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.
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 café, 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."