What happens when you start truly listening to people who have all too often been overlooked?
What happens when, instead of presenting people with a list of questions or a form to fill in, you offer a blank canvas? What do people choose to talk about? What issues have been neglected? What is it that has swept them to the margins, and what could protect them from the swirling currents and rising tides of poverty, injustice and isolation? And what could society do differently, to people escape those tides?
It’s just over a year since we launched Voices From The Margins. Our recent sets of stories from York and from Orkney means more than 100 people have now contributed to the project. We’ve heard, published and shared some remarkable stories – some galling, some inspiring, some deeply moving. Thousands of you have read the articles or watched the videos on this blog, on facebook, or through media organisations we have liaised with.
The collage above shows only a quarter of those who have contributed to this project, and if you’re new to this site, here are some pieces you may have missed. Please pause for a moment to take a look at one or more of these articles:
- In Sheffield, eight near-neighbours explored the issue of food poverty, drawing powerfully on their own experiences to say what could unlock hunger in their community.
- Several people, including Clare in Salford, told how benefits delays, problems or errors swept them into debt, poverty and hunger. One of our contributors, David in York, lost his house and his relationship after being wrongly refused help when he had a double-stroke.
- One of our most-read articles was by Lianne, a mum with first-hand experience of food poverty and holiday hunger, and who could see the solutions.
- Contributors, like this man in Manchester who ended up £810 in debt, have told of being swept into poverty and debt amid the turmoil of Universal Credit. Others, like Anne, have told of the chaotic uncertainty of zero-hours contracts and have called for the economy to be redesigned.
- We helped tell the story of Salford Poverty Truth Commission, through the eyes of one of its participants. Patrick said: “This is something that works and it can bring tremendous hope.”
Beyond this website, the stories from contributors have reached readers of the Manchester Evening News, which ran John’s story; The Daily Mirror, which reported on poverty in Salford; The Press in York, which reported on our work here; and on Channel 4 News, which broadcast this report last June:
Voices From The Margins began as a project around the General Election in 2017, supported by The Poverty Alliance and The Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Some of the earliest posts on this site (such as in Hull, Stockton and Cornwall) include references to the election, but they also address bigger issues, and the first-hand stories, insights and ideas from contributors were so powerful that we have kept the project going. In doing so, we have sought to amplify the views of people who have often been overlooked and ensuring people with first-hand expertise of poverty are given a chance to speak up.
Word has spread well, thanks to like-minded organisations and thanks to many of you, readers and supporters, sharing the links. There are many more stories to tell, and many challenges for all of us who hear and read the first-hand accounts of people who have been trapped in poverty.
Contributors have talked about all manner of issues, but there remain four broad themes Most of the contributors have touched on one or more of:
- Voice – politicians and the media should actively listen to people with lived experience of poverty
- Hunger – we need a more concerted, structural effort to support people caught in the rising tide of hunger and food insecurity
- In-work poverty and zero-hours contracts – we can redesign our economy to provide secure, sustainable livelihoods for people
- Benefits delays, changes, errors and sanctions – sudden cuts to people’s income can act like rip currents, sweeping people into difficulties they hadn’t seen coming. It needn’t be like this. We can design a better system.
When we launched this project, Niall Cooper, director of Church Action on Poverty, said: “In a real democracy, everybody’s views and everybody’s voice count… Voices From The Margins is an opportunity for you to have you say about the things that matter to you, your family and your community, and also an opportunity to hear what matters to other people on the margins, or who feel excluded from the current political debate.”
That is as true now as it was then. If you or your community are too often overlooked, please get in touch.
What values should at the forefront of our society? What would make life better in your community? Why can’t we redesign our economy, to create a society that really is just and compassionate? How can we unlock the poverty trap and, once we do, what will society look like?