Thursday, 21 May 2015

Society is an Elite Club that Bars the Poor

Pity and blame are the words going round my head today. An election campaign which blamed people on benefits and pitied those compelled to use foodbanks on more than one million occasions in the last year has resulted in a new government who tell us that cuts must be made in the name of "people who do the right thing", whoever they are.
They are definitely not people in poverty, who are referred to as scroungers and cheats, as somehow lacking. We are encouraged to stereotype and see people in poverty as part of the problem, not part of the solution. Such divisions have made it easier to suggest that we need a government who believe the poor should pay for the deficit rather than the rich. And such a government we have.
Pity and blame – it’s easy to do both from the outside. Where are the voices of those who understand poverty from the inside, who know what it means to have to choose between putting money in the gas meter or having breakfast in the morning? By ignoring these voices, we are missing out on a wealth of wisdom.
At the Poverty Truth Commission we believe people with experience of poverty are the experts who must be at the heart of any strategy designed to overcome poverty. Before the election we called on the government, media, political parties and each one of us to stop the culture of blame in this election campaign and in the future. We challenged everyone to seek and to listen to the voices of our poorest citizens as a crucial first step to overcoming poverty and figuring out how to build a better society.
Following last week’s election, I spoke to some of our commissioners.
“I’m even more frightened about the cuts now,” said one carer. “I’m dreading the postman coming with forms to fill in that might mean cuts to my Carers Allowance. Things will get so much tougher for my community.”
Another said: “Thousands of disabled people will suffer from the results of these changes, putting them at real risk of deterioration and open to sanctions.”
And a third added: “The divide that is already there is going to increase. People are going to be pushed further apart. The focus is on those who have money, it feels like an elite club we are kept out of.”
Pity and blame are not the only words going round my head today. There is also the Poverty Truth Commission motto: “Nothing about us, Without us, Is for us.