political spectrum must first listen to these experts’ stories.

Turning Up the Volume on Zero Hour Contracts

Saturday 21, June, therefore, provides a perfect opportunity from everyone across society to hear from these experts. The Commission warmly invites anyone and everyone, from across the various political divides - the left and the right, the rich and the poor, the Yes and the No camps, those in power and those who feel marginalised - to come along and listen. You just might learn something.

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

Friday, 9 May 2014

Tackling the Costs of Being Poor

“I think it’s ridiculous that 2014 people are having to either heat or eat”.
 Marie, Commissioner with the Poverty Truth Commission

We agree with you Marie, it is ridiculous. Yet, this is the stark reality for many across the UK today.
Welfare cuts, zero hour contracts, unscrupulous pay day lenders, a minimum wage not adequate to live on, rising food and fuel prices…. The list goes on and on.
Yet those on the receiving end of these issues which are out with their control, are punished even further through the extra costs they have to pay due to living in poverty.

The Commission
Marie is a commissioner with the Poverty Truth Commission and is part of a working group looking at these Costs of Being Poor. This group, drawn together by the Commission, brings together individuals with experience of poverty as well as leading figures from a range of organisations including the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the NHS, The Big Lottery Fund and the Scottish Government civil service.

Work of the Group
The aim of the group is to use the experience of experts with the power and knowledge of those in influential positions to provide real solutions to some of the barriers faced by those in poverty.

The Costs of Being Poor are also referred to as the poverty penalty or the poverty premium and are the hidden charges people on low incomes often face . The group has identified several key areas, grouped under two headings: fuel poverty and financial inclusion.

The group initially gathered a better understanding of the issue by listening to the experts - those with experience of having to go cold due to insufficient incomes. Those who have had to go hungry so their children do not go without. Those who have had a healthy and nutritious diet denied them due to the unaffordability and inaccessibility of fresh fruit and veg.

Working as a team on a completely level platform, the group then identified key agencies in Glasgow, including the local authority and housing providers, who could make a significant impact on the extra costs they face. The group has then started a dialogue with groups, aiming to ensure those with experience of poverty will have their voices. Only then will real and sustainable changes be made to the lives of those on low incomes.

Turning Up the Volume on Poverty
Using a mixture of drama and presentation, the group will showcase its work at the Woodside Halls, Glasgow on Saturday 21, June as the Commission Turns Up the Volume on Poverty.

Tackling the Costs of Being Poor, however, is just one strand of the work of the Commission as it brings together those with experience of poverty and influential decision makers.

If you are motivated by a desire to tackle the injustices in our society, through a collaborative and participatory model then come along to hear our work as we Turn Up the Volume on Poverty.

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

Monday, 5 May 2014

Kinship Carers Demanding Truth and Justice

‘I became a kinship carer 11 years ago when my wife and I brought our granddaughter home from hospital to care for her in only the clothes she was wrapped in. We had both retired and had no money to fall back on and nobody to help us.’

This is the experience of one kinship carer in Glasgow, but is one shared by many throughout the country. It is a story of relatives making immense sacrifices to protect vulnerable children in their family. It is a story of very little government support and of carers, often grandparents, being pushed into poverty. This is also a story, however, of strength and hope and love.

Kinship Carers are family members, often grandparents, who have become the primary carers because of parental drug or alcohol abuse, neglect or bereavement. Using the official figures of 10,742 kinship children, Kinship Carers are currently saving the government £176 million per year by keeping children out of foster and residential care and with their families where they are happiest.

'Kinship Care works. Without it thousands of children would be facing a much less secure childhood and the State would be facing the enormous expense of caring for those children.'
Anne Marie Peffer, Casework Manager Scotland Buttle UK

Despite this huge saving for the public purse, kinship carers continue to face significant disparities across different local authorities and with other similar carers, such as foster carers.  

In 2007, a motion in the Scottish Parliament - calling for an end to the discrimination between kinship and foster carers – passed unanimously. Despite this, more than five years later, many feel discrimination is still prevalent.

Martin Johnstone, the Poverty Truth Commission’s secretary says, ‘Some progress has been made over the last five years but it is not enough – and it is not nearly quickly enough. We need to move from warm words to real action in order to ensure that this group of children, and their carers, get the support they need and deserve. Kinship Carers need to be listened to and what they have to say needs to be acted upon.’

Standing Up for their Rights

However, despite the tremendous challenges many face, not least financial, scores of kinship carers have refused to lie down quietly and have their case for justice and equality ignored. Instead in Scotland, as in elsewhere, many carers have decided they need to be listened to and have their voices heard.

On April 15, 2013 the Scottish Kinship Care Alliance was officially launched. This brought together a tremendously talented team of tireless campaigners from many different parts of Scotland.

The Alliance has led a passionate and vocal campaign around the Children and Young People’s Bill and continues to be involved in the negotiations as it has some grave concerns regarding the legislation. High on the priority list is the current provisions for only three years ‘transitional support’ which will leave many still in poverty and struggling to get by and could also, more importantly, see the withdrawal of crucial psychological support for kids. Anne Swartz, chair of the Alliance, recently outlined to The Guardian her concerns about the bill.

The Poverty Truth Commission was honoured to be a supporting partner at the Alliance’s launch. The Commission recognises that kinship carers are the experts on their situation and must have their voices heard. A true insight into the barriers kinship carers face to get the necessary financial and non-financial assistance for the kids in their care cannot be gained, the Commission believes, unless carers are given the correct platform to tell their stories.

Turning Up the Volume on Poverty

On Saturday 21, June at the Woodside Halls in Glasgow,  the Poverty Truth Commission will be Turning Up the Volume on Poverty. On the agenda will be an appreciation of the tireless work of kinship carers in Glasgow and their ongoing struggle for truth and justice.

If you realise the importance of this struggle then please visit the Scottish Kinship Care Alliance website and show your support. To see how the Commission is Turning Up the Volume on Poverty by placing those with experience at the heart of the decision making process then please come long to our event in June.

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

Friday, 2 May 2014

“You’ve got a voice, use it!”

So says community activist Caroline Mockford speaking at the Poverty Alliance’s Poverty Assembly. Caroline was highlighting her successful campaign to make the NHS 24 number free to call from mobiles and landlines.

Caroline used her own example to highlight the need for the change in legislation. In 2008 she was changed £8 for a call she made to NHS 24.

On the back of this, she launched a petition to have the number made free and, with the help of the Poverty Alliance, the costs were successfully challenged. Now, it is completely free to phone NHS 24 on 111, when calling from either a landline or mobile.

As Caroline correctly identifies, this extra charge penalised those on low incomes as many do not have a landline and were required to use a mobile, thus paying higher rates.
This is one of numerous hidden extra charges which those on low incomes have to pay. 

These costs are often referred to as the poverty penalty or the poverty premium and are little discussed in the national media, but are the everyday reality for many across the country.

Those with Experience are the Experts

Caroline’s story is testament to the ability of individuals to challenge the system and achieve clear results. However, her story also reveals that the solutions for tackling poverty do not lie just in the minds of our key decision makers and elected officials. 

Instead, she shows that those with experience of poverty are experts on their situation and must be included in the decision making process.

Working Together

Caroline, like other commissioners with the Poverty Truth Commission, has a deep insight into the costs of being poor as she has lived experience of the struggles dealing with them, such as paying higher energy tariffs for a pre-payment meter.

The extra costs of being poor is one of a number of issues being addressed by the Poverty Truth Commission. The Commission seeks to bring together those experts with important decision makers to work together in creating long-term solutions to poverty.

Turning Up the Volume on Poverty

On Saturday 21, June the Poverty Truth Commission will be celebrating the fantastic work of our commissioners such as Caroline. If you’re interested in seeing how their great ideas can be combined with the power and passion of influential individuals across Scottish society then please come along.

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