Me? Linda? Speak in front of the First Minister and 100 other strangers? Never in a million years… And yet, in May 2023 at First Minister Humza Yousaf’s Anti-Poverty Summit, that is exactly what happened.
As a member of End Poverty Edinburgh, a group of citizens striving to raise awareness of poverty in the capital, influence decision-making and hold the city to account, I spoke from my personal experiences. Sharing my story with a room full of strangers, not for pity or sympathy, but in the hope of bringing some real-life experiences to the summit was a daunting prospect. Certainly, it’s quite embarrassing sharing personal life details with 100 complete strangers.
I spoke of my experience of being an unpaid carer, supporting my brother and father, and the challenges that come with that. Challenges are not solely financial. Yes, I have to be careful with money, but there are many other obstacles you must navigate when in this situation. These include things like sharing all your details through filling out forms, filling out more forms for the forms, finding and accessing support, be it financial or social, for myself or those I care for, etc, etc – the list goes on.
When asked how it made me feel to share some of these experiences in my speech, ‘vulnerable’ and ‘exposed’ were two words that came to mind. I don’t necessarily want to speak about my experiences, but if I don’t, how will others know the reality of things? And not just the reality of things for me either, for although I was telling “my story”, it wasn’t really about me; it was but one example of how difficult it is for thousands of people.
That is something I hope the audience took away from my speech; my situation is not unique – I am only one of 800k plus unpaid carers in Scotland. So, although I may not be overly eager to speak about my experiences, I will, because there is no choice. That is because the situation is urgent; we need to highlight and address all aspects of poverty now.
The First Minister’s Anti-Poverty Summit could be an encouraging step towards doing this, and I look forward to seeing what comes next. Personally, I would like to see the Scottish Government publish a plan on what they are hoping to do going forward tackling poverty. This needs to include long-term solutions and cover all aspects of poverty; we cannot keep sticking a plaster on this gaping wound.
Whatever their response to the summit may be, I am pleased to have been able to highlight some of the realities of so many people to those who have the power to change the poverty landscape in Scotland. Did it have any impact? Only the First Minister, his Cabinet Colleagues and the leaders of all the political parties who were there can answer this question by working together to end poverty in our country.