Kerry Hudson’s Lowborn Tour, The Mitchell review Pat Byrne
Lowborn – Poverty in Britain Today
It really is absolutely hellish: ‘We live in the world’s sixth-richest economy but one-fifth of us live in poverty’. Kerry Hudson.
Kerry Hudson’s Lowborn Tour isn’t your usual book launch – her book ‘Lowborn – Poverty in Britain Today’, alongside tour events, aims to inform people about just what it means to grow up in poverty. Kerry aims to highlight the impact on children, which goes with them into adulthood, and draw attention to the way those experiencing poverty have been maligned in today’s society.
Darren McGarvey, also a successful author whose book ‘Poverty Safari’ won the Orwell Prize joined Kerry in conversation discussing poverty and class in the UK today. The Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow on 16th May, 2019. The event was chaired by Jenny Niven.
Lowborn – draws on Kerry’s own chaotic and impoverished childhood, always on the move with a single parent mother, they lived in b & b’s or rough council estates. Growing up she attended numerous primary and secondary schools. The book includes her personal memories of living with constant anxiety and shame – in addition Kerry visited some of the places, where she lived as a child and spoke to the people now living there. She explained how they accepted her and were open to sharing their ‘stories of resilience’ and she describes their tenacity ‘in the face of living in communities ravaged by poverty’ – from ‘where few people manage to get out’.
Both Kerry and Darren believed that people wouldn’t open up to this degree with everyone, they explained that there is a sense of shame and a desire to hide their situation. For example, abusers will be protected ‘to hold the family together.’ The ‘constant narrative of fecklessness’ assigned to the poor no doubt contributes to this.
Darren and Kerry shared many views including the belief that, in general, there is no such thing as social mobility. They both spoke of how the precariousness of childhood poverty creates constant feelings of anxiety and stress that is carried with you into adulthood. Kerry explained that in writing her book ‘Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma’, where she explored childhood from her position as a writer, she realised that she hadn’t reconciled her own experiences of the days of ‘having no food or being homeless’. She still feels ‘the aftershock’ of growing up poor.
(Note: I’ve just finished reading ‘Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma’ – it is a remarkable book buy a gifted writer. One of the strongest, most immediate voices I’ve ever encountered.)
Things are getting worse
Both writers have been brutally honest about how poverty has affected them. Sadly as adults, their impression is that things are getting worse. It would be difficult to argue with this.
Today I have been reading the damning report by Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur to the UN, on poverty in the UK today. He firmly lays the blame of increasing poverty at the door of the Tories’ Austerity programme – an “ideological project causing pain and misery” enforced by ministers in a “state of denial”.
Amber Rudd has argued that the report is biased. It certainly echoes the views of Kerry and Darren: No-one wants to hear that children are going hungry and the policymakers tend to come from a specific social group with no experience of the problems, and little empathy. ‘Tories educated at Eton, what do they know?’, said Darren.
Thus, there is no faith in those who are supposed to be finding solutions, who without the lived experience of poverty fail to understand the problems. Furthermore, the poor have been consistently demonised in the media and presented as worthless scroungers. ‘The Tories have managed to perpetuate the myth of fecklessness to push through their policies’. Furthermore, the journalists who write about the problem ‘all come from such affluence.’ (George Monbiot highlights the latter problem very effectively:’ Our impartial broadcasters have become the mouthpiece of the elite‘.
The authors felt that solutions tend to be presented at a local level or by activists, although, Darren believed that, when groups are formalised views can change. He made the point that whilst you can describe the experience, that feeling of urgency and being ‘in it now’ can be lost.
When you come from a poor background people don’t want to hear what you have to say and more often than not people in a position to address the problem do not fully understand the issues nor have sufficient empathy.
‘liason co-ordinator’ the poem by Tom Leonard (R.I.P.) was mentioned as an illustration of the problem
‘sumdy wia degree
in fuck knows whut
getyn peyd fur no known
whut thi fuck ti day wi it ‘
Kerry described how in her visit to her old school in Northumbria, she found that attempts were being made to ‘Poverty Proof’ the school day, to ensure that kids did not have a sense of shame and that every child had an equal experience. She spoke about how observant children are and what they see as important, for example, whether they had cool water bottles.
It is important that voices such as Kerry Hudson’s and Darren McGarvey’s are heard. They are inspirational and Kerry Hudson’s message that we need to stand up to the structures that have allowed the most vulnerable to be maligned could not be more important.
‘When every day of your life you have been told you have nothing of value to offer, that you are worth nothing to society, can you ever escape that sense of being ‘lowborn’ no matter how far you’ve come?’ Kerry Hudson
Possibly not but you can inspire, encourage, raise your voice and shine a light on the plight of people experiencing poverty
Darren McGarvey @lokiscottishrap
Some of my thoughts
You often hear politicians and others say that there is no point in throwing money at a problem. However, new policies and more money are most definitely needed. Cutting benefits, denying workers rights, failing to provide adequate housing, applying benefit sanctions and introducing vile policies such as Two Child Benefit serve to create structural poverty. And while we can all laugh at ‘liason coordinator’ and appreciate Tom Leonard’s wry viewpoint, cut backs in community projects particularly youth projects have had dire consequences. Alongside cuts to policing lack of community and youth services arguably contribute to increased youth crime.
In my experience working as a community worker, quite often local activists with in-depth knowledge of problems such as addiction, violence, crime and poverty were recruited into or contributed as volunteers to community development projects. Workers, even those unenlightened university graduates, gained insight from local activists and workers. Thus many projects were developed, which were relevant and considered accessible because of the participation of locally recognised and respected workers. Initiatives additionally encouraged community confidence and awareness generating further community development. Workers, even Liaison Co-ordinators, were quite often key to such initiatives. And many activists and volunteers gained qualifications and moved up the career ladder. I don’t totally buy into a view that in order to address poverty you necessarily have to have lived experience. I think a resurgence of community workers, an area of work now virtually non-existent, could help address poverty and also inflame protest against those responsible. Although, I recognise that for many living in extreme deprivation just getting through the day saps all their resources. And understand that the effects of the lived experience of extreme poverty as something impossible to fully grasp.
Effectiveness of Anti-Poverty Projects
The underlying problem regarding the extreme poverty experienced in UK today is a direct result of Government Policy, some of which the Scottish Government mitigates against, including the Bedroom Tax. Whilst, community anti-poverty projects are often viewed as sticking plasters, they can be very effective. I can speak from experience regarding this as I worked for several years at the Rosemount Lifelong Learning Project, initiated by Save the Children in Royston in Glasgow in 1991 – largely funded by European Social Fund, it was identified as an example of good working practice. The model, which included quality training with paid work placements, raised aspirations, built self-esteem and led to qualifications and worthwhile employment. An important factor, especially for women, was the provision of free childcare.
When Save the Children closed all their UK Projects in 1998 a local management committee was set up and all these years later Rosemount is still going strong, the only one in whole of the UK to remain. There is no doubt that the project has positively impacted upon, and raised the aspirations and living standards, of many project users and their families.
MCR Pathways Programme
More recently I’ve been learning about the Motivation, Commitment and Resilience (MCR )Pathways Programme, where children in care and disadvantaged children are assigned a mentor.
Maureen McKenna, Director of Education, Glasgow City Council: |
‘Every young person in Glasgow has talent. This programme is identifying, nurturing and encouraging that talent in the young people who might need a extra bit of support or nudge to believe in themselves – for a variety of different reasons.’
The voluntary organisation has been in operation since 2007. Having been shown to be very effective in schools throughout Glasgow other local councils such as West Dunbartonshire Council are now introducing this initiative.
In 2014, pre-MCR, only 48.8% of care-experienced young people in the first 10 targeted Glasgow schools went on to employment, university or college. In 2017, that percentage has soared to a transformational 86% of MCR mentored young people across 15 schools. Perhaps even more significant, these mentored young people have closed the gap with Glasgow’s non care-experienced leavers. Care-experienced young people who participated in the mentoring programme progressed 37% better than those who didn’t participate.
Pat Byrne, May, 2019
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