Blog: Tackling poverty & lived experience

Sarah Stocks, of Northern Star Associates, was commissioned by the Poverty Alliance – as part of the Get Heard Scotland initiative – to collate learning and practical approaches to include people with lived experience of poverty in local policy development. Here, she writes on the key insights contained in the resultant report:

The people who know first-hand about the challenges of living through poverty are often not the people deciding how local government tackles those challenges. As local authorities in Scotland moved into their third year of reporting on how they’re tackling child poverty, I spoke with activists with lived experience of poverty about what the best ways to involve them in policy development; and to policy makers about practical approaches that work to include lived experience, alongside professional experience.

One thing I heard from activists was that lived experience, as a story or an insight into challenge, was not enough by itself.  People who’ve experienced poverty need to be in the room where it happens, to help shape decision-makers’ response to their story.  People who have first-hand experience should contribute to solutions as well as identify problems.

This report discusses ways for institutions to involve people with lived experience in more meaningful contributions to making policy.  For example, one-time contributions from a consultation necessarily cannot allow people taking part in the consultation to weigh up alternatives,  or combine features of different ideas into a coherent approach to tackling poverty. Instead, institutions like local government must look to build relationships as they listen to lived experience. This means finding ways to involve people who have experienced poverty to deliberate on policy, not just gather their stories. The outcomes of this type of engagement are not merely an understanding of people’s opinions, but the relationships that people with lived experience of poverty build with policy makers, the opinions that both groups evolve, and the contributions that they make to changing policy.

There are some great approaches out there that local authorities in Scotland have used to build meaningful relationship with experts by lived experience, that allow them to shape and influence their policy. From poverty truth commissions to online panels, listening partnerships and participatory working groups,  one thing that all the most meaningful approaches have in common, is that they are part of long-term plans to listen, to respond and to make space for change.  It’s not enough to extract data and leave people with lived experience outside the policy-making process.  All of this takes time and persistence from allies within local governments, who advocate for those with first-hand experience of poverty, and carry their voices and influence further into the rooms where policy making happens.

You can read In the room where it happens: Approaches to engaging with people with direct experience of poverty in the development of local child poverty policy here.

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