In the beautiful, wooded grounds of Frimhurst Family House in Surrey last weekend, mourners gathered to paint rocks for a cairn of stones and to weave ribbons in memory of Moraene ‘Mo’ Roberts.
You most likely won’t have heard of Mo, who was born into hardship and spent most of her life living with it.
But this softly spoken Liverpool-Irish woman, who died aged just 66, helped change the face of how we think about poverty.
A poet, researcher and campaigner for human rights, Mo’s was one of the first voices to break through the old Victorian idea of poverty relief.
Mo demanded something different. She demanded a seat at the table as an expert in poverty – the hard-won expertise of a single mother of three children, a daughter of Irish immigrants and a disabled woman who also fought several chronic illnesses.
And she framed poverty as an act of violence.
As she put it: “I’m telling the people with power that I have power too.”
Realising she was not a victim but part of the solution, in turn lifted a heavy burden from her shoulders. “It’s like I can go with a banner made of silk, whereas before I had one made of heavy wood,” she said.
Baroness Ruth Lister, emeritus professor of social policy at Loughborough University, says Mo helped change the way she thought. In her book Poverty, she quotes her saying: “The worst blow of all is the contempt of your fellow citizens.
“I and many families live in that contempt. No one asks our views. But we are the real experts of our own hopes and aspirations. We can contribute if you are prepared to give up a little power to allow us to participate as partners in our own future, and in the future of our country.”
For generations, definitions of poverty have been shaped by those with food on the table. Too much has been about people with power doing good to the powerless. These methods are not working.
The Social Metrics Commission reports that seven million people are in persistent poverty in our rich country. And seven in 10 children in poverty are now in a working family, said the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s annual report.
But in recent years, the sands have begun to shift. The United Nations’ human rights-based approach to poverty requires policymakers to involve people with lived experience in decision-making.
Poverty Truth Commissions have sprung up all over the UK and elsewhere. “Participatory decision-making” is becoming more widely used.
“Nothing about us, without us” is a central tenet of the disability rights movement in the UK.
Mo, a leader of the poverty-fighting charity ATD Fourth World, was instrumental in developing the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty in 1997 – which radically broke tradition by allowing “real people” to speak before MPs.
She helped pioneer a tradition at Royal Holloway, University of London, where parents living in poverty help shape social work training. And, more recently, she was part of international research by ATD Fourth World and Oxford University.
“To be told you can take the same voice, the same knowledge, the same emotion and use it to speak for peace is to be given a power I don’t think I’ve ever had before in the same way,” Mo said.
“Instead of having to fight against a government, against ‘them’, what I can actually do is go to them in a peaceful way and say, ‘I’m bringing you something that you need to know in order to be able to provide for people like me in a humane and just way, a decent way’.”
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said Mo was “at the forefront” of a new movement. Executive director Claire Ainsley said: “At JRF we are committed to continuing the legacy that Mo left.”
Her friends and colleagues Patricia Bailey, 62, and Amanda Button, 49, saw Mo shortly before she died. “She was as fiery as ever,” Patricia said, “but as kind as ever”. Amanda says Mo “had a knack for putting people at ease and making you feel ‘I can do this’ even if you’re normally a timid person.”
On Saturday, Mo’s friends and family gathered to commit to continue the fight against poverty’s violence.
Mo’s friend, Shaeda Croft, gave the tribute: “She made me want to be a better person. From the earth to the sun, around the moon and among the stars, her soul cascades her
shimmering light into all of us.”
In Paris in May, Baroness Lister quoted an anonymous poem, Out of the Shadows, at the launch of the ATD Fourth World/University of Oxford report. “I’ve recited this poem a number of times at the end of a speech on poverty because it makes the demand to be seen as human so much more powerfully than I have ever been able to,” she said. “It often brings me close to tears as I find it so moving.”
She didn’t know who wrote it, but afterwards, the author came up to her in tears – Moraene Roberts.
The poem ends: “I will not come as a prisoner, I will not come broken to you, I will come with pride, and stand by your side, because I am human too.”
Source: Read Full Article