The volume was definitely turned up to the maximum on Saturday 21st June as a packed Woodside Halls in Glasgow heard some truths about poverty. An audience of over 450 witnessed a stunning performance of comedy, drama, song, film, and conversation which, through showcasing personal experiences, revealed some shocking injustices and harsh realities of lives lived in poverty in 21st century Scotland.
The event was organised to showcase the Poverty Truth Commission's work over the last 18 months, marking the closing of the current commission and the beginning of a new one. The Commission draws together people with experience of poverty and key decision makers in Scotland and has focused its work on a range of issues. These include food poverty, tackling the costs of being poor, welfare reform, in-work poverty, kinship care and the stigma faced by those in poverty.
A short video telling the Story of the Commission kicked off the proceedings. What then followed were powerful personal testimonies. Such was the effect on the crowd, many were laughing at the humour in the performances one minute, only to find themselves a short time later close to tears and angry at the stigma and unjust situations faced by many. Hard-hitting stories of unfair sanctions were coupled with the humiliation of going to a food bank. There was outrage that, in a rich society such as Scotland, many still have to go without in order to feed their children, or have to choose between eating or heating.
The spotlight was shown on the experience of a young woman going through the asylum process. She explained how she had felt dirty and humiliated, as was met by a culture of disbelief at every turn, whilst routinely threatened with deportation to a country in which she knew she would suffer grave violence.
The senselessness of people on the lowest incomes often having to pay more for food, fuel and financial services acutely highlighted how many are trapped in poverty. The Commission showed how low wages, combined with employers inflexible to the demands of childcare, meant work is not a route of poverty for many.
These hard-hitting realities were often portrayed in creative ways. Using hip hop, a young woman spoke of her experience and her dismay at the inequalities she saw throughout Glasgow. ‘No Ball Games’ was a touching and clever film showing how poverty and the surrounding environment can stifle a persons need to express themselves.
A Call for Action
This event, however, was not merely designed to raise awareness of the unjust suffering of others. It was also a call for action.
A call for everyone in a position of power in Scotland to enable those with experience of poverty to have their voices heard, to give them a seat at the decision making table. It was a call for everyone to write to their energy companies, to demand better treatment of those on low incomes.
It was a call for all of us to stand up and say foodbanks are not the answer. Yes, we must ensure nobody is going hungry tonight in Scotland, but we must also focus our energies on tackling the causes of food poverty, so we do not have foodbanks tomorrow.
In addition, what emerged from the stories just as clearly as the injustices, was the real sense of resilience and determination of the individuals to keep striving for a better life for them and their children. Many highlighted the strength they had drawn from volunteering with organisations such as the Poverty Truth Commission, Bridging the Gap and the Scottish Refugee Council. Groups which managed to see past the label we often too readily put on people living in poverty.
Passing the Baton
After the work of the previous commission was presented the baton was passed to the new commissioners. Karyn McCluskey of the Violence Reduction Unit, speaking on behalf of the new batch, admitted she was left humbled and very much affected by the sheer strength of the performances. She was joined on stage by a host of other new commissioners, including Jackie Baillie MSP (Labour), Bob Doris MSP (Scottish National Party), Ross Finnie (Liberal Democrats), Margaret Lynch (Citizens Advice Scotland), Jim McCormick (Joseph Rowntree Foundation) and Most Rev Philip Tartaglia (Archbishop of Glasgow).
Nothing About Us, Without Us, is For Us