Politicians, policy makers, church and civic leaders are today (16 April 2011) being told that poverty can only be properly addressed with the active engagement of those it impacts.
That is one of the key messages coming out of the final report of Scotland's Poverty Truth Commission, meeting for the final time, in its current form, in Glasgow.
The Poverty Truth Commission has been a two-year project bringing together some of Scotland's civic leaders with people at the sharp end of poverty. They have worked together to discover the truths about poverty, and to explore real solutions to it. They have also become friends, say those involved.
"It is crucial that we understand the roots of what poverty is," says Alastair McIntosh, one of the Commissioners. "First, it is structural, being systemic to the distribution of power, resources and educational opportunities in society. Second, it is a form of violence that comes from a deficit of empathy between those who have much and those who have little. Third, it is intergenerational, with its life-crippling seeds getting passed on in early childhood. And fourth, it is sustained by blindness to the full humanity of one another, showing it to be a pathology of the rich and not just a deficit of the poor."
He continues: "These four drivers are so fundamental to the human condition that they require not quick fixes but an evolution in human consciousness and in how we see our national identity. To walk this path we must allow ourselves to be challenged by Truth - the truth of where we and our world stand, the truth of where we know we are called to go, and the many truths of how to bridge that gap. Truth is an active power for change. Reconciliation is what brings us back together again in our common humanity. Both spring from the sharing of community."
The continuing legacy of the Truth and Poverty Commission will be supported by a large civic network. Its reports [see below] contain a range of practical proposals. But it also aims to challenge the whole culture by which public policy is made in this and other areas.
Many others in the NGO sector and within civil society and the faith communities share those aspirations.
“When it comes to the reality of economic, social, political and cultural marginalisation facing millions of people in Britain today, the Westminster government’s claim that ‘We’re all in this together’ is simply untrue and misleading,” says Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, which examines the impact and role of beliefs and values in society, politics and religion.
“The current trajectory of government policy is actually making those with fewest resources pay most for a deficit and financial crisis they did not create,” he adds. “A punitive approach to welfare is being masked with a rhetoric of concern that has little traction in policy terms. Society is not ‘big’ if you cannot afford to participate in it, if you are having resources clawed away from you, or if you are excluded from vital decisions about how that society is run.”
Ekklesia, which cooperates with anti-poverty NGOs such as Church Action on Poverty, points out that the latest measurements indicate 13½ million people in the UK living in households below the accepted low-income threshold. This is around a fifth of the population.
“The watchword of grassroots people and communities involved with the Poverty Truth Commission has been, ‘Nothing about us, without us, is for us’,” says Barrow. “The Commission itself has also commendably sought to model a way of operating that puts those living at the sharp end of society centre-stage.”
“Regrettably, however, Chancellor George Osborne, while directly and indirectly lopping billions from civic initiatives vital to the least well-off, refused the PTC’s invitation to meet directly with them. But the notion that a Cabinet full of millionaires is best equipped to tackle poverty without properly engaging the knowledge and experience of people living directly with it – not just ‘consulting for convenience’ – is morally, politically and pragmatically unsustainable,” he concluded.
The Poverty and Truth Commission is supported by the Church of Scotland and Faith in Community Scotland.
More on the PTC here: http://www.povertytruthcommission.org/
The full reports of the Commission, published on 16 April, are available here: http://www.povertytruthcommission.org/index.php?id=7
More on the PTC from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/povertytruthcommission