Poverty2Solutions: Direct Experience Taking the Lead to Developing the Socio-Economic Duty

What a journey we have been (and still are) on. Three grassroots organisations: ATD Fourth World, Dole Animators and Thrive Teesside have been working with Ruth Patrick and Dan Farley (with funding and support from Webb Memorial Trust and JRF) for nearly three years now developing their Poverty2Solutions. Not wanting to be locked out of mainstream debates when arriving at solutions to addressing the causes and prevalence of poverty, the three groups have embarked on unprecedented collaborative working practices, bringing their unique areas of expertise together and taking forward solutions that can and will make a real difference in our communities of disadvantage.

“We are sick of people in positions of power who do not listen. Our voice means something and we have knowledge, skills and abilities that should inform the debates that lead to policies that have a major impact on our lives”

– Kathleen Carter, Thrive

Each of the three groups is rooted in its community, working with people with direct experience of poverty to effect change. No longer wanting to be ‘part of the problem’ or ‘demonised by their position in society’, people are challenging the status quo and bringing their areas of expertise and knowledge around the table with other stakeholders to make a difference in their communities.

“We have lived through government policies that have had a negative impact on our life (Universal Credit / Welfare Reforms). We are fed up with this and want to make sure that the voices of people who live in poverty help shape and design policies. We are asking for better designed policies that enable us to realise our potential. We are not going away; we are a growing movement.” 

Dann Kenningham, ATD Fourth World

The Poverty2Solutions journey began nearly three years back with each group designing visual illustrations to depict what they saw as solutions to the difficulties faced by people living in poverty. In July 2017, the three groups came together to launch their final designs at an event in the Houses of Parliament, hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty.

Work did not cease with the presentation at the Houses of Parliament. The three groups have been tenacious with progressing their solutions. Resolute with their determination to see change, they have continued to develop their work and ensure it is specific with regards to having a major impact on the lives of people who are suffering under austerity and welfare reforms. Voice has been an important aspect of this work and in particular:

“It is important for us to put the voices of people who live in poverty into policy making. We are asking for better designed policies that enable us to realise our potential.”

– Tracey Herrington, Thrive

“This has been an amazing journey. I can’t believe how much we have achieved so far. It has been great working with like-minded people who want to make a difference. It can be hard to motivate yourself.  That’s why this team is so fantastic – we keep each other going.”

– Colin Jeffrey, Thrive

“The start of the journey was getting to the root causes of poverty; sharing lived experiences and talking about the impact of poverty and the way we felt. Coming together with other groups made us feel empowered to be able to come up with the solutions; some were small, easy results, but we were ready to take on a big ask, so we did. We are proud of our achievements and ready for the journey ahead: to explore the feasibility of implementing Section One of the Equality Act.”

– Corrina Eastwood, Thrive

 “With apprehension, happiness, and laughter, we have joined together and walked the journey hand in hand. People from different parts of the country, all with direct experience of poverty, have been affected in very similar ways. We sit, we talk and we delve deep. We have a brain and we are now determined to organise ourselves and fight back.”

– Kathleen Carter, Thrive

Developing the aspect of Voice–and ensuring that people with direct experience were not only heard but actively listened to by decision and policy makers–led to the progression of re-visiting the feasibility of implementing Section 1 of the Equality Act (Socio Economic Duty). But what does that actually mean? Back in 2009, the then deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, MP,talked about proposals in a social mobility paper that would ensure public bodies would have a legal duty to reduce inequality between socio-economic groups.

Since 2009, Harriet has continued to progress this vision. On 11 January 2017, she asked the then Minister for Women and Equalities (Justine Greening, MP) if she would commence the Socio-Economic Duty on public bodies contained within Section 1. Furthermore, on the 23 November 2017, Harriet tabled an Early Day Motion 591 calling for Section 1 to be commenced in England and Wales with cross-party support beginning to grow. Harriet has been quoted as welcoming the Scottish Government’s decision to implement their Fairer Duty and commented that it is a powerful tool in terms of spending cuts. Having a well-resourced watchdog to monitor its implementation is key.

Poverty2Solutions felt that there was a clear alignment with the work we were progressing so naturally felt our next step was to meet with Harriet and have a conversation. Our brief and aim for the meeting was very specific: (1) update her on our journey to date, (2) gather some key information to assess the feasibility of progressing this piece of work, and (3) seek support / agree on next steps.

The meeting with Harriet was well received and a focused debate allowed for time for people with direct experience of poverty to showcase their work and reiterate their determination to ensure people with direct experience were firmly placed and at the forefront of taking this specific piece of work through to the next steps.

The outcome of the meeting on 5 March 2019 led to the following key points and outcomes:

  • Harriet had a good appreciation that, done well, the value of the duty would be not just about adding data and statistical analysis on socio-economic inequalities into policy-making, but also about incorporating the voices and experiences of those with lived experience.
  • She raised her concern that whilst there is now a general recognition that the voices of e.g. women and BME people should be taken into account in policy-making, there remains an unhelpful belief that people in poverty do not want to speak about their experiences and views. The Socio-Economic Duty could start to challenge this misconception.
  • Harriet is particularly interested to learn more about how the Fairer Duty in Scotland is being implemented and how they are addressing the issue of including the voices of people with lived experience.
  • A commitment was made to reboot her current Early Day Motion on the duty as a means of starting to raise the profile of the issue again in Parliament. She will re-word the motion to reflect that i) there is now an equivalent duty in Scotland, ii) recent years have increased the necessity for the duty (e.g. rising poverty/ food bank use), and iii) the need for the duty to embed lived experience into policy-making.
  • She will also try and see if she can find a couple of Tories who may be supportive of the motion to help add legitimacy (i.e. so it has cross-party support).
  • On the question of appetite within Labour to include a commitment to implement the duty in the next Labour manifesto, Harriet was very positive and felt this would be achievable.
  • Harriet also agreed to act as an ambassador for the campaign and seemed energised to refocus her attention on the issue more generally.
  • Finally, a suggestion was made that one next step might be to seek commitments from a couple of local councils (e.g. Southwark and Stockton) to implement the duty to act as pilot schemes.

Speaking to Harriet’s office following the meeting, feedback was: “We are currently working on the redraft of the Early Day Motion. Harriet has spoken to Alex Cunningham MP(Stockton North) and he’s agreed to be a joint sponsor.”

Participants from Poverty2Solutions had lots to say upon reflection of the meeting with Harriet:

“We were made to feel very welcome especially as we were invited actually to her office. The meeting didn’t feel rushed. She took her time with us listening to us and really hearing what we had to say. Being invited after by her go to the public gallery in the House of Commons was the icing on the cake and good end to a good trip.”

– Patricia, ATD Fourth World

 “It was nice to meet with her in person, because I had seen her on TV before, but I never thought I would meet her. She welcomed us very well. I felt comfortable, confident talking to her. Before the meeting I was a bit sceptical. But it was really good to be in company of an actual MP. It was a new experience for me. Having written my piece on paper made it easier for me. Whatever we told her, I hope she will be true to her word and do what she said she would do. Unfortunately we had very little time with her as she had to dash out. It was nice to look at debates from the gallery afterwards. Later I was flicking through TV channels and stopped on Channel 8 (London Live) where the lady we had seen in the House of Commons was talking. I said to my daughter: ‘Look, mummy was there!’ It was nice to be all together in the Wash Café. It is always good to read again in advance when you prepare something. I was less nervous. Before I would never have been able to do something like that. But I learned over the years. “

– Angela, ATD Fourth World

“I think the meeting was really good. She is a very good listener.  The meeting was very short. She is a very busy woman so it is understandable.  We had a very limited time with her and we couldn’t talk about our second point. We could leave our questions with her, though and I assume she will go back to them. One of the ladies from Teesside spoke more to her than we did. But it was good because she could put her point across. She said she was willing to back us. We have the labour government on our side. That’s fantastic. We’ve got a point and we needed to get it over. At least we got somewhere. The preparation time was very good. It was good to prepare in advance. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what it would be like  to meet with Harriet Harman. But it went very well.  I took the opportunity to give her a copy of The Roles We Play: A Method Participation report.”

– Seamus, ATD Fourth World

“Harriet listened and made us feel very welcome. She was not afraid to answer our questions, in fact, she got right into it. Our journey is finally getting there.”

– Colin, Thrive

It takes a range of people with various skills and knowledge to enable something like this to happen. The feedback above from participants demonstrates how valuable meetings and initiatives involving people with direct experience of any given issue are.

Forming partnership alliances and developing relationships both with funders and others who have skills and expertise to offer are key to ‘making things happen’.  Poverty2Solutions acknowledge all the support and assistance they have received to date to enable actions to be progressed.

We recognise that without funding support, meetings, travel and all other costs associated with ensuring the voices of people could be heard in parliament would have proved if not impossible, very difficult. So a big thank you to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Webb Memorial Trust

Thanks to JRF for also for putting us in touch with Daisy Sands. Her knowledge and experience around policy and campaign work has assisted the Poverty2Solutions group immeasurably

Dr Ruth Patrick has guided, steered and kept us on track, despite our sometimes best efforts to wander off topic

Graphic Designer Dan Farley has enabled our work to visually come to life and Charlotte Thorpe has shared her expertise around social media to ensure we reach out enabling us to foster and engage with a wider community

Participants themselves have been exceptional with ensuring the project has remained true to its values. It takes a lot of hard work, determination and commitment to keep getting up and challenging the status quo, ensuring the voices of people with direct experience can and will continue to be recognised as key to ensuring change for the better happens. Without people from the community fully engaging, we would not have made this progression to date. A big, big thank you

The Poverty2Solutions journey does not stop here. Next stop, Glasgow on a fact finding mission to find out more about the implementation of the Fairer Duty

Work will develop with Just Fair and the Poverty2Solutions will seek additional funding to enable the recommendations which came from the meeting with Harriet Harman, MP to progress

Follow us on twitter @poverty2solutions to keep abreast of our next steps

Written by Tracey from Thrive