THESE are the brave faces and voices representing Leeds’s battle with poverty - and the city’s growing will to work together to eradicate both need and prejudice.
The people pictured here are all part of the Poverty Truth Challenge, a new drive to bring together some of those in need with politicians and business leaders to influence policy. At an event at Leeds Civic Hall, 15 courageous ‘testifiers’ shared their stories of personal struggles all rooted in need. They will now join a panel of 15 decision-makers, working with them over the coming year to directly impact how we think and act in tackling poverty.
Amongst the speakers was a woman who was forced into prostitution to survive, and a former burglar whose desperate attempts to leave behind his life of crime met with constant red-tape obstacles.
One speaker, Anna, explained that financial and personal struggles had contributed to her gifted young son’s talents being wasted because the resources were just not there at his inner city school.
“We have to work together and think about the ripple effect,” she said. “Lack of finance is one thing, but lack of understanding and looking at the bigger picture is another thing altogether.”
Asylum seeker Hawa said she had fled to the UK for a better life, but it turned out to be an even bigger struggle. “I had hoped for kindness and compassion, instead I was met with suspicion and contempt,” she said, “I felt I had come out of the frying pan into the fire. I spent years living in virtual destitution. I was bleeding inside.”
Another speaker, Amina, explained her struggle to get help and funding for her talented young son, a possible future gymnastics star. She said that while the system pumps huge funding into paying for coaches and facilities, and the ‘Olympic Legacy’ remains a buzzword, the money does not filter down easily to families desperate to help their children reach their potential.
And Mary, a resident of Cross Green, discussed how she has reached out to impoverished neighbours living in the bedsits dotted across her neighbourhood, cooking meals and providing a listening ear for those who have been worn down by a sense of hopelessness. Among those she has befriended is Steve, another of the testifiers. Mary said: “I hope that people listen, so that we don’t have to get up in the morning and say hello to people who are hungry. It’s so sad and they are such nice people, and they have so much to give to the community, we just need to build their confidence a bit.”
The Poverty Truth Challenge is being co-sponsored by former Bishop of Ripon and Leeds John Packer and coun Peter Gruen, deputy leader of the council.
Coun Gruen told this week’s summit: “At the heart of the Leeds Poverty Truth Challenge is coming together and looking at the difficult and entrenched issue of poverty for ordinary people in this city. The people who are here to talk about their lives are putting their faith in all of us, that we will listen to their issues and that we will make better decisions.”