Members of the North of Tyne Poverty Truth Commission have called on those in power to address the ‘poverty traps’ many people find themselves in. The group was set up in 2022 by the North of Tyne Combined Authority to promote better support and opportunities locally by forging long-term relationships between those living in poverty with those in a strong position to advocate for change.

Yesterday, an event hosted by Cramlington Community Hub brought together 60 business and community leaders working in housing, charities, and the public sector to hear from people with experience of poverty. Guests were then invited to pledge to help improve conditions for those living in poverty and will be followed up with a report of recommendations.

Attendees included North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll who said: “Poverty is complex and affects each person and family differently. That’s why we asked Children North East to help us understand the reality of daily life for people struggling to afford the basics. Listening to people helps us make better policy decisions. I’m grateful to all those who shared their stories and look forward to reading the final report.”

Funded by the Combined Authority, with co-funders Community Foundation for Tyne, Wear and Northumberland and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), the project was delivered by the charity Children North East and was the first of its size.

Members of the group – known as Commissioners – were recruited from Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland to share their experiences and make recommendations to help shape local poverty prevention policies. The group met regularly for the duration of the project, taking part in workshops which explored solutions to the challenges posed by caring responsibilities, food and fuel and health inequalities, themes chosen by its members.

Jamie added, “Poverty is not a natural phenomenon, it is the result of political choices. As Mayor, I’m tackling poverty by creating thousands of well-paid jobs and free training courses. We’re running a child poverty prevention programme in 100 schools. But we need Government to act by removing the two-child benefit cap – this would lift 250,000 kids out of poverty at a single stroke. In the world’s 6th richest country, nobody should be going to bed hungry. Talented, motivated, capable people are being caught in the poverty trap. This waste of potential makes us all poorer.”

The group is now campaigning for better access to healthcare services and improved support services for carers. The event was also an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the 18-month project, which included creating a film about the challenges of food poverty, some changes to the delivery of local services and open letters to the Government and leaders.

Gemma Johnson, one of the Commissioners bringing her experience of poverty as a full-time carer for her son comments, “Sharing my experience was nerve-wracking and empowering at the same time. It’s made me realise my inner strength. I was able to say ‘look at what I’ve been through’.

One key theme to emerge from the discussions was the stigma around ‘being poor’. “Part of the challenge is the stigma, the idea someone accessing any kind of benefits are playing the system or going to make bad decisions. In reality, it’s such a small percentage who abuse the system.” explains Commissioner Penny Walters.

Penny, who is from Byker, was given a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the most recent honours list for her grassroots activism. “It’s undignified to live in poverty; to say ‘I’ve got no food’ and have to ask for help. That takes a hell of a lot to do.”

The Commission is part of a national Poverty Truth Network, which champions the need to hear the experiences of those living in poverty to help alleviate it under the strapline ‘nothing about us, without us, is for us’.

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