October 19, 2022

The importance of involving people with lived experience of poverty

By Jon Sands, Programme Officer, Money Advice Referral Tool

Part of Resolve Poverty’s strategy is to embed the voice of people with lived experience of poverty in our programmes and decision making and to encourage others to do so as well. The Money Advice Referral Tool (MART) programme has proved to be an example of the invaluable input people experiencing poverty can add.

MARTs have recently been developed for four additional boroughs in Greater Manchester – Bury, Manchester, Trafford and Wigan. Their aim is to provide organisations/professionals who deal with people struggling financially with all the information they need to refer that person onto an appropriate, expert organisation that can maximise that person’s income.

In each borough the content of the MART is being developed by a mixed working group including: council officers, voluntary groups and foodbanks along with people with current experience of poverty. In some boroughs individuals with experience of poverty are part in the working group while in others, groups of people are consulted (such as a group who attend the Trust House Community Centre in Bury). In all cases though, this has brought a perspective and experience which would otherwise not have been included and has distinct and positive impacts on the final results.

For example, in one borough Tracy has formed part of the working group. Her background is an all too typical story of how unfortunate circumstances can lead to financial difficulties that spiral out of control through no fault of her own. She left a steady job after an assault that was not dealt with. Having little experience of benefits, Tracy faced a long delay before receiving a UC payment followed by sanctions, difficulty paying bills, court action and ultimately eviction and homelessness. The lack of any ability to control her situation placed her under huge stress which inevitably led to difficulties with her mental health. Tracy’s position only stabilised somewhat when she moved 200 miles to Greater Manchester.

Her experience of interactions with agencies and organisations which are meant to provide support to a person in her position, but who have frequently shown a lack of empathy or understanding, added a completely different viewpoint to her working group. Tracy’s input has had a direct influence over the wording used in the questions on the MART and to the training on how the conversation should take place between an organisation using the MART and the person struggling financially.

In addition to these, the involvement of other people with lived experience of financial difficulties has also led to:

  • The prioritisation of the impact financial difficulties have on mental health and the importance placed on providing support for this
  • The inclusion of specific support for people with a disability
  • The inclusion of specific organisations based on their experiences as a service user
Jon Sands Programme Officer for GM Poverty Action

Jon Sands, MART Programme Officer

Finding people with experience of poverty to take part in a project can be problematic, not least because their participation may involve sharing difficult and emotional personal experiences, and many people may not wish to go through that. Our experience from the development of the MARTs though shows that the viewpoint they can bring is both unique and essential, and the results would have been less relevant without it.