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Introducing the Poverty Truth Commission (PTC)

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Poverty Truth Commission (PTC) has been launched in both Scotland and Leeds (see below) and has been hugely successful. It is noted for giving a voice to people who are actually experiencing poverty.

Andrew Grinnell, who has been part of the support team of the PTC in Leeds (see here for more info), will be coming down to Cardiff on November 25th and 26th to hold a series of meetings with key leaders from a range of backgrounds and different sectors. The purpose of these meetings will be:

  • to secure leaders’ support in  principle for the initiative
  • to secure leaders’ willingness to advocate this approach
  • for leaders to consider ways in which they can be involved, including being part of the PTC steering group

You are invited to attend a meeting with Andrew Grinnell that will take place in Cardiff on the afternoon of Thursday 26th November from 12.00-2.00pm. Andrew will explain how the Poverty Truth Commission has worked in Leeds and there will be ample time for questions and observations. Over this time the hope is that you will be inspired and see ways in which you can get involved. If you’re interested in attending, please email [email protected]


Poverty Truth Commission – an Introduction

The issue – in a nutshell

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.


The story to date:

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: senior civic, political and business 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.

Scotland’s Poverty Truth Commission was established in 2009 and is now in its third iteration. The Commissions have focused on key policy issues including: Kinship Care; Alternatives to Violence; the Stigma of Poverty; Benefit Cuts; In-Work Poverty; the Poverty Premium; and Food Poverty. It has helped to influence change at individual, organisational and policy levels, locally, regional and nationally.

Leeds Poverty Truth Challenge (established in 2013) recognised the crucial role that business plays in the city and so sought to ensure that a significant number of commissioners were leaders in business. The issues we are addressing inevitably focussed upon Leeds and include mental health, families achieving potential and stigma & awareness.


How We Work: Process and Principles

i) Process.

Key steps include:

  • Step One: Secure recognition from a few key leaders that in order to tackle poverty effectively, people experiencing it must be more directly involved, and to secure these leaders willingness to advocate this approach.
  • Step Two: Identify, recruit and support people who experience poverty to participate as testifying commissioners. This is a deliberately slow process taking between 6 and 12 months.
  • Step Three: With the help of the key leaders (Step One) identify and recruit civic and business commissioners drawn from a good sample of significant institutions and communities.
  • Step Four: Hold a high-profile public launch where the testifying commissioners present some of their stories and experience to civic and business commissioners. Our experience is that this has been empowering for testifying commissioners and it has elicited a shared response and commitment from the civic and business commissioners which is publicly witnessed.
  • Step Five: Joint chairs are chosen from within the Commission, representing the two components of its make-up. Local facilitators work to support the co-chairs, individual commissioners and the wider work of the Commission. They do not take a leading role.
  • Step Six: The Commission meets monthly in smaller groups and as a full Commission to build relationships and increase shared understanding. Through these meetings, as well as individual sets of relationships which are established between commissioners, the Commission identifies particular issues to work on together within a limited timescale (12-18 months).
  • Step Seven: The Commission reports on its work both through a second large public gathering and a short, accessible report highlighting what it has learned, what individual commissioners aim to do as well as a small number of policy and practice recommendations it is making. This reporting, whilst important, represents only a relatively small element of the overall work of the Commission. Our experience over the last five years is that the key thing is what commissioners do together rather than simply what they say needs to be done.

ii) Some core principles we are discovering.

  • The causes of poverty are systemic and it is not enough to be simply concerned with its symptoms. At the same time practical progress matters.
  • Leave your title at the door. Meet as people not as professionals or service users but as human beings.
  • People with a direct experience of poverty have the missing expertise. Let their concerns set the agenda. Learn to listen with your heart as well as your head, then set your hands to action.
  • Choose your members wisely. They need to be committed, creative and willing to work together – or at least willing to learn all of these skills.
  • Take time with one another, building relationships, friendships and trust not just examining problems.
  • Encourage and support one another throughout the process. Create spaces for people individually and collectively to reflect on their experiences.
  • Don’t get involved unless you are willing to be changed. Some of the things you will hear will be challenging and difficult. Your perceptions of people in power and people in poverty will not be the same again.

Having got this far, what we want to do now.

In partnership with Joseph Rowntree Foundation we are able to support the development of Poverty Truth Commissions in locations across the UK. In developing this work, we want to build upon work which has already been undertaken locally, regionally and nationally over the years and, in particular, the anti-poverty strategies which are in place and the recommendations and practice of a network of Fairness Commissions. At the same time, based on our experience in Scotland and Leeds – and the enthusiasm of others who have encountered our work – we believe that the model of Poverty Truth Challenge Commissions offers something additional and distinct. Our model is not content to gather evidence from those who are experiencing poverty but rather of working alongside them in the development of new practice and policy. As one of our commissioners has put it: ‘Through the Commission I have become convinced that we are more likely to identify solution to some deep-rooted problems if politicians and officials involve those who experience the reality of poverty in their daily lives. That is the challenge to policy makers and those who deliver public services at every level of government.’ (Jim Wallace, Lord Wallace of Tankerness)

Working with you

This is our initial plan to achieve this.

  Potential Commission locations. We will undertake an initial site visit (or conference call) to share the vision, model and principles to a small number of interested parties who may chose to convene and facilitate a commission. It would be for them to then decide whether they wanted to develop their interest further.

  Assessing suitability. If there is sufficient interest we would, in collaboration with the local interested parties, assess the potential for a Commission against three criteria:

  1. What are the levels of poverty? We will focus our energy in regions and cities where there are a significant percentage of people living in poverty and which have areas with high levels of deprivation. This is not because these are the only places where poverty exists but because we want to focus our work in the very poorest regions.
  2. How connected are people? We will ensure that there is significant local commitment to the process (i.e. people/organisations which have direct connection to people living in poverty and influence within the leadership of the area to be able to build a successful commission).
  3. How committed are people to the process? The effectiveness of the model is determined by the extent to which conveners are willing to step out of the limelight in order to allow others – with direct experience of poverty – to be heard.

As part of this process, representatives from Faith in Community Scotland and/or Together for Peace would spend two days with the local partners who would be leading the work meeting with key civic, political and business leaders to share the model and to identify the level of shared commitment to the process. At the end of this period both parties would make a decision as to whether to proceed or not.

  Establishing the Commission. If both parties agree to the establishment of a Poverty Truth Commission remote support (primarily via email, telephone and video conferencing) would be offered to the local group as it spends an initial six to twelve months recruiting and supporting testifying commissioners up to the launch event.

  Ongoing support. Face to face and remote support will continue over the first full year of the Commission with a move to peer support over that period.

  Bringing Commissions together. The primary facilitators of the Commissions (including those from Scotland and Leeds) will be brought together on a six monthly basis. As the number of Commissions grows, we will aim to bring representatives of the different commissions together on an annual basis to provide mutual learning and sharing of good practice as well as helping to build a national movement to influence policy and cultural change. These gatherings would provide JRF with opportunities to research and evaluate impact.


Contact information:

Martin Johnstone – [email protected] 07710 509061;

Andrew Grinnell: [email protected]; 07854 923724




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