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.
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.
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 email@example.com #TurnItUp2014