People experiencing poverty will work together with civic and business leaders to try to come up with solutions to York’s growing poverty problem as part of an innovative new project.
The York Poverty Truth Commission follows in the footsteps of several similar initiatives across the UK, including Leeds, Gateshead and Oldham, which seek to prioritise the voices of people who are struggling to get by day-to-day.
It works by bringing those people – community commissioners – together with local leaders – civic commissioners – who get to know each other before identifying potential areas for change.
“Hopefully together they can bring about some of the changes and remove some of the the barriers that keep people living in poverty,” said Alison Semmence, chief executive of York CVS, which is helping to oversee the project.
‘Nothing about us, without us, is for us’ is the guiding statement for all Poverty Truth Commissions.
Ms Semmence added:
It has to be driven by people experiencing poverty. They’re the ones who will identify what the issues are – whether it’s housing, health services, we can’t predetermine anything because it’s absolutely got to come from them.
The key thing is that whoever the civic commissioners are, they have to have the power to be able to make change. They then build the relationships and get to know each other and see each other as human beings.
So it’s just about rebalancing the power, and humanising people – to see them as individuals rather than just statistics.
Truth behind the image
The first Poverty Truth Commission was launched in Scotland in 2009. Leeds was the first place to undertake a commission outside Scotland, and Kirklees and Hull are now both looking into hosting their own.
While there may be a perception that York is an affluent area, Ms Semmence sees a different truth hidden beneath the surface.
According to End Child Poverty, nearly 4,500 children (26 per cent) of children in the York Central constituency live in poverty, an increase of one percent since 2015. In York Outer, more than 2,700 children live in poverty (17 per cent), an increase of two per cent since 2015.
“We see poverty every day through the work that we do,” Ms Semmence said. “We hear lots of stories about people who are in dire straits and just don’t have the support that they need.
“It’s at the heart of a lot of stuff in York. Because it’s seen as such a vibrant, wealthy place – if you’ve got money, it’s a great place to live. But if you don’t, it’s a really bad place to live, because you’re just excluded even more.”
The cost of living crisis will only exacerbate the problem, she added.
Ms Semmence acknowledged that some issues would be out of local control, but added: “That doesn’t mean you can’t try to do something and get everybody banging on the same drum. I think some changes might be small changes with a big impact, and other changes might be bigger.”
Initial meetings around what a Poverty Truth Commission in York would look like took place at the end of last year and the hunt is now on for community commissioners.
Ms Semmence said: “There was an absolute willingness in York and the council have contributed some funding for this as well – they are 100 per cent behind it, which is really positive.”
More details on the York CVS page here.