By Elaine Dowie, Coordinator, The Poverty Truth Community
Poverty Truth Community meetings are rarely quiet.
They are a time for joy, for tears, for truth telling, for stories, for tea, cake and post it notes. They are a time for people from very different backgrounds to come together to talk, eat and gather as human beings.
They are a place where you are known by your first name first - not your job title or the label you have been given by society.
They are informal yet structured. Purposeful yet flexible. They are conversations about universal credit, young people, in-work poverty, drugs, asylum… They are conversations between academics, lone parents, policy makers, community activists, faith leaders and asylum seekers.
They ask questions. They dig deeper. They aren’t just talking shops. They commit to change -taking the work and the learning beyond the room. Commit to working together for the long term, as equal partners.
And there is rarely quiet. Even when the hardest story is being softly spoken, the level of listening amplifies and reflects.
People experiencing poverty are tired of being seen as part of the problem. Tired of their communities being known by where they sit on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. Tired of the grey photos. Tired of the definitions. Tired of not being seen for who they are. Tired of telling their story. Tired of being confined by it.
We all know this is not right. This is not what a caring and compassionate voluntary sector is working towards. But it is too often how involvement leaves people feeling. Vulnerable, exposed, used. Ticking the ‘lived experience involvement box’. And it doesn’t have to be like this.
What if we instead saw people as part of the solution? As experts on poverty, understanding what it means and what needs to change from the inside? What if we worked together with them, not for them, to unlock the constraints of poverty? What if we got to know them by their first name first?
What if we brought those people together with the others who are often regarded as experts? Together as equals. What solutions we may come up with. What doors might be opened. What change we may see arise.
Opportunities to meet with Government Ministers, mentor civil servants, take part in national commissions, speak to the media on your own terms, take on leadership positions, change policy, change the story, be yourself.
That’s what we do at The Poverty Truth Community. That’s who we are. A place where you are part of the solution, not part of the problem. A place where you belong, not just participate.
SLF is funding Poverty Truth Community to undertake a three-year project which will ensure people with experience of poverty are connected with people in positions of influence to help shape decisions made around poverty-related issues.