The picture is grim but we know that already. The evidence of poverty is all around us, all we have to do is look and be open to the evidence we see in most communities in Scotland.
The recent publication of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report ‘Poverty in Scotland 2022’ makes grim reading. It paints a bleak picture and talks about a ‘society in crisis’. Nearly one in five (20%) of households on low incomes have gone hungry and cold in the past year.
The reasons for this are well known and in plain sight. Inflation reaching 10% plus, energy bills doubling, leads people to cut back on essentials to make ends meet. On top of this, the UK Government has deliberately squeezed the income of low income households over the past ten years. The introduction of Universal Credit may have simplified the administration of the benefits system but it has done nothing to strengthen the safety net aspects – what the system was originally designed to do.
Furthermore, the Government always seeks to reduce taxes on the richest members of society. This may be a vote winner in the Tory heartlands of the UK, but it does nothing for the communities on the poverty frontline, many of whom are in Scotland.
The effects of living with a significant proportion of our communities in abject poverty are clear. Poverty affects people’s health and mental health. Years of struggling to put food on the table on a weekly basis, pay the rent and give the kids a holiday of sorts, saps people’s initiative and drive. Juggling more than one job reduces quality leisure time that should be spent with family and friends. Years of working for minimum wage takes its toll on the most upbeat and determined of us.
Poverty affects all of us, even those who are doing quite nicely thank you very much. Living with colleagues and neighbour’s who are poverty frontline foot soldiers, watching them struggle to raise families is depressing in the sixth largest economy in the world. Our problem isn’t a lack of wealth or ideas, our problem lies in the distribution of the spoils, the lack of voice for the poorest members of our community, the lack of money going to the poorest households in the land.
If you are of the opinion that it doesn’t affect my community, check with your local foodbank to see how the usage of it has changed over the past year. Watch out in your supermarket to see how the ‘out of date’ shelves are attended by shoppers as the supermarket employees clear the shelves to make way for the fresh stuff.
The people who need help are not scroungers and layabouts. Increasingly they are people in work who just don’t make enough to cover all their bills, to heat their homes, to feed their kids the diet that they know they should be getting. This is the message of the JRF report.
The UK situation
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation report ‘UK Poverty 2023: The essential guide to understanding poverty in the UK’ summarises the UK picture as follows, 13.4 million people were living in poverty in 2020/21. Of these 7.9 million were working age adults, 3.9 million were children and 1.7 million were pensioners.
The JRF report states clearly that ‘Children are the group most likely to be in poverty, so their families are the most likely to receive benefits that were increased during the pandemic. Most pensioners are not in work, so their incomes were less likely to have been affected during this period.’
Poverty fell in the first year of the pandemic. A range of temporary coronavirus-related support, including a £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits had the direct effect of reducing the numbers of citizens living in poverty.
What’s the long term solution?
Well having all political parties prioritising this issue would be a start. Ask your local candidates what they are going to do about alleviating poverty if they get elected. Voting for local and national representatives who put poverty reduction at the heart of their political life would be good. Talking about poverty in our Church groups, our places of work, on our local radio and TV stations would help raise awareness and may lead to the alleviation of this debilitating condition.
Do we need Poverty Reduction/Alleviation to be more widely taught in its own right and as part of every Business/ Economics degree courses in every University in Scotland? This may bring Town and Gown closer together.
Alongside this, a national minimum income for adults and children could provide immediate relief where it’s most needed. It’s about time that we cast poverty into history books. It belongs in the same chapter as the Victorian Poor House and children sent up chimneys to sweep them.
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