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Speaking up for the marginalised

19 Oct, 2023

It’s been a busy time in the political world lately. If you haven’t seen in the news already, the Labour Party Conference (LPC) took place last week in Liverpool and as we live local to the venue, I was asked by the Changing Realities team whether I would mind speaking publicly about the project, my experiences and involvement in it. It seemed an exciting prospect, so I jumped at the chance to represent participants and be able to speak out on behalf of all low-income families as best I could. You can read my full speech here.

I feel it is such an important message we have to share and would not have wanted to miss the chance to make an impact for the world. You can read full my speech here.

Here are my thoughts reflecting on my experience:

It was heartwarming to receive an enthusiastic round of applause upon finishing because I did feel a little emotional about exposing my feelings to everyone present there. The discussions which followed all three presentations felt well-meaning, respectful and compassionate.

There were also some concerning comments made following my presentation, for instance one participant mentioned about the longevity of food banks which were only ever set up as a short-term solution and the potential for running out of donated items. Another person commented on the damaging impacts of cuts to council tax support, whilst there was also mention of data sharing with energy companies, which made me wonder about the implications this might bring when the bill payer is behind on payments and so many low-income families already ration usage to control the costs.

On the whole, the comments kept retuning to a fundamental need for dignity and maybe the need for a more holistic approach to the benefit systems. The only comment that stood out to me as an inaccurate description and misunderstanding of what life is truly like at the deep end, was the idea that anyone of us can at some point or other in life, “move in and out of poverty." I immediately wanted to reply with a firm and resounding, “no you can’t!” What “poverty trap” has ever allowed the poorest in society to do just that? To move in and out?It’s not the Hokey Cokey, shake it all about!

I think my favourite comment had to be the quote which I believe is from Terry Pratchett’s/ Sam Vimes “Boots” theory of social economic unfairness. The theory highlights how people living in poverty have to buy cheap and replace which proves more expensive longer term, “you can’t argue with that” I thought.

To me it’s like the whole debate about people being better off financially when better financially educated, as if a better grasp of numerical data solves the problems of a life with little to spend. Not sure I can agree with that hypothesis. I dragged myself week in week out to adult maths classes aged 50. Took the lessons, passed the exam. Momentarily felt like a genius - then that was that. I still hate anything mathematical. I’m more of a word person than a numbers one. Ultimately, I still loath looking at my bank balance because I already know that no magic money is going to miraculously and unexpectedly appear in my account. It's highly unlikely unless I play the lottery and what are the chances of winning that? People can still make poor financial decisions no matter how well off they are. Poorer people can make wise choices yet still end up living hand to mouth.

All in all, as well as making this testimony, both my son and I were really well cared for by Ruth and Maddy as well as the team of academics from York University at the LPC. Not only was it great to get our message out there, but it gave us an opportunity to see a side to life we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. It was an incredibly interesting day for us both. So, thank you everyone for listening and here’s to more collaborative engagements with Changing Realities.

Written by

Chris R

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