Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Tracey Herrington from Poverty2Solutions says why campaigners are heading to Conservative Party Conference this week

It has now been 18 months since the country first went into lockdown. As we begin, slowly and hopefully to move out of the pandemic, it has never been more important to make sure that we really do ‘build back better’ and create a better future for us all.  

Doing this properly means politicians and policymakers must start to actually learn from and work with those with the expertise that only comes from lived experiences. As someone who lives in an area too often dismissed as ‘left behind’, working and living alongside people experiencing poverty and the social security system first-hand, I witness and learn from this expertise every day.

The pandemic has been challenging for us all and it has amplified the existing difficulties and challenges faced in low-income communities. But it has also shown us how policymaking too often ignores the expertise of experience; and fails to bring it to bear on decision making. Creating a sustainable road map out to a better future will need us all to come together, to ‘do your duty for equality’; and tackle persistent inequality head on. A just and compassionate society demands this and it really is the only way to ensure that no one is left behind.

Three members of Thrive Teesside, including blog author Tracey Herrington
Three members of Thrive Teesside and Poverty2Solutions, including blog author Tracey Herrington, centre

It's never been more important to listen

At a time of high economic uncertainty, and with a government commitment to ‘levelling up’, there has never been a more important time for people with direct experiences of poverty to be involved in policy and decision-making, contributing their expertise and ideas for change. As Sue, a member of community group Dole Animators puts it:

‘Too often people are portrayed as numbers on paper, or as stats and percentages. It is very easy for policy makers to dismiss who they represent when they aren’t considered as individuals. Having someone describe their lived experience is not only brave but essential if we want positive and long-lasting change. They can show us our failings, our lack of compassion and humanity. If a policy affects someone why shouldn’t they have the right to be involved in its making?’

What we want to change

Poverty2Solutions, a coalition of three community groups (ATD Fourth World, Dole Animators and Thrive Teesside) led by people with direct experiences of poverty, want the UK government to commit to working with people with lived experiences of socio-economic disadvantage in policymaking processes and decision-making. Doing so would ensure that policies that have a direct impact on those in or at risk of poverty make a positive and effective contribution to stemming the rising tide of poverty and inequality. 

Despite the pledges of successive governments, rates of poverty and levels of inequality remain unacceptably high. Covid-19 has hardened and exposed these inequalities, strengthening the case for targeted and effective action.

If Government had listened sooner...

Experiences of the past 18 months show us that harnessing the expertise that comes with experience can lead to more targeted and effective policy responses. 

Whilst the government introduced a range of bold and compassionate policies at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, had they engaged with people with lived experiences as the crisis developed, their response would have been better and more effective. 

For example, groups with experience very quickly flagged issues tied to digital exclusion and Free School Meal replacements. Had these groups been listened to and learned from, robust and practical responses could have been better developed that would have mitigated, at least in part, negative consequences that we have seen such as a widening educational attainment gap. Working in partnership with groups with lived experiences would have enabled the government to develop targeted policy responses in an efficient and timely manner, as opposed to taking the more knee-jerk and reactive response we’ve witnessed.

At Conservative Party Conference this week

Poverty2Solutions have been working together for almost five years to develop solutions to poverty that are grounded in our own expertise and experiences. We know what would make a difference in the communities that we live in; creating a fairer and more equal society and we want to be part of conversations about how we improve policies for all of us; we want to ‘build back better.’ 

The re-launch of our report, Do your duty for equality. Making the case for addressing rising levels of inequality in partnership with people with lived experiences of poverty will happen at the  Conservative Party Conference. Poverty2Solutions will be partnering with Bright Blue to host a fringe event: “Leaving no-one behind: the people’s voice in levelling up”

A real chance for transformation

Poverty2Solutions are a bit different from the usual policy wonks, journalists and parliamentarians that you typically find in attendance at the Conservative Party Conference. But we are attending and speaking up because we want to work with politicians to share our expertise and experiences, and to collaborate in exciting and innovative ways to create positive change.

The possibilities that can emerge by working directly with people with direct experiences of poverty and social security is genuinely transformative. I really hope politicians will listen, and grasp the opportunity we’re holding out to draw on the expertise in communities just like mine.

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