We need a new approach to poverty

If Chancellor George Osborne wants to explore his assertion that "we are all in this together", he could have done no better than attend the closing session of Scotland's Poverty Truth Commission at 2pm on Saturday 16 April in Glasgow City Chambers. He was invited. But sadly he was not there.

At the beginning of the commission, two years ago, a number of people with direct experience of poverty set out the challenge that their experiences have an essential contribution to make if we are serious as a society about tackling poverty.

Also present were a number of people we think of as having real influence, from politics, the media, academic life, the police, business and the church.

The outcome was the forging of a partnership between those with the experience of poverty and those with the influence. Together over the past two years, they have wrestled with the need for change.

What has the commission achieved? Child poverty figures are once again on the rise, and all the indications are that once again the poorest are already being hit the hardest.

Yet the commission has brought change which may yet prove of lasting significance: it has demonstrated that with due attention paid to process, meeting style, appropriate support and acute listening, the many and varied gifts of people who have learned about poverty the hard way can be brought to bear as part of the solution.

It has also provided evidence of the lie that is at the heart of the rhetoric about benefit fraud. After spending most of my adult life working in some of our poorest communities, I have met some people who are good at playing the system, even illegally. However, they are few in comparison to the people who lead frugal, disciplined lives on amounts that many of us would find it hard to envisage existing on.

Too much of the way we have tried to deal with poverty has treated those most directly involved as objects, rather than those with the skills and experience to shape our response. It is time for a change, and as the commission is all too aware, that has only just begun.

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© The Rev Ian Galloway is convener of the Church of Scotland's Church and Society Council. His blog can be read at: http://www.churchsociety.blogspot.com/ This article is adapted, with acknowledgment, from one that appeared in newspaper.

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

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