Guest blog by Sarah Campbell (Joseph Rowntree Foundation)

The Wolverhampton City Shapers met for the 2nd time on the 6th July.


The group spent more time getting to know one another; a key element of the Poverty Truth process lies in the relationship building, so much time is spent enabling these relations to flourish and for the different commissioners to get to know one another.


The commissioners were then talked through a journey of someone who had a bad accident and then entered into the benefits system.


The journey was illustrated through a ball of string - passed between each professional involved in the story, all with a different role to play in trying to support this person on their journey.  The end picture was illustrative!


‘The complexity is overwhelming!’


‘I counted 17 people involved in this story; the resilience is palpable’


‘How on earth can you keep track of this? It’s overwhelming”


‘..and each time the person meets another professional, they have to tell their story over and over again”


‘This is what I see every day at work; the lived reality for everyone who comes through our door “


One of our group bravely acted out the real scenario:


“I’ve lived it, this is nothing new. I was a business woman and then I became homeless. I slept on an air mattress with my daughter, I had no funds for furniture. I spent 4 months wait for counselling. The job centre did referrals three times and nothing came of it. The job centre failed to do their job. It stopped and I had no money….mistakes seriously affects people’s lives. They have every right to be angry. I managed to get through it and am ok now but not everyone is that strong. I’ve got to be the voice for those people.”


Wow. What a powerful and surprising testimony.


The room was silent, as everyone listened to another story reflective of the one they had just acted out, but it was from one of the public life commissioners.


Taking part in the session led to two main reflections on my part:

  1. Often, there are sweeping statements made about people in positions of power having no idea of the realities that people face on a daily basis and often there is truth in that. However, today was a good lesson in never to judge a book by its cover; we never do know what someone’s background is so it’s always good to keep an open mind.

  2. Having taken part in many sessions and heard many stories such as the one that was acted out on this day I wasn’t surprised by what I heard…but I did have a lightbulb moment during the session and this was when it was pointed out how many times a person had to tell their story…it made me think of the effects of negative story telling can have on your mind and emotional well being and self confidence. If you tell yourself something over and over again, it tends to affect how you think about yourself – negative or positive. It made me think about the heavy impact that being stuck in the system can have on you. The system that is there to help, yet in its very nature undermines a person’s ability to get through difficult times and wears that person down. I think this is something that is often overlooked. We look at the technical and structural issues that need to be addressed and sometimes miss the human element.

Working with people with lived experience humanises the issue and reconnects us to our original purpose. Too often politics and systems can get in the way and this is the core approach of the Poverty Truth Commission – to connect as humans (not systems or organisations) and find solutions to the very human experience of poverty.