Space For Lived Realities

Pritpal S Tamber

October 24, 2018

How the leader of Glasgow Council seems to have failed to understand the lived realities of thousands of council workers

Yesterday thousands of female council staff in Glasgow went on strike over equal pay. They’d been promised the pay almost a decade ago and, in their view, it has neither happened nor was enough being done to make it happen.

On Channel 4 News there was a fascinating interview of Susan Aitken of Glasgow City Council (starts at 3m45s). She responded to the strike by saying that people were not “fully aware of the progress that has been made and is ongoing”.

The interviewer responded by asking whether she thought it might be condescending to suggest that those on strike did not understand their own experiences. Councillor Aitken responded by saying that she was not being condescending, that the strike was unnecessary, and that people were actually getting what they were demanding.

I sat in disbelief at this interview and in so many ways it made me think of the disconnect between systems and people.

I don’t want to take sides here. I am sure the Councillor believes what she was saying. Lots of work is likely happening behind the scenes; meetings are being held, budgets are being reviewed, changes have probably been made and more are likely on the way.

But to deny the lived realities of those on the picket lines was astonishing.

I’m not naive. I realise that some people may have exaggerated their stories to get the media’s attention. It’s a standard trick and it’s used by all sides. But, still, there was clearly a huge disconnect between what the women in the marches were experiencing and what the politicians believed to be the reality.

In our view, this type of disconnect plagues our statutory systems. It may not be happening to the same extent in all systems or across all regions, but it’s definitely happening.

We believe it’s time for a new way of working. One that’s based on parity and reciprocity between systems and people. We don’t think just hearing the stories of people is enough. We think people need to be able to step into their own power, to make changes for themselves, to be trusted with the knowledge of their lived experiences.

To get there, we need to share, discuss and debate models of this kind of work. They’re out there — such as through the work of many of the Steering Group and Supporters of Beyond Systems — but where is that sharing, discussing and debating happening systematically?

We’re not convinced it is.

That’s what we want to build. And that’s what we’re writing to funders about. We want to start in health because that’s where this work originated from. We’re applying for a development grant now and hope to develop this idea further over the coming weeks and months.

As ever, do get in touch if you’d like to know more about our work.

Pritpal S Tamber

I’m a doctor who trained as a medical editor and publisher and now researches and consults on the link between community power and health equity. My interest in community power started when I was the Physician Editor of TEDMED and is explained in My Perspective. I also work as a freelance medical editor and publisher for organisations that want to write high-quality articles and a strategy for their publishing and promotion. Find out more on my About page.

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