Listen and learn?

So we all wore our white wristbands and nodded along to Pink Floyd
– or nodded off. The irony of listening to multi-millionaire rock
stars telling us how we could make poverty history was, I hope, not
lost on the worldwide audience.

But how do we listen to the voices of people who are living in
poverty in the UK? Self-organised groups exist for many “socially
excluded” communities – the disability movement, for example, has
moved in recent years to consisting of groups of disabled people,
rather than having able-bodied people act for them. Yet people in
poverty have no organised voice and are still largely represented
by others such as welfare rights organisations or charities.

A new campaign hopes to change that. Next year, the government will
compile its third National Action Plan on Social Inclusion. And for
the first time it will include people experiencing poverty and
social exclusion. The Get Heard project is a partnership between
voluntary organisations and the Department for Work and Pensions.
The project aims to enable people with experience of social
exclusion to make known their views on government anti-poverty

Is it really the case that “work is the best form of welfare”? Are
the government’s policies on help with child care costs and tax
credits the best way of helping people into work? Will the changes
that are planned for incapacity benefit lift people out of poverty?

The aim of the project is to bring together views on those types of
questions, and comment on which policies aimed at combating poverty
are working and which are not. The government has promised that
these findings will be incorporated into the next national

It has just launched a website with downloads to help people run
workshops. It is based on the principle that people living in
poverty have expert knowledge of the issues raised by living in
poverty, and they have a right to enter into dialogue with their

The aim is for people living in poverty or experiencing social
exclusion to hold Get Heard workshops to give their views on the
government’s policies. In the autumn of 2005, the project will hold
regional events across the UK, to bring together the feedback from
all the workshops, leading to a national event at the start of
2006. This will feed the information back to the Department for
Work and Pensions.

People living in poverty may feel they have been let down or
ignored before, or feel that in recent years they have been
“consulted to death” without seeing much difference in the
resulting policies. How do we know it will be different this time?

We don’t. All we know is that the government has given a commitment
to listen to the issues raised by people through the Get Heard
workshops, and this is an opportunity that we can’t afford to pass
up. So if we are genuinely concerned about poverty in the UK and
want our clients and service users to have some input into
anti-poverty policies, we have to put our world-weary cynicism to
one side. 

Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council.
He is unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a
question to be answered please write to him c/o Community

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