Our day in Parliament: The truth about poverty and how to tackle it

WHAT would you talk about if you were given the chance to speak at Parliament? lon2
Three groups of residents from Leeds, Teesside and London had that opportunity last week at an event hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty.
Before an audience of MPs, academics and charity leaders, the groups shared their stories of poverty, inequality and the struggle to make ends meet in Britain today. More than that, they revealed their powerful plans for a better future.
The event was called From UK poverty to social security: solutions grounded in experience and the speakers were from the Dole Animators based in Leeds, Thrive Teesside based in Stockton, and ATD Fourth World based in London.
All three organisations had worked over several years with Dr Ruth Patrick, a researcher at the University of Liverpool and the author of For Whose Benefit? The Everyday Realities of Welfare Reform. They worked also with graphic designer Dan Farley, to illustrate their proposals.
Here are their stories:
The group from ATD Fourth World presented this poster:
Three members of the group then spoke.
Amanda: This poster was made by 10 people with an experience of poverty. We represent this group, many can’t be here today due to benefit and job centre restrictions.
 This project brought us together as a group and gave us a chance to share our ideas through art and design.

It’s time to listen to people in poverty; we are experts on poverty and have a lot to contribute.

 Our poster speaks clearly about how people in poverty don’t feel listened to, and don’t feel part of the democratic system. One person of our group said “Let the hole in democracy be filled with our voices”. We feel that people in poverty have a lot to bring to the table… and events like this should be common practice…
 We can only build a more fair society when we all work together.
 I think I speak on behalf of all the other groups here when I say… we reach out with open hands and we are willing to start important conversations with you and others in power.
Just ask us and we will be here in a flash.
I now want to introduce you all to Seamus…”
Seamus: “When one is on their own they feel weak, but when you bring a thousand voices together we feel strong.
 This whole project is bringing many different people together from across the country …which is very important, we are hearing the same things from the different places. We hope to be heard!! We need to be united!!
 I drew a bridge on the poster. The bridge represents the importance of coming together – MPs, people in power, and the powerless. We can work together and make things better for all.
It’s time to listen to people in poverty; we are experts on poverty and have a lot to contribute.
 I would like to introduce you to Lareine…”
 Lareine: “Our poster represents the need to listen and work together.
 People in poverty go through a lot of challenges and feel rejected by society because they feel nobody listens to them which causes anger, frustration, set back, even depression. Why are we excluded from the debate?
For example, as a mother with a special need child, I find it sometimes hard to cope alone with the challenges that are attached to dealing with a child with complex needs.
Social workers are often in people’s lives and in many ways represent the government. In my case they provide little help and complain that their hands are tied, I feel the cuts to this very important service
Everything is cut.
Because of lack of help, at the beginning some parents struggle to the point of breakdown and as a result their children are taken away from them.
Families need support and I feel we are not listened to in the times we need to be listened to the most.
I was lucky and found ATD Fourth World in my days of real need. ATD helped my family stay together by supporting us and listening. I fear other families might not have the same opportunity.

The Government needs to listen to us. We know a lot about poverty and have ideas and answers how to work together to overcome poverty.

We should not feel ashamed every time with words such as ‘scroungers’ and ‘lazy’, just because we need support.
I think the government should listen to more poor people and understand better what we are going through.”
This message from a fourth contributor, Angela, was read aloud on her behalf, as she was unable to attend:
Angela: “The reason I drew the megaphone is to try and give an understanding that poverty must end and be eradicated. Our voices need to be heard. People living in poverty feel they are not listened to. The Government needs to listen to us. We know a lot about poverty and have ideas and answers how to work together to overcome poverty.
We offer our help and are very willing to work with government on solutions to poverty.
The bridge in our poster is saying everyone needs to come together and build bridges not walls.
 Thank you for listening.”
Thrive presented their five solutions to poverty from the bottom up, shown on this poster:
The five solutions are:

  • Compassionate and needs-based benefits system
  • Decent homes for all
  • A decent day’s work for a decent day’s pay
  • Bring back our community centres
  • Provide childcare so parents can choose to work

Corrina Eastwood, from the group, said afterwards: “The day was a great success. Around a hundred people attended. The three groups came together from different parts of the UK. Meeting in Leeds before the London event evidenced that the three groups’ poverty solutions were very similar but using different graphics, this made us feel empowered, making our voices stronger together.
“Poverty isn’t a choice that anybody makes – it is a decision that’s made for them”
The Dole Animators also presented their “five-point plan for a brighter future”, shown here:
Their five points are:
1) Direct money into programmes that work
2) A benefits system that shows empathy and is personalised
3) A right to work so people can have a decent life
4) Child care that makes work possible
5) A right to decent and affordable homes.
Speaking before the event, Rebecca Bromley, of the Dole Animators group, said: “When we go to London I just hope we can help people to see the bigger picture and make them want to stop poverty happening like it does now.
“I don’t just want them to listen but actually put actions in place to make a difference. The plan we have come up with is based on our experiences. Every single one of the five points we make has related to me at one time so I know they would make a difference to people’s lives.”
Lizzie Whitby-Davies said: “I’d like to see politicians see us as more than just numbers and as people with ideas of our own. Politicians should come to poverty-ridden areas and listen to our plan and ideas for how things could be different. I’ve experienced poverty – and I’ve even had to consider using a food bank – so I know exactly how hard life can be.”
A third group member, Margaret Mbaikaize, said: “The five point plan has real meaning for me and my own experiences. Take the first one: putting money into programmes that work. I spent two years on the work programme, but didn’t get any help: it just made me feel useless and like I wasn’t good enough. But I did finally get help from a small charity that supported me back into work. It’s charities like that which should get the funding, as they are the ones that are actually helping people achieve their goals.”
Sue Watson, also of the group, said: “This five point plan makes a start in identifying those issues that need serious attention to enable us to achieve better standards for the least well off in our society today. These solutions are based on our thoughts as Dole Animators who have experiences of the benefits system and of poverty.”