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.
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."