What is a Poverty Truth Commission?

‘Nothing about us, without us, is for us, is the starting point for a Poverty Truth Commission’. It identifies that lasting social change only happens when those who experience the struggle participate in generating that change.

The idea of a commission is not new. Where a problem or issue is identified, a group of people, usually professionals in the field, are tasked with exploring it and then making a set of recommendations. A good commission would involve some sort of consultation with the people affected by the issue, but consultation is often as far as it goes.

A Poverty Truth Commission turns this model on its head asking, ‘what if people who have directly faced poverty had relationships with people of influence, and those who make policy decisions that affect them? Would people listen to their experiences and if they did, would they better understand the challenges that poverty brings? Would it make a difference to the decisions that are being made?’ Therefore, a Poverty Truth Commission starts with the real voices of people who have experience of living at the sharp end of poverty, in all sorts of different ways, believing that they need to not only be heard but involved in decisions about poverty.

In Phase 1 a group of people is brought together, known as ‘Community Commissioners’, who have lived experience of poverty and are willing to share their stories in the knowledge that their experiences reflect the lives of others. The group meet over several months sharing stories, building trust and relationships, and through facilitated conversation discuss what they would like to say to people of influence, so that they might better understand life from the Community Commissioner’s perspectives.

In Phase 2, a group of civic, business and faith leaders, ‘Civic Commissioners’ join the Community Commissioners to create a full Poverty Truth Commission. The first priority is meeting together to build relationships – the relational nature of this process is of vital importance. To quote a Birmingham Poverty Truth Community Commissioner:

“A group of people who have some experience of various kinds of poverty, in a room with people who have some position of influence in a community and in a space where there’s kind of no hierarchy and everyone’s allowed to be human together and share experience and work on how we make things better together.”

Ordinary people are being given the chance to tell their personal stories of struggling against poverty. By creating safe spaces for people to tell their stories and opportunities for those making and influencing decisions to listen, it is hoped that the experience will deepen an understanding of the difficult and entrenched issues of poverty, improve perceptions and challenge stereotyping, and lead to better decision making leaders across business, public and voluntary sectors.

Birmingham Poverty Truth Commission is hosted by Thrive Together Birmingham

There are Poverty Truth Commissions up and down the whole of the UK; we are proud to part of something much bigger – a movement that is seeking to challenge poverty in a different way.