A group of people with lived experience of poverty have enjoyed success in their campaign for their voices and experiences to be included in policy discussions, debates and solutions. Group member Tracey Herrington tells their story.
The Poverty2Solutions journey began over three years ago. Three grassroots organisations led by people with lived experience of poverty (ATD Fourth World, Dole Animators and Thrive Teesside) teamed up with Dr Ruth Patrick from the University of York and graphic designer Dan Farley to share and merge their expertise. Our aspiration is to ensure that the voice of lived experience is taken seriously and can inform decisions that have an impact on the lives of people in low-income communities.
We are the voice of our communities with the skills and experience to influence change. We are solution-focused and innovative. We have seen how bad policy decisions have had a negative impact on people who are already struggling. Being part of the decision-making process can prevent further suffering in low-income communities.
Enacting the socio-economic duty
Tired of feeling that our voices and experiences were ignored in policy-making discussions and debates, we developed the Do Your Duty for Equality campaign, making the case for enacting the socio-economic duty. This would require public bodies to adopt transparent and effective measures to address inequalities resulting from differences in occupation, education, place of residence or social class.
We felt it was important to gather additional information, advice and support, combining our areas of expertise with others’ knowledge and skills. A meeting with Harriet Harman MP (the Equalities Minister in 2009) seemed the most sensible first step, as in 2009 she had tried to introduce the socio-economic duty. This was abandoned shortly afterwards by Theresa May MP when she was Home Secretary. Harriet Harman continued in her quest to gain support for the introduction of the duty and Poverty2Solutions wanted to hear more about this.
We recognised that gaining allies and support from all political parties could be a key determining factor in achieving our goal, and tried to arrange to meet leading political figures from all parties. We held a number of influencing meetings with Labour shadow ministers, embarked on a fact-finding trip to Scotland to check out the implementation of the Fairer Scotland Duty, and linked in with Just Fair and their campaign #1forEquality.
Our group appreciates that we don’t have all the answers and information. We are keen to work in collaboration with others and pool our skills, expertise and resources. For example, we have worked really closely with JRF’s Daisy Sands to develop our campaign on the socio-economic duty, and have also learned from and worked with colleagues at organisations such as Child Poverty Action Group, Disability Rights UK and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It is only by working together, building relationships of trust and respecting each other’s areas of expertise that we can really make a difference. We have a shared goal to make a fairer, more equal society, so it is worthwhile to work more closely on issues that are of public concern. Reducing inequality is in everyone’s interest.
It has been invaluable to pool expertise and bring in other experts, skills and knowledge at key stages throughout our journey. We have gathered information on best practice in campaigning methods, sought advice from legal experts and consequently evidenced an ability to form partnerships of mutual respect.
All of this has made us feel listened to. We live in hardship every day, deciding whether to eat or put on the heating, not knowing where our next meal is coming from, struggling to understand the ever-changing benefit system, and feeling guilty for claiming benefits. Things need to improve for everyone – by working together we can make changes.
Taking part in a party conference
The Do Your Duty for Equality campaign was launched at the Labour Party conference 2019 and set in motion our next targeted steps to seek support from others with influence, contacts and expertise.
A high-profile and well-branded fringe event featured a panel of high-profile speakers including Labour shadow minister Kate Green MP and representatives from JRF (Daisy Sands), Child Poverty Action Group (Carla Clarke) and Povery2Solutions (Dylan Eastwood). The event was chaired by Ayesha Hazarika, a journalist and comedian, who also acted as an adviser to Harriet Harman during the development of the 2010 Equality Act. This event sparked a lively debate on the value of implementing the socio-economic duty, with particular emphasis placed on the value of collaborating with people with lived experience to effectively implement and monitor the duty.
Dylan, on behalf of Poverty2Solutions, was inspirational in his debut speech at the event.
We may not be politicians, or experts on law and legislation, but we are experts by experience, with knowledge and expertise on our communities, on what they want and what they need. This is a chance for those who have felt voiceless, who have given up on politics. In a nation arguably more divided than ever, to be heard, through implementation of the socio-economic duty, our involvement will hopefully lead us to feel protected and valued.
As a result of attending the conference, we made key contacts, were offered legal advice, and held follow-up meetings with members of Labour’s shadow cabinet. While it’s difficult to fully assess the party conference launch, overall feedback has been positive and group members have felt inspired.
Taking our project to the Labour Party Conference was great. I really liked it. I had never been to such an event – meeting MPs and public figures was something special. I felt some of the people really listened to us. We really need to keep meeting people and getting the message out there.
It is a sign that our words are getting taken into account. I think it is important that the voices of people from the grassroots are heard by government. Putting an end to poverty is important. We hope to see positive changes implemented in many areas, but more (for me and our community) social housing in very important. It is very difficult to access social housing, private landlords are over charging us and then many struggling families fall into debt.
Representing “the forgotten voices of people in poverty”
We then needed to take into consideration the announcement of an early election. We put our emphasis on having our policy ask in all party manifestos, and reached out to all party leaders making this request. Our appeal for support was backed up with a summary of need and a rationale for the value of implementing the duty. We feel we achieved success with our work to date with the Labour Party’s commitment in its manifesto.
We will put class at the heart of Britain’s equality agenda and create a new ground for discrimination on the basis of socio-economic disadvantage.
Seeing this in the Labour Party manifesto is really important... because we represent the forgotten voices of people in poverty. This is a sign that someone is listening for change. Now we are beginning to be listened to, it’s time that our voices and knowledge are included around the table when discussing policy.
What happens next?
The work that has gone into influencing policy to date cannot be underestimated. Our Poverty2Solutions journey will not end here. We’re shifting the emphasis of our campaign work toward the newly elected Conservative government, in particular to ensure that they fulfil their manifesto commitment to 'listen to the people who have felt left behind by the last few decades of economic growth and want to have more control of their future'.
- This week, Poverty 2 Solutions is included in The Big Issue's Top 100 Changemakers 2020 list, as one of 'The thinkers, creators and agitators changing the world in 2020'.