In 2009, the first Poverty Truth Commission was launched in Scotland. Hosted by Faith in Community Scotland, it grew out of a belief that the wisdom, experience and understanding of people who struggled against poverty was vital in making decisions about poverty. So, on a Saturday afternoon in Glasgow City Chambers, 15 people stood and told stories of their struggle against poverty through drama, dance, speech and poetry. There was laughter, hope and a recognition that whilst life had been tough, they were still standing. The audience of 400 people included 15 leaders from within public life in Scotland. As they reflected on what they had just seen, these leaders acknowledged that if positive change was to be made, they needed to work with those who stories they’d heard over the coming months.
On that afternoon, the first Poverty Truth Commission was born. For 18 months the commissioners met regularly to consider the ‘real’ issues that people were experiencing when facing poverty. They built relationships, listened well and learned much. At the end they shared challenges for organisations, institutions, communities and society as a whole about how change might happen. They also acknowledged the ways that they had changed.
Word about the impact of the Poverty Truth Commission in Scotland soon spread. There was something about this approach that intrigued others and left them asking the question, ‘what if we did a Poverty Truth Commission around here?’ The first place outside of Scotland where a commission emerged was in Leeds. In February 2014 just like people in Glasgow had done 5 years earlier, 15 brave people who knew the struggle against poverty stood up and communicated their stories.
Joseph Rowntree Foundation had been involved in Scotland and were now engaged in Leeds. A ‘what if’ conversation between them and people who were involved in both commissions ended up in a commitment to supporting others around the UK who might want to establish Poverty Truth Commissions where they were. Effectively, the Poverty Truth Network was born. Between 2015 – 2020, 10 new locations hosted commissions and there are more on the way. Initially the Network was incubated as part of Faith in Community Scotland. Then, in 2019, the Poverty Truth Network became a separate charity.