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."

Monday, 12 December 2016

A Reflection on Commissioners' views regarding Social Security

This year the Scottish Government has been gathering responses to a consultation launched into the future of social security in Scotland. It has promoted the idea of social security as opposed to welfare and personally I welcome this because it seems to me that the term "welfare" puts claimants at a judgemental distance from people not claiming 'welfare'; on the other hand 'social security' is something that all citizens may need at some point(s) in their lives. At the PTC we decided to respond to the consultation given the importance of social security to many of our Commissioners.

For the PTC as a whole the consultation process really began in July with a meeting between Commissioners and two Scottish Government civil servants (Daniel and Ed from the Social Security Policy & Delivery Division). We were reminded that twelve social security powers are being transferred to Scotland as a result of the Smith Commission recommendations which led to the Scotland Act 2016. They include the power to set up a Scottish Social Security Agency. 15% of social security spend in Scotland will be delivered under the remit of the Scottish Government.
From the start the SG’s three overarching principles of dignity, fairness and respect, that it has said will be critical for both design and embedding within the new Scottish Social Security Agency, have clearly resonated with Commissioners. In particular Commissioners recommended:
·        The need for long term or lifetime awards for conditions that are only going to get worse.(Admittedly the UK Government has moved on this but to my knowledge all the conditions meriting such awards have yet to be clarified).
·        The fairness and natural justice inherent in enabling benefits appellants to remain on the original benefit during the entirety of the appeals process, rather than the present position of benefits being terminated during the appeals process.
·        If the current system says that benefits offices need to have security guards on the pretext that some people might become angry or in very rare cases violent, the question should be about what the system is doing to make them angry.The SG Minister for Social Security who met with and listened to Commissioners agreed with them that security guards should not be the answer.
·        With regard to Universal Credit (UC) these should at the very least have the options of being paid fortnightly and to have payments split between members of a household rather than payment to one household only. (The minister was clear that whilst she is supportive of this, the SG will have no power to make such changes until Universal Credit is completely rolled out across the UK which will be in approx. 2022).
Commissioners also strongly supported the idea of a Claimant's Charter that sets out that dignity, fairness, respect etc. will be embedded in the new Scottish agency / system. These principles should also be embedded in the legislation that establishes the new system.  
Further details of the PTC response as regards the proposed Charter and to all other relevant questions in the  Consultation on Social Security (PTC Response submitted in October)were published by the SG recently (link here)               

Friday, 4 December 2015

Behind Closed Doors

Poverty is about much more than a lack of money.  A year of hostels, sanctions and lack of heating can take its toll.  One of our Commissioners writes:

"After an amazing year in 2014, 2015 has been a bad year. People don't always know how deep depression and mental health can take a hold on you.  2015 has been a year from hell.

My mind drifted from reality, I even didn't know what was real and what wasn't.  There were days I wished I wouldn't wake up.  That's what people don't understand.

I was a strong person before and felt I could take on the world.  Now I've been reduced to a wreck.  I was so close to self harming to get an escape from the pain I was going through.  My mind was full of negative thoughts, I was on the point of a nervous breakdown.  I can understand now that I wasn't well. I understand my illness a bit better now.  I've still got a lot to learn though.

Even strong people can crash and burn at times.  It's how you bounce back.

Thanks for listening to my story, I hope it can help someone out there.  If you're struggling, don't lock yourself away at home.  Find people.  Talk to people.

Thank you."

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Never Stop Being Human

Gatherings of all members of the Poverty Truth Commission are always special events, bringing people together across social and economic divides. Yesterday morning’s meeting, however, felt unique and had a distinctively international flavour, connecting struggles for dignity, equality and justice throughout the world. They reminded us all of our shared humanity and how we must work collectively for change for everyone.

We were joined yesterday by a South African and Bolivian community land rights activist. They told a story of an incredible community’s resilience and togetherness when a natural disaster had left them with nothing, and of a collective of shack dwellers coming together to challenge the rising xenophobia they saw around them. 

As well as learning from their experiences, commissioners shared connections between what they heard and between inequalities and injustices in Scotland. A story, for example, of a teenager who had fled violence and persecution in her country of origin, only to be met with further contempt and brutal treatment in the UK asylum system where she thought she was safe. 

From Powerless to Powerful

Global problems, such as the current refugee humanitarian crisis, or local issues, like the need for foodbanks in Scotland, can seem almost impossible to solve and leave individuals feeling powerless. Dehumanising language frequently used by certain politicians and newspapers undoubtedly makes matters worse. 

Many across the UK, however, have chosen to ignore this narrative and instead look for the truth. They have been moved to act by the human suffering they have seen and heard. At this morning’s meeting, one MSP spoke of how her office had received numerous offers of help and assistance for refugees from her local constituents, from both low-income and more affluent families.

Within the next few weeks around 60 Syrian refugees will arrive in Glasgow. This will be the first instalment of around 20,000 arriving in the UK over the next five years, and we should be proud that our city will be the first in the UK to host. The message of the Commission is simple: welcome them and help them to feel human again.

This does not to mean that there won’t be any challenges to integrating refugees in Scotland. We know that if done in a top-down government led manner, where local communities feel excluded, then tensions can develop. We need, therefore, an inclusive planning process, centred on shifting the narrative from seeing refugees as a burden, and a further housing statistic, to seeing them as the human beings they are. We can only do this by hearing their stories.

We must never stop being human: sharing stories and learning, treating others with respect and standing up for each other. 

Nothing About Us, Without Us, is For Us