Members of the Oldham Poverty Truth Commission have met for the first time, to kick off a year-long exploration into the issue of poverty in Oldham.
The Commission brings together people with real experience of hardship with others who have the power, influence and/or authority to do something about it.
The aim is to build relationships and trust between local people and civic leaders that increase understanding of poverty and bring about changes in policy and practice that make a real difference.
Robbie Cowbury, from the local charity Action Together, said: “I’m really pleased Oldham is the next place to embrace the Poverty Truth Commission approach. I’m proud to be involved with so many wonderful people, supported by incredible charities and voluntary groups.
"We want to change the story of poverty for everyone in Oldham, and that means better understanding people’s experiences, building relationships across our communities, and changing the underlying culture. That is what the Commission is all about.”
Councillor Arooj Shah, leader of Oldham Council, is one of the civic commissioners on the programme.
She said: "As Leader, I am determined this council will do all we can to build a borough where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their collective potential, and people are not limited by who they are or where they live.
"It is tragic that so many people in our borough are living in poverty and are suffering hardship. The impact of the pandemic has only made things worse for so many people who were already struggling. As civic leaders, we have a responsibility to understand why poverty affects so many people in our communities, and tackle the issues head on.
"This isn't about writing policies that will sit on a shelf. This is about speaking to real people with real lived experience, and using that understanding to do all we can to make a real difference to people's lives."
Data from the English Indices of Deprivation, released by the government in 2019, shows that Oldham is in the top 20 most deprived boroughs in the country.
But there are further inequalities within the borough itself, with five areas of the borough being in the top one per cent of most deprived wards in the country. These are in Hathershaw, parts of St.Mary’s and Coldhurst, and Greenacres/Littlemoor.
The Poverty Truth Commission is made up of an equal number of civic commissioners, and commissioners with lived experiences of poverty in all its forms.
They met for the first time on Tuesday (28 September) at Oldham Library and will continue to meet each month for the next year.
Oldham Council say that findings and recommendations will then be published in a final report.
Ronni Hall, one of the commissioners, said: "Not being able to pay for a family member's funeral, not being able to feed myself, having to go to foodbanks - it made me feel horrible and impacted my mental health.
"I had to go out of my comfort zone. I’ve never asked for help in my life, but i had to do it. Everywhere has been brilliant, but the limitations, like accessing food parcels only so many times a year, don’t allow enough for anybody.
"I want better accessibility out there for the things that impoverished people need. I want more people aware of the different ways they can get help. I don’t want their access to be limited, but available for everyone when they need it, as long as they need it.”
Yaasmin Mughees, another of the commissioners, added: “Poverty means hardship, struggle, worry, pain. You are thinking about so many things and trying to figure so much out that something always gets neglected – often yourself or your family.”
A survey has also been launched to 'develop as full a picture as possible of poverty in Oldham', the council says.
Answers to the survey questions will be collected anonymously by the Commission partners and analysed by the Commissioners to help guide their work. The survey can be accessed online here.
Oldham's Poverty Truth Commission is jointly managed by Action Together, Shared Health Foundation and Oldham Council. It is part of the national Poverty Truth Network and more information is available at www.povertytruthnetwork.org