Light Bulb Moment: Alison Garnham

An insight into the working life of the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group

Alison Garnham
Alison Garnham

My first job was for Mind in Leeds, where I ran self-help groups for people with mental illness. But the session people found most helpful was actually about welfare benefits. That was a real light bulb moment for me because, in a way, it was counter-intuitive - you'd have thought the big problem would be their mental health. But they couldn't concentrate on their mental health while they were worried about how they were going to keep the lights on, pay the rent or be able to eat. That was an important lesson for me.

I then became a welfare rights adviser at the Citizen's Advice Bureau for 10 years. Year-in, year-out, I saw the desperate need people had to keep body and soul together while dealing with any other problems they faced.

I still draw on that experience. Every day I think "there but for the grace of God go I". I have never met anybody I couldn't identify with and realise how they'd ended up in their position. When you see so many people in those situations, you realise how easily it could happen to anyone else, and it makes you want to change the world so they can get the help they need.

Those on benefits are just people who have had bad things happen to them, like becoming sick, losing their job or their partner leaving them. In the same situation we would all have very similar problems. That's a very important lesson to learn.

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