EVERY fortnight in The National, readers get an insight into the workings of the Scottish Youth Parliament, and learn all about what the elected members are up to and the issues that matter to our young people. Today’s column from our panel of eight representatives is Thomas McEachan, 19, MSYP for Glasgow Pollok.
WHEN asked about my childhood I, like most people, think about the good times. The clichéd trips to the zoo, being dragged to the cinema to what seemed like a never-ending saga of Shrek films, and the awkwardness of dancing with my mum at family parties. From the outside my childhood appeared average, but past the stone driveway and behind the red-painted door existed depression, alcoholism, and physical and mental abuse – all symptoms of lasting inter-generational poverty.
I still remember the arguments, the swearing, the shouting, the threats of violence. I remember the utter fear I felt and how it felt to reassure my sisters that “everything was going to be okay”, while knowing it would probably get worse. I remember the days my mum wouldn’t eat so that she could afford to travel to work. I remember the support from my grandma, who would always give what she could to help us get by.
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I remember what it was like to live in poverty, the corrosive effect it had on my mental health, and witnessing the slow deterioration of the adults around me who were supposed to be looking after me. Although my experience has provided me with strength and resilience, I can’t help but wonder what my childhood would have been like if money hadn’t been an issue and poverty hadn’t shaped my upbringing.
My experience of poverty is the reason I became politically active at a young age, and why I became a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYP). I want to ensure that in the future no child has to suffer what I and thousands of young people have already gone through. In 2015 I was able to be a part of the Scottish Youth Parliament’s (SYP) national campaign on child and youth poverty, and the issue continues to be an important part of our advocacy work. When SYP did research into young people’s views on poverty, the most striking finding was that young people realise that poverty isn’t a choice – we actually named the research report It’s not a choice.
The young people surveyed reported that they didn’t believe that people end up in poverty solely because of the choices they make. They understood that being in poverty is much more a result of the structures that exist around you. My experience of poverty was shaped by generations of decisions that were made around me – some by family members, but many by governments, educators, financial institutions, and elected leaders. I certainly had no choice in the matter.
Poverty affects every aspect of life for a child or young person growing up in it; from their physical and mental health to their educational attainment. Young people’s experiences and their views need to be at the centre of solving this long-standing problem. We can’t pretend to be a fair society, solve mental health problems, or close the attainment gap, without looking at an issue that relates to all of this – poverty.
I’m very glad to see that solving the poverty issue is at the top of Scotland’s agenda, and welcome the new Child Poverty Bill which seeks to set targets for eradicating child poverty, set measures to meet these targets, and to ensure governments are held to account in meeting these targets.