Tuesday, 26 August 2014

First Meeting of our New Commission

Friday 22 August saw the first meeting of our new Poverty Truth Commission.  

Why did you come today?
  • To meet the new Commissioners and see how we can build on the work of the previous Commission.
  • To fully understand why poverty still exists in the 21st Century
  • I’ve been affected by poverty and I know several people in poverty, working and not.  I hope I can contribute and to make a difference.
  • A wider circle, imaginative ideas, some sense of application.
  • I am driven in my every day work to improve how education can reduce the impact of poverty, but I need a broad perspective to do this.

We got to know each other, shared our initial thoughts and experiences and found it hard to stop talking.  A truthful, exciting, hopeful and inspiring place to be.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Food Poverty – it’s time to get angry.

The growing number of people in our country who are going hungry has been something which has shocked and out-raged many of us over recent times. This week the Scottish Government gave out an additional £500,000 through its Emergency Food Fund. But this money, although welcome, will not stem the rising tide of hunger and human misery. There will be those who will argue that all will be resolved following the outcome of the Referendum but the problems which exist this month will still be here at the end of next month. Neither a change of nationhood nor a change of government will suffice. What we need is a profound change of attitude.

http://abundanceoxford.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/foodpovertydefinition.jpgI increasingly long for a growing sense of outrage that this is happening in our country – one of the richest in the world. One of the ways we generate that outrage is when the real stories of real people are told. It is on this basis that I am sharing – in full – the contents of a recent newsletter that I received from Bridging the Gap (a great organisation based in the Gorbals) thanking those who support its destitution cupboard.

Read it and be encouraged at the extraordinary resilience of incredible people. Read it and be thankful that organisations like Bridging the Gap do the amazing work that they do. But above all, read it and be outraged. And then turn that outrage into action. Volunteer. Write. Campaign. Tell your neighbours. Seek out the hungry. Hear their story. Become their friend.

News from the Bridging the Gap Destitution Food Cupboard August 2014

It’s been a while since we have updated those who support our food cupboard on what’s been happening. I’d love to say that this is because we’ve not been giving out food but sadly this is not the case. Most of those whom we see regularly are asylum-seekers who are not currently receiving any Government support. Often their cases are complicated and so difficult to process. We also see a number of people affected by welfare reform.

 Just today we have seen four people and perhaps describing this morning is a good way to give you an insight into how your support helps others. Names and exact circumstances of people have been changed.

First in today was Katy whom we had not met before. Her Jobseekers Allowance had been sanctioned leaving her destitute for several weeks. This was because her son had taken seriously ill and been admitted to hospital. She missed her signing-on appointment because she was looking after her grand-children. In the shock of what had happened she had forgotten to ask the DWP for permission to alter her signing time. She was clearly mortified at having to come for food and had come a long way to reach us. We hope she might come and join us at BIG Thursdays as she is very isolated where she is staying.

Next in was Mark, a smart young man who has been staying in supported accommodation. It was also his first visit to us and he had also been sanctioned by the DWP. He has just been given a flat and his money will start again next week. In the meantime he had no way of buying food. He is clearly looking forward to his fresh start. He kept saying how great it is that there are places in the city to help people like him. He may come back next week or we may never see him again.

http://www.duncanlewis.co.uk/images_newarticles/Immigration.jpgThird to come was Mary, an elderly African woman who has been waiting a long time for a decision in her asylum case. She currently gets no support from the Government. The system for allocating support is becoming increasingly inefficient with people waiting weeks and sometimes months for a decision on their support alone. During this time they are destitute without permission to work. Often they are homeless too, depending on the kindness of friends. This makes women in particular very vulnerable.

The fourth person brought good news. We had met Richard a year ago when he had become destitute for a period after he lost his job and home due to addiction issues. Through coming to us for food he started to come to our BIG Thursdays drop-in where he http://goodvibeblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/new-job.pngquickly became part of the volunteer team. He was offered a really good job in June and popped in to see us as he is currently on leave. He wanted us to know that he has never forgotten how it felt to have to come for us to food and how much he’d appreciated our time with us. It was great to see him looking so well.

Finally, earlier this week Grant came in to see about volunteering with Bridging the Gap. He had come to us for a food bag a year ago when he was also sanctioned by the DWP. His situation has improved and he thought we would be a good place to come to continue to build his confidence.

Your gift to the Bridging the Gap Destitution Food Cupboard whether it’s in bags of groceries or a regular financial donation really does make a difference to the people who come for help. We’re looking forward to the day when the cupboard is no longer necessary because people no longer go hungry in our city of Glasgow.

Martin Johnstone


Monday, 11 August 2014

Battling with Bias

Some people are poor because they spend money on cigarettes. Some people are poor because they spend money on alcohol. Some people are poor because they spend all day watching television, rather than going out to work.


Well, I’m not convinced.

Sure, there are people living in poverty who smoke and there are people living in poverty who drink. There are people living in poverty who spend time watching television. I have yet; however, to meet a single person who is poor BECAUSE they smoke, drink or watch daytime television.

Poverty is multifaceted and complex. Systems and circumstances beat people down and tie them to the unrelenting cycle that is poverty.

Before I began working with the Poverty Truth Commission, I found it relatively easy to make unfair judgements. I’m sure I still make unfair judgements. I applied for the role because I was passionate about helping those who really needed help but was sure there were plenty people out there who just really needed to help themselves. I cringe now. What I was saying is that there is a deserving poor and an undeserving poor.

For me, one of the most powerful messages of the Poverty Truth Commission is that we cannot make judgements or decisions about people’s lives without really getting to know people with first-hand experience of the situation. I’ve been privileged in that my role has allowed me to get to know people experiencing poverty: to spend time with them on the good days and the bad; to be the first person they speak to when, already struggling, they have received news their benefits will be cut; to sit down for a good old catch up over a cup of tea.

This insight, and more importantly the people I have met, has challenged my biases. People experiencing poverty aren’t scroungers. Many categorically refuse to visit a Food Bank; it is preferable to go many days without eating. They aren’t lazy.  It is saddening the number of people I have met whose health (or more accurately, ill health) has meant they are genuinely currently unable to work.

Some people are poor despite being hard working. Some people are poor despite positively contributing to society. Some people are poor despite being kind hearted and generous.

Yes, there are people who make unfortunate choices but we cannot blame people living in poverty. The statements I opened with (about people living in poverty smoking, drinking and watching television) are fictional, based largely on media portrayals. The later statements (about people in poverty being hard working and kind hearted) are factual, based on real people who have generously shared their stories with me.

The reality I have seen is that people living in poverty go out to work every day despite being paid minimum wage on insecure contracts with no holiday entitlement or pension package. They volunteer whilst looking for paid employment. They are unable to work because they are caring for their grandchildren whose parents are unable to do so.

Next time you are ready to pass judgement, I challenge you: think about someone you actually know in the situation and ask yourself “does my conclusion match their reality?” If it doesn’t, the chances are it doesn’t apply more broadly either. If you cannot think of anyone in the situation, perhaps ask yourself “am I really in a position to pass judgement?”

Siobhan Murray

Administration and Communications Assistant, The Poverty Truth Commission

Monday, 4 August 2014

Poverty and the NHS

Many GPs say they know about poverty from their work, and some will have direct experience or stories from their own family background.

The doctor- patient consultation is a unique space; each participant getting  information across, making decisions and seeing  a way forward in a  tight time frame. So this brief meeting means a distilled version of the patient and the doctor is present in the room.

Being a commissioner

These were at the forefront of my mind being a commissioner with the Poverty Truth Commission, representing GPs at the Deep End over the past eighteen months.

I thought I knew about poverty- but getting to know the commissioners and listening to what they had to say about their day to day experiences was different.

Hearing what it is like to spend every day, every week- with little chance of respite-  ensuring  money for food, heating, clothing and children’s needs, can stretch enough.

Hearing  about how public organisations like the department for work and pensions, social work, housing, the police and the NHS can be so unthinking, stigmatising or even cruel when people who experience poverty use their services.

Hearing about the resilience of individuals and communities and the active steps commissioners were taking to change things and the progress that has been made.

I was also struck by many of the commissioners being surprised that despite being a doctor I seem to be a normal person. Is our society so divided that people who work as doctors and people who experience poverty can’t know each other as normal?


Poverty is not a ‘protected characteristic’ when it comes to equality legislation and it shouldn’t be -because poverty is not an intrinsic part of a person or a choice actively made. However this means that public organisations can ignore the fact of poverty in their service users lives when they are designing and delivering services.

The challenges for us all
  • Ensuring  the NHS and other public services do not discriminate against people experiencing poverty and actively involve the experts-people who experience poverty- in doing  this.
  • Ensuring  that all people who work in public services treat people who are experiencing poverty with respect and are sensitive to their needs.
  • Working actively to make Scotland a place where social and economic barriers do not exist between people.

Andrea Williamson

Andrea Williamson is a GP who works in homelessness health, addictions and at the University of Glasgow. She is a member of the GPs at the Deep End steering group.