Our governing instincts need a dose of ground-up reality

By staff writers
April 21, 2011

For the past two years, writes Ron Ferguson in his Herald newspaper comment column, disadvantaged people from Glasgow have been telling the Poverty Truth Commission what it’s like to be poor in a land of plenty.

"The PTC report has not come up with any magic solutions," he writes, "although it has made proposals about better support for children unable to live with their parents, and overcoming violence in local communities. At its heart, though, is a conviction that the ‘top-down’ solutions prepared by people with no direct experience of poverty are fundamentally flawed. The report argues that the real experts on poverty are not highly-paid consultants, but those who experience poverty.

"Some of the commissioners have been shocked by what they have heard. Jim Wallace confessed that his involvement with the commission had been 'a revelation'. He added: 'Not least, I came to appreciate just how disempowered people can feel with experts, officials and politicians talking about their plight but without any real reference to the people they’re talking about.'

"There are plans for a new mentoring scheme that will see Scottish Government workers forge a direct relationship with those living at the sharp end of poverty.

"This notion has wider implications. What we are facing in this country is a spiritual crisis to do with values and respect. As the bill for the fantasy years of hubris and financial recklessness is presented, and communities struggle to come to terms with the impact of cuts on basic services, two facts need to be acknowledged. The first is that the upper financial and managerial classes who run the real show have managed to defend their entrenched privileges, and no mainstream political party has the will to take them on. Even the dog that barked in the night, Vince Cable, is happy to wear a muzzle. The second is that those who are already disadvantaged will pay the biggest price.

"What is most dispiriting about the current mess is that the emphasis seems to be on getting back to how things were before the crash. The current crisis is only bearable if it is seen as an opportunity to look at life in radically different ways. How things were before the crash is the problem, not the solution," he concludes.

"Top-down politics in thrall to ‘experts’ who are certainly expert at protecting their own interests has failed us. Whether it has to do with nuclear power – the image of fire brigades pouring water on the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan is a potent symbol – or narrowing the gap between rich and poor, getting back to ‘normality’ is the last thing we need."

The full column can be read here: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/ron-ferguson/the-real-experts-are-...

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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