Are people with lived experience of poverty finally being heard?

Policies and debate on UK poverty issues – including Universal Credit – rarely include the voices of the people who have direct experience. That is rightly starting to change, says Sarah Campbell.

What a week last week, resulting in some monumental wins for groups of people with lived experience across the UK.

Universal Credit has been a hot topic in the news for months, and there has been a proliferation of voices calling for it to be fixed and for a pause – yet the voices of the people who are on the receiving end of the service and who have direct experience of it have had no platform. Even within research carried out there have been very few channels for people to have a voice of their own and to be involved as a key stakeholder. ‘Our voices seem to count for nothing’. (Letter to Esther Mcvey, Addressing Poverty with Lived Experience Collective, 2018)

This changed, even if momentarily, last week. And there seems to be huge appetite and support for people to have a louder voice.

Working alongside key allies, the Addressing Poverty with Lived Experience Collective (APLE) – made up of lived experience groups tackling poverty around the UK – managed to get their collective voice heard through various media and government channels:

  • One of the members appeared on a Channel 4 Universal Credit piece with Jackie Long.
  • The Times published a letter from the collective urging Esther McVey, Minister for Work and Pensions, to meet them so they could help her to fix the many flaws of Universal Credit.
  • To top off the week, the Daily Mirror included a key article on the work of the APLE collective highlighting their joint work and call to be included in designing a service that more accurately meets needs and realities. ‘We keep hearing it’s working…it isn’t, but if you listen to us we can help fix it.’ (Daily Mirror Article on the APLE Collective, 2018).
  • The Collective took part in an event at Parliament to raise their profile within government and to advocate for people with lived experience to be included in finding solutions to poverty.
  • Their social media strategy went down a storm. The APLE Collective’s new account got 600 likes in less than a week, and there were people tweeting and retweeting – showing their support. The climate is changing – in a good way.

So how did this come about?

Back in February 2018, seven groups of people with lived experience from across the UK came together to see what would happen if they connected and got to know one another. The groups all had a similar ethos, having people with lived experience in the lead – Expert Citizens CIC (Stoke on Trent), Dole Animators (Leeds), Hope Rising (Bradford), Salford Poverty Truth/Community Pride CIC, Thrive (Stockton), Cheshire West Poverty Truth Commission and ATD Fourth World (London). This was a result of demand on the ground from these groups to strengthen their voice and actions. All groups were leading fantastic local actions but knew that the real levers on poverty were at a national level and they wanted a national voice.

We embarked on this in an entirely exploratory way – the will was there, and JRF was able to respond – resourcing the space and the travel for groups to come together, get to know one another, start building relationships, but being completely open to what this turned out to be.

A small idea of testing out a joint bit of work around 17 October – International Day for the Eradication of Poverty – was floated, and everyone went with it; actions embedded in local communities, but with a national audience. Little did we know that it would result in the week we've just had.

Partnership working

Large organisations with relative power can play an important role in amplifying the voice of the people they are working to bring about social change for. We need to change the face of civil society, make it more diverse and ensure that people who are affected by the issue have as much of a platform as those advocating on their behalf.

What was unique about our partnership approach with the APLE Collective was the positioning of our organisation, with its connections and expertise in crafting media messages, to support the message that the groups wanted to communicate - resulting in a clear and concrete ask.

Social change never came about without those affected demanding that change for themselves. This is about sharing power and platforms as organisations. It’s not about giving voice. People have a voice – meet these groups and you will have no doubt about that! It is more about sharing power and platforms as organisations, building trust with these small yet formidable groups to form powerful alliances that connect the grassroots to the grass ‘tops’.

JRF are at an early stage of the journey on this and we have a lot to learn, but I am looking forward to developing this area of work alongside our lived experience partners as key stakeholders in solving poverty. Last week was a monumental leap forward in this regard.