Uniting to fight poverty in Scotland

Poverty truth launch cropped

Picture credit: Poverty Truth Commission

Latest round of the Poverty Truth Commission's investigations look at food poverty, the cost of school and dignity

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1st March 2016 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Scotland needs a new food justice movement led by those with direct experience of hunger.

That’s one of the main findings of a major investigation into poverty by a group of campaigners who spent 18 months looking at deprivation and possible solutions.

The Poverty Truth Commission (PTC) – a coalition of activists, artists, academics and ordinary people – says foodbanks must not be “normalised” and for all the good work they do, they are not a sustainable solution.

Instead, a new food justice movement led by those at the sharp end must be created, which will look at means such as food co-ops, community shops and growing projects.

Other recommendations coming from the PTC’s investigation – and set out in its new report, #namesnotnumbers – include the creation of a minimum school clothing grant, decided in conversation with low income parents, and for policy makers and public agencies to be made to listen to the experiences of those in poverty before making decision.

Amy Ottroh

Amy Ottroh

We found there were similarities in how people look down at us and the difficulties we experience

The report make the end of the PTC’s third round of investigations since it was set up in 2009, each of which has examined an aspect of poverty in modern Scotland and has come up with solutions.

Fergus McNeill, a commissioner, said: “For the past 18 months, we have met together as one group 12 times, formed three working groups and spoken publicly about the issues we have been exploring.

“This report details our findings and final recommendations. We hope that as well as giving an insight into what we have learned it will also challenge people to listen deeply and respond meaningfully.”

Another commissioner is Amy Ottroh, who has lived in Glasgow for five years after arriving from Ivory Coast. She said her experiences and those of other migrants were fed into the process of compiling the report.

She said: “I worked on the  dignity and story group we were looking at people’s stories about how dignity can sometimes be denied – in particular through the asylum process, the DWP, Jobcentre, people who have disabilities and people who have been in prison.

“We’ve been looking at our own stories and connecting our experiences together. We found there were similarities in how people look down at us and the difficulties we experience.”

Alison Phipps

Alison Phipps

We had to be humble enough to learn – particularly those who work in what might be termed the poverty industry

Professor Alison Phipps, co-convener of the Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network, took part in the commission. She said: “We set out to stand in solidarity with those who live in extreme poverty but also to be part of finding ways of eradicating extreme poverty by listening to the voices of those people who are experts.

“We had to be humble enough to learn ourselves – particularly those who work in what might be termed the poverty industry or caring professions who will often make decisions without having people in the room who are able to name and understand their worlds and tell us what would make a difference.

“What I think has been really amazing is finding different ways of working and how efficient they are.

“Over the past 18 months we’ve got together to listen to each other’s stories, we’ve broken each other’s stories up, we’ve only had first names in the room so those things that can become barriers are removed. The stigma attached to those people who live with the violence of poverty have all just drifted away.

“We’ve become human beings to one another, become friends. People who were used to taking up a lot of airtime have all stepped back and people have grown in confidence and trust. People were blossoming. It was the people who were the experts about what it’s like to live in poverty who were full of ideas, brightness and excitement and courage at what was possible that’s a huge achievement and tells us about how we need to work in public life.

"Every single public institution needs to work like this.

Ricky Ross

Ricky Ross

It wasn’t a difficult sell to me - I was glad to be able to do something

“This has helped us name the utter scandal of the benefit sanctions system, the cost of school, the dignity which is removed from people through no fault of their own. And realising that this diminishes us all.”

Deacon Blue singer Ricky Ross also took part in this round of the commission. He said: “I was asked two years ago to come on the commission. I had heard about it through my radio show, and it wasn’t a difficult sell to me. I was glad to be able to do something.

“I sat in, heard people’s voices and thought what people were talking about was very cohesive and sensible and I endorse the things people are saying – it’s great to be able to come together like this.”

The fourth round of the commission will begin later this year.