The Black Civil Rights Movement in the USA would not have made progress had white people dominated its leadership. Similarly the Feminist Movement would not have achieved what it has, had men been running the show. And so a movement to tackle poverty needs to have people who experience it at its heart if real change is to be achieved. Nothing about Us without Us is for Us.
Scotland’s Poverty Truth Commission and Leeds Poverty Truth Challenge operate with a very similar model, underpinned by the same principles. They both bring together two distinct groups of people: business, civic, political and faith leaders; and an equal number of people who struggle against poverty on a daily basis. They focus on: building relationships; encouraging change within the organisations, institutions and communities that the commissioners come from; developing shared work between the two different groups of commissioners; and making policy proposals around key areas of anti-poverty work identified through the experience and knowledge of the commissioners.
Phase 1 of Birmingham Poverty Truth began with gathering together some ‘experts by experience’ of living with poverty, Testifying Commissioners. They spent a number of months getting to know each other, and working on what elements of their story they wanted to tell. We then had support from a local arts group to help our group present their stories, and in October 2017 we hosted the Launch Event for Birmingham Poverty Truth, where our Testifying Commissioners presented their stories to an audience. It was a moving and powerful experience for everybody in the room.
We are now in Phase 2 of the Commission. Our Testifying Commissioners are working alongside our Civic, Business & Faith Leader Commissioners building relationships and understanding. The process is challenging and disruptive in the best of ways, we all leave each session feeling enriched. Changes are already beginning to happen, and we are excited and hopeful about the longer term impact of Birmingham Poverty Truth.