Monday, 23 October 2017

Jane's Blog October 2017

The comments the Conservative MP Jacob Rees Mogg made on food banks hit the headlines immediately.
And little wonder.
According to this potential Tory leader, the voluntary support given to food banks is ‘rather uplifting’.
It shows ‘what a compassionate country we are’.

The only reason for the rise in the use of foodbanks is ‘that people know that they are there.’
His conclusion?
‘Inevitably, the state can’t do everything, so I think there is good within food banks.’

The welfare state created at the end of World War Two was designed to look after its citizens from cradle to grave, to protect their social and economic well-being.  Food, and having enough to eat every day of life, is clearly the most basic of needs.
Not some luxury extra.

Most people give money or volunteer their time to the Trust organising food banks not out of ‘compassion’ but out of shame and anger that food banks should be necessary in a country as wealthy as Britain.
Food banks are necessary.  They should not be necessary, certainly not on the current scale, and it is within our power to change that.

Citizens Advice Scotland have been monitoring the number of requests they have received from people who have reached  crisis point.  Between 2012/13 and 2014/15, the number of people seeking advice on Crisis Grants has increased
134 per cent  (compared to advice regarding the former scheme, Crisis Loans).
134 per cent.
More worryingly are the number of people who come to Citizens Advice bureaux having not eaten for a number of days.
Days.  Plural.

We know that already.  But the objective, official data makes it stark, in black and white.
Undeniable and unacceptable.

At our last meeting, the need to make allies was raised.  To work across political boundaries to fight poverty.

To join together to create a wave of opposition that cannot be ignored.
To fight against a system that no longer offers a safety net, especially  in crisis – and we can all fall into crisis.
To look at the bigger issues.  In work poverty.  Zero hour contracts.  The real cost of living compared to the benefits offered.
What it takes to lift individuals and families out of poverty.

Working together.

It is galvanising to be part of the Poverty Truth Commission as we endeavour to do this from our different walks of life, finding new allies.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Jane's Blog August 2017

Jane and Sadia, two of our Commissioners will be blogging each month, sharing their thoughts, experiences and what it means to be a Poverty Truth Commissioner.  

In the seventh of the series, Jane shares her thoughts on children, childhood and the Working Group on Cuts and Assessments.

It’s funny the things that stick from childhood.
My family moved around a lot when I was young, from Blantyre in Malawi to Carnoustie to Solihull to Aberdeen.
I remember one primary school very clearly.
Each morning we were given a text from the bible.  Just a few words.
And the one I remember most clearly is,
‘Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven’.
Or as it’s sometimes written now,
‘Let the little children come to me, and stop keeping them away, because the kingdom from heaven belongs to people like these’ 
It is the most magical text.
Children as the most important people, no matter what else is going on.
It’s been much in my mind as we have been working out what to focus on in our group looking at Cuts and Assessments.
Outside the commission, I have a  friend, who I’ve just got to know recently.
She has 4 children.  She was married but her husband left. 
The youngest two are twin boys, one fully healthy and enjoying every aspect of life as he reaches 16.
The other has serious learning difficulties with physical problems too.
My friend is full of fun with a great sparkle and an enthusiasm for every day of life.
A while back, she  mentioned that she tends to go to bed early.
Why, I asked?
Her son with learning difficulties never sleeps for more than an hour.  He never has.  
Only it’s better now that he isn’t crying when he wakes.
And that was the first of how I learnt quite how challenging her life is.
Our group has decided to focus on children and young people, in particular the impact of cuts on Child Tax Credits and on children with special needs as they move to adult services.
I am so glad to be part of this group.
The late MP Tam Dalyell was always forthright in his views.
When a journalist colleague turned up at Tam’s house to record an interview,
Tam walked straight over to my colleague’s car.  There was a baby seat in the back.
‘Ah! Said Tam.  ‘Children! Children! Children are the salt of the earth!’

Monday, 10 July 2017

Sadia's Blog July 2017

Jane and Sadia, two of our new Commissioners will be blogging each month, sharing their thoughts, experiences and what it means to be a Poverty Truth Commissioner.  

In the sixth of the series, Sadia shares her thoughts and the thoughts of others on the impact of poverty on families seeking asylum.

I have done so much thinking about poverty and how it’s affecting many families in my community of which most of them are single mothers. I had a chance to discuss my thoughts and also hear the women discussing how there is a lot of fear, worries and frustrations just to think of how to meet the demands of holidays. For instance, things like their peers getting a break and them not able to get away for even one night.

The women discussed how things like this affect the moods in the house, children demanding and mums not being able to give them what they want because they cannot afford the money and also that to most families on low income, events and activities doesn’t come as a priority to them. All the mums want is to make sure the little money they get is going to most basic needs of which is very hard for the children to understand. Why their families can’t afford and yet their friends can? It’s hard to explain to children the complications of benefits, Jobcentre and how hard it is to do the job you want with Jobcentre demands and sanctions.  My community group at Saheliya also expressed concerns over how expensive character clothing are priced. You cannot afford to spend £10-£15 on one-character clothing, and what if you have 3 young children?

There were a lot of questions and concerns discussed between us with no answers, what is the solution to end this poverty within our communities? How about the holidays coming? Children discuss holidays in schools and wish they could go to holidays local or abroad too. Some of us can’t even afford holiday even in the beautiful boarders of Scotland. Could they be considerable discount for holiday packages for some low income venerable families living in poverty?   Poverty is real and it is affecting most of families in our communities.

I want to continue to raise my voice and our voice with the Poverty Truth Commission. We need to continue meeting, discussing and looking to keep going, to take things forward.

The three working groups reflect how people are suffering: cuts, mental illness and asylum.  More cuts mean more suffering and more people in poverty and having mental illness. Poverty creates tension in families. This tension and poverty can lead to addiction, to homelessness, to poor prospects. The cuts are making people ill and sick. The fear the cuts bring is leading to mental illness. A lot of people are affected by this. The behaviour of young people is affected by growing up in poverty.

Yet still I live with hope that things can change.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Jane's Blog June 2017

Jane and Sadia, two of our new Commissioners will be blogging each month, sharing their thoughts, experiences and what it means to be a Poverty Truth Commissioner.  

In the fifth of the series, Jane talks about the 3 Working Groups looking at Mental Health, Asylum and Cuts and Assessments that have been set up.  

"Now we move into 3 groups, each of which focuses on a particular issue.
I have chosen the group that will look at cuts and assessments.

This is something that really matters to me.
I have seen friends and family fearful, anxious and extremely worried at the prospect not just of losing their benefits
but of the process of being ‘assessed’.  What a cold, frightening word.
And what exactly are the criteria for that assessment? 

As for the forms involved, I have never met a single person who understood how the form should be answered.
And all of us know the feeling of trying to complete a form you don’t understand.  You feel sick, stupid and very vulnerable.
If you try to explain how a condition can vary from day to day, and that’s the truth of many chronic conditions, you’re likely to lose in what seems like a game of snakes and ladders – except this particular board game has only snakes, spiralling down.

Our role in the new group is to gather evidence.  We, as the commissioners, are the evidence.  So personal stories are what we will gather.
I’m aware that what we pull together and how we focus this is of huge importance.  It feels exciting to be underway with this work but again, I need to keep listening to others.

Now that we can reveal our roles and jobs outside the commission, I can own up to being that thing called - a journalist!
I have worked for many years in broadcasting and as a freelance writer. 
So I will hope to find ways of drawing attention in the media to the work we do over the next months.

Outside the Commission, I am continuing to volunteer with the Welcoming Charity in Edinburgh.
It welcomes asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants to Scotland, offering classes in English, outings, musical events -  you name it, they try to arrange it. This month a beginner’s group for joggers began.

I volunteer at the weekly conversation cafĂ©, where anyone with a bit of English can come along.  Each time I go, I am overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and commitment of those who are learning English.
I watch them launching into sentences on all sorts of subjects as if they were leaping off the top diving board – plunging in, so keen to try.
I spoke to one young man from Cadiz who had trained as a social worker.  I said that I thought the unemployment rate in Madrid was around 25 per cent.  He replied, ‘In Madrid, yes.  But where I live, in the south, or in the rural areas, it’s nearer 65 per cent.  I will never work as a social worker where I am from.  I have to learn English and speak it fluently to find another job.  I want to become bilingual.’
He’s working as a kitchen porter and loves being in Scotland. 

It reminds me of a conversation I had with one of my fellow commissioners a while back, who arrived in Scotland as an asylum seeker from Somalia.  She was offered classes in English when she arrived but wants further classes to be offered for  those in her community.
To make real progress in the job market, you need to be fluent in English.

There is so much to be done and I am looking forward to the next meetings with the Commission."

Monday, 24 April 2017

Sadia's Blog - April 2017

Jane and Sadia, two of our new Commissioners will be blogging each month, sharing their thoughts, experiences and what it means to be a Poverty Truth Commissioner.  

In the fourth of the series, Sadia reflects on stories she has heard within the Commission and others within her own community.

Image result for image worry

I have found being part of the Commission fantastic and inspiring. I am learning a lot from listening to everyone’s stories.

I have been touched by hearing about how one commissioner lost his job due to ill health and spiraled down into poverty. I also was moved by another commissioner’s story of how poverty affected their mental health.

Listening to the issues in my community I am aware that many are ashamed of using food banks. Brexit and the uncertainty it has brought has made people terrified. They are afraid that they will lose their jobs that companies will go elsewhere in Europe to find workers.  How will Scotland suffer?

Benefit cuts are affecting families: mothers walking further with children looking for food banks. Worrying about cuts, terrified. I wish I could help them but I can’t, I fight to look for a way. This poverty is not going away; it is getting bad – more families getting poorer. People worrying, and getting mental health problems.

Worry, worry. Counting tins in cupboards.

We have to fight. Fight for poverty to go away. The poor are just looking for their daily bread, no luxuries. I tell women: if you are ashamed (of using food banks) those children are going hungry. Feed them.

One woman I know who was pregnant got asylum here. She had to move from furnished temporary accommodation into a flat with nothing in it. Completely bare: she went into labour and when she came out of hospital she could not stay in her flat. It had completely nothing in it. No cooker, no fridge, no carpets, no bed, nothing.  A friend moved her daughter into her bedroom so that the woman and her child could have a bed when they got out of hospital. She had to stay there for a month.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Jane's Blog - March 2017

Jane and Sadia, two of our new Commissioners will be blogging each month, sharing their thoughts, experiences and what it means to be a Poverty Truth Commissioner.  
In the third of the series, Jane reflects on the last full gathering of the Commission.  The theme for the Conversation was 'Story' reflecting on our need to listen and listen again to how our stories chime with each other and enable us to relate at a human level.

'There is never a single story about any kind of place.' Chimanda Ngozi Adichie

Deirdre’s story was what stays in the mind from our last meeting together.

Written in her own words, it was printed on several pages. We each read a few lines and handed it on to the person next to us. Reading aloud is always a strange experience but sharing the story together brought Deirdre’s experience of sudden and terrifying violence at the age of five, at the hands – and feet – of her father, very much alive, as if it was happening now. It left me feeling as if I was trying to draw breath.

Deirdre’s mother left her husband, taking her two children with her. Deirdre and her brother hated having to visit their father and once she was older she refused point black to visit. The issue came before a judge.

He listened, recognised the pain in her story, and agreed that she should not be forced to visit her father any more.

Deirdre went on to suffer some form of mental collapse but life turned a corner when she met and later married Jeff. But no matter how hard they worked, no matter how many jobs they juggled, they couldn't get out of debt and ended up being allocated a place to live in an area where drugs were rife. Here, the community centre became a real source of support and help, a light in the darkness.

For me, what stood out was Deirdre’s strength of character in challenging the custody order in court - and the importance of someone, the judge in this instance, who listened to her. Having a voice, being listened to, was something hugely important to someone sitting next to me who had also had an abusive childhood.

The importance of community was also raised by many people – the need to be valued, to have an identity.

As the discussion continued, other issues came to the fore. A deep longing for equality. Education that is about skills like leadership, not just academic subjects. Fairness.

One voice that stays with me spoke softly but with great feeling.

‘Once I had a house, a car. I worked until I could no longer do so to look after my son and his special needs. There was no job that would fit around his needs. I lost the house. I lost the car. Being on benefit hung heavy on my shoulders. And now I have no pension.’

Another story of falling out of work when you want to work.

Another story of the having work one day and then falling down a real-life game of snakes and ladders, with only snakes and no ladders.

As we gradually get to know each other, there is a sense of real warmth. It is also clear that there is anger and passion in the room.

Our next meeting will help us begin to work through what we as individuals – or as a collective group – will do to address the deep sense of injustice. 

Friday, 24 February 2017

Sadia's blog - February 2017

Jane and Sadia, two of our new Commissioners will be blogging each month, sharing their thoughts, experiences and what it means to be a Poverty Truth Commissioner.

In the second of the series, Sadia reflects on the struggles of families 
within her community, and the wisdom contained therein.

A lot of people do not notice how we are suffering from poverty.

A lot of people do not have money and the money they have it's not enough.  They live with poverty and as a result they always go for food bank. They walk miles and miles away with children looking for food banks.  They have to rely on food banks, and they do not even provide enough food.  How long will we have to live like this?

They can’t afford to top up when they have this kind of poverty.  They get a lot of mental health problems such a small thing.  When somebody have 4-5 children with some of them teenagers, even a can of food is not enough for them.  They need a bus pass some of them to go to school and the parent cannot afford it.

Poverty comes in many forms, it does not only affect the mothers mental health but also children, for example young people in school can be bullied, mocked and experience pressure from peer groups because of the way they look - this is the kind of poverty that is very common in our communities.

Another issue is the Job Centre sanctions. This has affected some members of our communities. Every day a woman is worried about how to provide for and feed her family. How is she going to manage to feed her family now she has been sanctioned? How is she going to cope with all this poverty?

I think we are all human, we have to think about how we can work together to end this poverty. 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Jane's blog - January 2017

As we launch Round 4 of The Poverty Truth Commission, we are also delighted to launch our new monthly blog series.  

Jane and Sadia, two of our new Commissioners will be blogging each month, sharing their thoughts, experiences and what it means to be a Poverty Truth Commissioner.

In the first of the series, Jane reflects on the launch of the new Commission and her thoughts around listening.

"When we met for the first time a week ago, and each of us arrived at Gorbals Parish Church, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  But immediately there was something unusual in the air.  As we stepped into the room where we meet, conversations started up at once –  without being forced.  It felt natural.  I think this must be because those who have joined the Commission have done so with a real desire to give their best, whatever that may be.  There’s also a sense of the unknown, not knowing where the meetings and discussions will take us.  But from the start, it felt good.

I don’t want to give names in this blog so that everyone keeps a sense of privacy.
What I recall from the meeting is my memory.  And my thoughts are just that – personal.

I came away from the first meeting of this Commission with several phrases ringing in my ears, words from the personal stories that some of those living in poverty told us, opening up to a group of strangers in a way that is hard to put into words.   Each story made such an impact.

‘Poverty hits you from all sides.’

‘A trap door opens up.  One minute you’ve got a job, the next minute you’re in debt. And once you’re in debt, no one gives you credit’.

One word that kept being raised in these stories was depression. Problems with mental health.

‘It’s the sense of isolation. You need to be checked up on or you give up the will to live.
It’s hard to share this. But the mind starts to play tricks on you.’

It’s one thing reading about poverty in the newspapers or hearing about it on radio or television.  It’s shocking and it makes you angry.  But it’s a completely different thing to sit up close and hear someone’s personal story.

Such as that of refugees where the women are often on their own, if – and this is a tough phrase – if  their men are dead.  We heard about the women in the Somali community in Glasgow, pushing prams for miles to the nearest foodbank, and struggling to cope with a system of social care that is supposed to help the vulnerable but which feels ‘robotic’ and terrifying.

We met one woman from that community describing herself as a voice for others, a voice for change.
We watched someone in a film of those who had been part of the 2014 Commission saying with conviction -  ‘I’ve learnt that I should be counted,  I’m more than a number.’

For me listening, I came away wondering how I am going to be a voice for others, to speak out.

I recently left my full time job and I’m starting again as a freelance feature writer, something I did a long time ago when my children were small.  I don’t know the editors of the newspapers any longer so I need to make new contacts and meet them face to face. 
So I’ve been writing emails, making calls, and I’ve got two meetings arranged with senior features editors based in Glasgow.  It’s the first step for me to be able to share stories and press for change – when the time is right.

I tell people I’ve joined the Poverty Truth Commission – and what it stands for. 
So that they will ask more and offer me opportunities to find ways of getting more people involved and on side, hearing not my voice but the voices of those living in poverty.
Someone at BBC Radio has asked to meet me for a chat.

I’ve been planning to find out more about two charities in Edinburgh where I live who help refugees in the city.  I’m interested in teaching English in conversation classes but I need to do a course to be able to that.  This week I’ve made contact with one of the charities and I want to see what else I can do as a volunteer -  now.  And I’ll find out more about the course on how to teach English and if I can do it part-time.

I’m trying to speak out about issues that impact on poverty and also on community as a whole.  Speak out rather than just moan about it with my family and friends.

I had a letter from my local MP telling me he’s started a petition to fight against the closure of our local post office.  I wrote back to say that I feel very strongly about keeping communities strong and I’ve signed the petition.  But I also asked him why he had sent the letter on the most expensive paper possible – I think it used to be called ‘vellum’ which shows how old fashioned it is – and with the hallmark of the House of Commons embossed on it. 

He replied to say that the House of Commons buys the paper in bulk so it’s really as cheap as any other kind of paper. I don’t agree with that logic.  Does every letter sent to every constituent across the land need to be written on such luxury notepaper?Surely MPs could save a massive amount of money by using cheaper paper, and spend that money on policies that make lives better. It’s just one small step … I know ..  It may seem trivial.  But I’m starting to try to speak up. 

On the other hand, when I’m with everyone in the commission, it’s very good for me just to sit and listen.

To think.

And then work out how best to act. How to speak up.

I’m looking forward to the next meetings very much.
It feels as if we are a group of individuals meeting in such a special way that we will get to know each other and become friends.
But I feel very humbled – and I most certainly will listen, quietly."