What does it mean to hear the voices of lived experience and why should we listen?

Covid-19 has introduced a lot of people to some new terms which are becoming commonplace in the boardrooms of Britain. Terms such as the new normal and build back better are quickly being recited amongst the spectrum of agencies, organisations and services up and down the country. However, there remain a lot of issues which are not new but have had a spotlight shone brightly upon them due to the pandemic. Issues such as digital access, unobtainable social housing / unaffordable private rents, and a benefits system which, although designed as a safety net, still sees people falling through and into the traps and constraints of poverty every day. These are not issues caused by Covid-19; they were here long before we went into lockdown and if we do not begin seeking a different way of doing things, they will remain long after normal service is resumed.   As the American social justice activist Bryan Stevenson once said:

                “You ultimately judge the civility of a society not by how it treats the rich, the powerful, the protected and the highly esteemed, but by how it treats the disfavoured and the disadvantaged.”

Now, although this terminology is dated, the core message remains true. Poverty is not an issue with the absence of money. Poverty is the absence of opportunity and knowledge; it is injustice and restrictions that affect every aspect of a person’s life. We can only truly begin to understand this injustice by speaking to those who are living with the often crushing daily effects of poverty. As a just society, we should hold ourselves accountable to those living through such difficult times and use whatever platform we have to make a difference. Hartlepool Action Lab, as members of the Addressing Poverty through Lived Experience (APLE) Collective, will continue to make it our goal to join up the voices of lived experience to those who sit in a position to change the way things are. Policy writers, politicians, central government, wherever we can and whenever we can. We believe that only by meeting as equals can the voices of lived experience and the policy writers that affect their everyday lives begin, together, to make the changes that will see less and less people falling into poverty. As well as more people being able to escape the poverty trap and build sustainable futures for themselves and their families.

October 17th is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. This is an annual event which, as APLE members, we dedicate each year to listening and promoting the benefits of listening to the voices of lived experience. That is not to say we do not listen the rest of the year! But, for one day, we dedicate our time to listening and hearing the voices of those living through unbelievable and unacceptable experiences. We have the chance, now more than ever before, to reset the dials and change the systems to suit everyone. Let us ensure that we not only build back better but that we incorporate justice and compassion for all.