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How can community development help solve poverty?

October 10, 2019

Challenge Poverty Week 2019Community development can support people to use their lived experience positively to work with others to help make the political and wider social change needed to challenge poverty - Scottish Community Development Centre's Andrew Paterson summarises the key messages from a short discussion hosted by SCDC for Challenge Poverty Week 2019.

The Poverty Alliance, through Challenge Poverty Week, is making a point of getting some easy to understand messages out about poverty.  Try this one:

By boosting people’s incomes and reducing the cost of living we can solve poverty

In community development, we are more used to talking about addressing the underlying causes of poverty than solving poverty. This was observed by participants at our own Challenge Poverty Week lunchtime discussion on the 8th October, but having a focus on the solutions arguably enabled us to hone in what role community development has in challenging poverty.

The rise in people experiencing poverty was also discussed, as was the need for emergency support for people in crisis. However, it was agreed that our discussion should focus on what community development can do to prevent poverty from happening in the first place.

Photo of people on Health Issues in the Community courseSCDC introduced Health Issues in the Community (HIIC) course as a method that connects the personal to the political and can increase awareness, community capacity and, as a result, political influence. Examples were given of how HIIC has changed lives through the power of collective action (see the image on the right from a HIIC course in Fife).

We also spoke briefly about community-led action research as a way to support communities to conduct their own inquiries into the issues that affect them, giving them the knowledge (and wider skills) to influence change.

Participants at our discussion included local authority staff working with communities and community and voluntary organisations. There was plenty of enthusiasm for the inspiring stories from HIIC (one participant had experienced this herself!), and agreement that community development involves being a “connector”, helping people to use the power of their own experiences and stories to change the minds of others.

The challenges of the right-wing media, stereotyping (sometimes reinforced by social media) and party politics were identified. These can act to stigmatise people experiencing poverty to such an extent that it, and what causes it, remains unacknowledged.

However, the positive message we came away with was that community development can support people to use their lived experience positively to work with others to influence the political and wider social change needed to challenge, or even solve, poverty.

  • To discuss any of the above, please contact Andrew at Scottish Community Development Centre andrew@scdc.org.uk, 0141 248 1924

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