Child poverty – a time for action

Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central, he has recently introduced a Private Member’s Bill that seeks to set a new and binding UK child poverty target. The Bill will also require the UK Government to report on the impact on child poverty of policy decisions. Here he explains why it matters. 

In Scotland today 220,000 children face a future shaped by poverty, despite the fact that two-thirds of them grow up in a home where at least one parent works.

For those children this can mean living in a cold and cramped home, falling behind in school, and not being able to join in activities with friends. That is why in the wake of Challenge Poverty Week, we should rededicate ourselves to ensuring that child poverty is not part of Scotland’s future.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies projects that over this parliament we will witness the biggest increase in child poverty in a generation. So the time for action is now.
I am introducing a bill into the UK parliament to set an ambitious target to reverse this trend. It is my hope that it can realise a common purpose to tackle child poverty.
A new and binding target will build consensus for action and hold those in power to account for the impact of policy choices. I hope to work on a cross-party basis to share expertise and build pressure for action across communities, employers and civil society.
I am pleased to receive the backing of the Poverty Alliance. As their director Peter Kelly says, “Poverty affects all aspects of a child’s life chances. In order to tackle poverty we need meaningful targets and a proper reporting mechanism.”

The last Labour government’s record reminds us what can be achieved. Labour delivered the biggest improvement of any EU nation in lifting one million children out of poverty, transforming so many lives. We have a duty to this generation to make progress once again.

The UK government’s Autumn Statement in a month’s time is an opportunity to put children first and reverse the worsening trend. Planned changes to both taxes and benefits over the next four years will take more than one pound in every ten from the pockets of the poorest families. That is divisive and shortsighted, particularly with prices at the tills expected to rise.

Therefore the Chancellor should make a clear commitment to those who have been left behind by ending the freeze on working-age benefits. It is estimated that one in every five pounds of public spending is associated with poverty. As well as redirecting public spending, poverty worsens the key economic challenges we face. Poverty lowers productivity and limits spending power, undermining the strong economy we need for the future.

The Chancellor should also take the opportunity to make a cost-effective investment in all of our futures. The importance of a child’s early years in forming their life chances is well understood. A child born in a deprived area is likely to die nine years earlier than someone from a wealthier postcode. That is why intervention is crucial in those first years of life.
This approach recognises the link between children’s earliest years and their future life chances. The weight of expert opinion in favour of early intervention is overwhelming. So that must be our priority, because it is a smart investment for the future and it will change lives today.

Child poverty should scar our conscience as much as it does our children’s futures. It limits all of our potential because to succeed in the future we must create a country which makes the most of all our talents.

I look forward to engaging with Scottish charities and voluntary organisations in bringing my Private Member’s Bill to Parliament. I hope that it receives support from across political divides and we rediscover a cross-party consensus on child poverty. By doing so we can provide security, opportunity, and hope to those children who need it most. That is the cause of our times.


This article first appeared in the Scotland on Sunday on 23 October 2016.

The Importance of Challenge Poverty Week – MSP Blog

Monica Lennon MSP, Central Scotland.

Poverty is a problem that affects 940,000 people in Scotland, including 210,000 children.

That means that, once housing costs are taken into account, one fifth of children, and almost one fifth of the whole population in Scotland, are living in poverty.

These are statistics that will be no doubt mentioned frequently during this week, Challenge Poverty Week, as organisations and groups across Scotland get together to highlight what they’re doing to address poverty and to discuss what action needs to be taken in response.

They’re also worth repeating again here, and at every available opportunity – that 940,000 people in Scotland live in poverty. And over half of those in poverty live in working households.

Challenge Poverty Week is about raising awareness about the impact of poverty in our society and about changing public attitudes about what poverty is, and what it looks like, and who is affected by it.

Public attitudes towards poverty in Scotland found that as recently as 2015, almost half of people thought experience of poverty is inevitable or just down to luck. But as a fair-minded society, how we can accept that it’s simply inevitable, or just a matter of luck, that a fifth of the Scottish population lives in poverty?

People in Scotland are struggling to get by every day due to a variety of pressures we’re facing as a society – low incomes, under-employment, lack of affordable housing, job insecurity, rising  food and clothing costs.

The causes of poverty are over-lapping and complex, but the idea that poverty is an inevitable part of modern life is a myth.

I’m joining the Poverty Alliance during Challenge Poverty Week to help raises awareness of how we can tackle its causes.

In the Central Scotland region that I represent as member of the Scottish Parliament, there are many impressive organisations actively engaged in tackling poverty and helping those struggling to get by.

R:evolve Recycle is a charity project run by Lightburn Elderly Association Project, which aims to get people to think differently about their textile consumption.

R:evolve operates three swap shops, including one in Hamilton, where all clothes are free and can be exchanged.

A third of members earn under £12k per year and 43% are families with small children. Since April, the charity has also donated over a quarter of a tonne of clothing to local people in need through a clothing bank. In the South Lanarkshire area, the average annual spend on clothing is around £440, which is only a quarter of what is spent across the rest of the UK.

Community Links is a charity which aims to tackle poverty through a variety of projects such as their food poverty co-op which aims to deliver a volunteer-led route out of food crisis to local people in need across South Lanarkshire and their SELECT project which helps people gain employability skills.

There’s also Loaves and Fishes, which delivers food parcels to people in need in South Lanarkshire.

These amazing third sector organisations are just a few local examples of where action is being taken to help combat poverty across a variety of causes – access to basic resources like food and clothing and as well as access to key skills and other requirements for employability.

We rarely talk enough about these efforts or raise awareness about the work that is happening in our local communities, or the  need for these services in our local communities in the first place.

Challenge Poverty Week to me is about taking the opportunity to raise awareness of these efforts, as well as focusing on how we can alleviate the causes of poverty.

Scottish Labour has proposed an Anti-Poverty Bill, which would implement all 15 recommendations of Naomi Eisenstadt’s report “Shifting the Curve”, which was published in January.

Labour’s proposal includes:

  • Abolishing the Council Tax and replacing it with a fairer system.
  • Building 60,000 affordable homes, including 45,000 for social rent.
  • Introducing a ‘living wage’ guarantee for all public contracts.

I’m also hosting an advice surgery on Monday 24thOctober at Fairhill Lifestyles Centre in Hamilton, to mark Challenge Poverty Week, where I will be giving out further information to anyone who needs it.

I hope by raising awareness about Challenge Poverty Week that others will be encouraged to take part, this year and every year thereafter, whether that be by finding out more about the situation in their local area, hosting an event to raise awareness or even by simply starting a conversation with someone you know about attitudes toward poverty. Together, we can start to change public attitudes and help to tackle the issue of poverty in Scotland, so that no-one has to live without what they need to get by.

The Importance of Decent Work

Francis Stuart, Research and Policy Advisor, Oxfam Scotland

‘Work is the best route out of poverty’ – or so the saying used to go. Sadly, while the risk of poverty is still greater for those without employment, having a job is far from a guaranteed way to lift people above the poverty line.

The growth of low pay, under-employment, zero-hour contracts, low-paid self-employment, and increasingly insecure work – much of which impacts most heavily on women – seems at odds with official statistics showing record levels of employment.

We can’t simply count the number of people in work; we must increase the quality of the work too.

Beyond money, when you ask low-paid workers about their working experiences in Scotland, a worrying picture emerges: from the barista paid less than the minimum wage, to the call centre worker who felt publicly humiliated by their manager for taking ‘too long’ in the toilet, to the sales exec who says she was made to take work calls while on maternity leave and then pressurised into returning to work six weeks after giving birth to her daughter.

These are just some of the stories revealed in new research undertaken by Oxfam in partnership with the University of the West of Scotland and Warwick Institute for Employment Research to examine what low-paid workers in Scotland prioritise in order to have ‘decent work’, and how far the labour market delivers on these priorities.

Crucially, this wasn’t research on low-paid workers but research with low-paid workers. Through individual interviews, focus groups, street stalls, and an online opinion poll, more than 1500 people across Scotland gave their views about what ‘decent work’ means to them.

Participants, who were recruited from low-paid sectors such as social care, hospitality and cleaning, prioritised 26 factors. Top of the list were: a decent hourly rate; job security; paid leave; a safe working environment and a supportive line manager.

These are fairly basic conditions which all workers should be able to expect. None are unreasonable or extravagant. But the experiences shared by participants, combined with an assessment of the labour market in Scotland, indicate there is still a long way to go despite welcome momentum on this agenda.

For example, despite a big push in Scotland, 445,000 employees – one in five – are paid less than the living wage as defined by the Living Wage Foundation. Job security is also a growing concern with 138,000 employees on temporary contracts and 78,000 on zero-hour contracts. Additionally, 324,000 working adults in Scotland do not feel supported by their line manager.

Our research discovered some important differences in what women and men value most from work. Women valued a number of factors higher, including having: a supportive line manager; appropriate support to return to work following an absence due to injury or ill health; access to financial benefits beyond pay, such as help with childcare; flexibility in working hours; and a job that is easy to get to.

And in many of these areas, women face extra barriers. Not only are women more likely to experience bullying and harassment in the workplace, they also face greater barriers in gaining a foothold in the labour market in the first place, are more concentrated in low-paid sectors and occupations, and continue to be paid less than men for the same work.

Our research also highlights important differences by age and disability status. With young people and disabled people more likely to be living in poverty, understanding these priorities is critical to attempts to address poverty in Scotland today.

What is more, the negative impacts of poor quality and low-paid work extend far beyond individual workers – they also make efforts by policymakers to reduce poverty much more difficult and negatively impact the whole economy. This is despite research showing employers who provide increased pay and improved conditions can benefit significantly through, for example, increases in productivity and lower staff turnover.

While we recognise the limits of devolved powers, our report makes a number of recommendations to the Scottish Government, as well as to employers. These include: giving the Fair Work Convention a specific role in investigating and improving employment conditions; ensuring public cash is used to incentivise and reward good employment practices; and the development of strategies to tackle low pay in sectors where it is endemic.

It is critical that efforts to deliver decent work for all are defined by the people who need it most. As our research makes clear, for low-paid workers, there is a significant job still to be done.

The Stigma of Poverty

Greig Inglis, Research Fellow for the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research (SCPHRP).

The experience of poverty extends beyond material and economic disadvantage, and people living in poverty often describe encountering various forms of stigma, prejudice and discrimination. Poverty stigma is evident in the everyday language that we use to discuss poverty, public attitudes on the causes of poverty, and in media and political discourses over issues such as benefits. Poverty stigma creates divisions between “the poor” and the “non-poor” which serve to justify and maintain socioeconomic inequalities, and can also cause people living in poverty to feel socially excluded and ashamed[1]. Stigma is harmful to health[2], and in the case of poverty, may deter individuals from claiming all of the benefits that they are entitled to, thereby further limiting low incomes.[3]

Given the potential negative consequences of poverty stigma, there is a clear impetus to challenge prejudice and discrimination directed towards those living on low incomes. When devising strategies and campaigns to reduce poverty stigma however, it is important to recognise that stigma takes several forms and operates at various institutional, social and personal levels.

At the institutional level, stigma can be seen in laws, policies and institutional practices that discriminate against, or shame individuals living in poverty. Institutional stigma is evident in how social security policies are designed and delivered. A key principle underlying welfare reforms for example, is the notion that welfare policies often encourage a culture of dependency and worklessness amongst claimants[4]. The delivery of welfare policies can also be shaming and in one recent survey, 57% of the benefits claimants interviewed disagreed that people are generally treated with respect when claiming benefits3. Institutional stigma is also seen in how poverty is framed and discussed though the media, as demonstrated by the negative stereotypes of benefits claimants that are commonly perpetuated through newspapers[5].

Social stigma includes public attitudes toward poverty and welfare, and are typically measured through national surveys. Data from the British Attitudes Survey for example show that individualistic explanations of poverty have become more prevalent over time in the United Kingdom. For example, the percentage of individuals who thought that people live in need due to “laziness or lack of willpower” had risen from 15% in 1994 to 23% in 2010.  Moreover, the proportion of individuals who thought that people live in need due to “injustice in society” had fallen from 29% in 1994 to 21% in 2010[6].

Public attitudes towards welfare are complicated and vary considerably across different forms of benefits, although one area where negative attitudes are particularly common is unemployment. Data from 2013 for example, show that approximately half (56%) of people in the UK agree that most people in their area could find a job if they wanted one, whilst a third (33%) agree that “most people on the dole are fiddling.” These examples demonstrate how common some aspects of social poverty stigma are in the UK.

Personal stigma occurs when individuals internalise the various forms of stigma and discrimination that they experience or perceive from others. On this point, a recent review of qualitative research shows how people living on low incomes may draw on social and political discourses of poverty and come to think of themselves as inadequate or having failed in some way. Individuals may come to internalise negative attitudes surrounding welfare for example, or become self-critical when they are unable to meet certain social expectations[7]. This can leave people feeling guilty, ashamed or humiliated, which has a corrosive effect on their self-esteem[8].

Recognising the various forms that stigma takes draws attention to the importance of developing anti-stigma campaigns that challenge prejudice and discrimination across the various institutional, social and personal levels. Interventions that focus exclusively on one form of stigma within a particular context may produce positive results in the short term, but that these gains are unlikely to be maintained if the wider structural and social contexts remain unchanged[9]. There will be many lessons to be learned in this regard from other national campaigns, such as See Me. This campaign aims to tackle mental illness stigma and discrimination at different levels and through a number of different activities, ranging from arts-based awareness raising to directly challenging negative media portrayals of mental ill health[10].

There is also a need for campaigners and researchers to better understand how institutional, social and personal forms of stigma are related to and affect one another. Whilst it’s readily apparent how action at the institutional level can have widespread impacts on lower forms of public and personal stigma, researchers have recently noted that action at the personal and public levels can also be effective in bringing about changes at higher institutional levels[11]. Therefore, interventions that seek to change public attitudes toward poverty for example may also have the potential to change the broader social and structural sources of stigma. There are implications here for how researchers should monitor evaluate the impacts of anti-stigma campaigns, which may have wider impacts beyond the initial scope of an intervention.

It is also important to recognise that power is central to stigma, and that stigma can only occur when individuals have sufficient economic, social and political resources to effectively label, stereotype and discriminate against others9. This view also has implications for how we should go about attempting to reduce stigma. Specifically, it suggests that interventions should seek to challenge the stigmatising views and practices of powerful groups, or that they should target the power imbalances in society that allow some groups to translate stigmatising attitudes and behaviours into discrimination and unfair outcomes among stigmatized groups9. In this sense, stigma interventions can be seen as part of a wider effort to reduce inequalities more generally.



[1] Lister, R. (2015). ‘To count for nothing’: poverty beyond the statistics. Journal of British Academy, 3, 139-165.
[2] Hatzenbuehler, M.L., Phelan, J.C., & Link, B.G. (2014). Stigma as a fundamental cause of population health inequalities. American Journal of Public Health, 103, 813-821.
[3] Baumberg, B. (2016). The stigma of claiming benefits: a quantitative study. Journal of Social Policy, 45, 181-199.
[4] Walker, R., & Chase, E. (2016). Adding to the shame of poverty: the public, politicians and the media. Poverty, 148, 9-13.
[5] Baumberg, B., Bell, K., & Gaffney, D. (2012). Benefits stigma in Britain. Canterbury: Turn2us
[6] Public Attitudes to Poverty, Inequality and Welfare in Scotland and Britain. Scottish Government. Available at:
[7] Pemberton, S., Sutton, E., & Fahmy, E. (2013). A review of the qualitative evidence relation to the experience of poverty and exclusion. Poverty and Social Exclusion. Available at:
[8]Walker, R. (2014). The Shame of Poverty. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[9] Link, B.G., & Phelan, J.C. (2001). Conceptualising stigma. Annual Review of Sociology, 27, 363-385.
[10] Robertson, J. (2015). See Me: The campaign to end mental health stigma. Scottish Anti Poverty Review. Changing Public Attitudes to Poverty. Available at:
[11] Cook, J.E., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Meyer, I.H., Busch, J.T.A. (2014). Intervening within and across levels: a multilevel approach to stigma and public health. Social Science and Medicine, 103, 101-109.


Food aid in Finland: Learning from a Nordic Welfare State

Mary Anne MacLeod, Research Officer at the Poverty Alliance and PhD student at Glasgow University.

In Scotland we often look to Scandinavian countries to learn how we might do things better. World-leading education systems; the highest levels of gender equality; among the happiest places to live in the world – in many ways our Nordic neighbours serve as important role models on how to organise ourselves. Finland’s provision of universal school meals, from pre-school to 18, is a source of great national pride and also considered to be a factor in what makes their education system so successful. The Finnish ‘baby box’ initiative recently introduced here is an example of the Nordic commitment to the early years and child development which Scotland appears to be looking to take inspiration from.

And yet this impression of a progressive, inclusive society stands in sharp contrast to scenes I encountered on my recent visit to Finland. Long queues of people waiting for several hours for a few items of food otherwise destined for landfill. The sights and smells of this Helsinki ‘breadline’ made me think of my experience volunteering on Lesbos last year. Volunteers coordinating a long line of people to receive some small amount of donated food – a scene from a refugee camp on the streets of Helsinki.

Helsinki’s ‘breadlines’ have become the ubiquitous symbol for poverty in Finland. The phenomenon started 20 years ago at a time of huge economic recession which included the fall of the Finnish mobile giant Nokia, taking with it significant numbers of jobs. Unemployment rates sky-rocketed; growing from 3% in 1989 to almost 20% 4 years later. At that time Church groups began organising the provision of food aid, taking inspiration from models already functioning elsewhere in Europe. The Church intended that food aid in Finland would be a temporary measure to meet immediate needs and to act as a protest against the perceived failures on the part of the Government to provide people with adequate support. The appearance of breadlines in the capital was certainly a shock to Finns who, through the ‘golden years’ of the welfare state of the 70s and 80s, had considered the Church-run soup kitchens of the Poor Law era to have been banished to history. Yet despite periods of economic growth since the ‘great depression’ of the early 90s Finland’s breadlines have continued. The long lines of people queuing for food have become an accepted feature of everyday life in Helsinki. After 20 years the initial public outrage and motivation to seek solutions has all but vanished. The issue is largely absent from policy or political debate, media interest in the once sensational images of the breadlines has largely worn off. In Finland, a country so revered for much of its social policy, there is generally an uncritical acceptance that food aid is here to stay.

During my visit I interviewed a number of individuals who had been key players in the initial establishment of food aid provision in Finland. Their reflections on how its role has developed perhaps provide some important lessons for Scotland. They spoke about the huge challenge of dismantling a system of aid once it has been put in place; the attractiveness of charitable models to those who would look to privatise services and lower taxes; the diminishing of support for the welfare state which occurs when universalism within the system is weakened. As we consider what a Scottish social security system might look like, we need to think carefully about the expanding role of charity food aid within our current system and consider how we might want things to work differently in the future. Important learning can be taken from countries such as Finland which we already look to emulate, yet perhaps in this case about we might learn how not to do things.

Reflections of a Living Wage Accreditation Officer

Before moving on to a new post with Who Cares? Scotland next month, David Faith looks back on the last year and half working as a Living Wage Accreditation Officer with the Poverty Alliance.

When you leave behind a career in the law, you inevitably worry that you might be making a very serious mistake. It took me three additional years of University and another two years as a trainee to qualify as a solicitor and then a fairly intensive recruitment process to land a job. That’s a lot of work and effort to “throw away”, but less than six months in I realised the world of corporate law wasn’t for me.

I wanted a role that would allow me to make a difference and, just as importantly, one which would allow me to be there for my young son.

The role of Living Wage Accreditation Officer seemed like a perfect fit for me on both fronts. The added flexibility has been a huge boost to our family life and, at the same time, it’s been exciting to be part of this unique movement. To my knowledge, this is the first and only campaign that started with a small third sector organisation and now, not only has buy-in from across the political spectrum, but is also effectively lead by employers from all sectors, including the sort of large private sector organisations we too often assume are only interested in profits.

I’ve actually lead on our public sector engagement whilst I’ve worked on the Scottish Living Wage Accreditation Initiative. It’s been an elaborate landscape to get to grips with. Complex regulations about public procurement, the sheer number of different types of public body and the complexities of the social care sector all played their part. However, I’m delighted to see the progress we’ve made since I started in March 2015. In that time, we’ve accredited over a quarter of Local Authorities in Scotland; the Universities of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Strathclyde; numerous public bodies such as Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Water and CalMac and of course the Scottish Government itself.

It’s clear the public sector in Scotland is well and truly behind the Living Wage and I’m hopeful that the remaining Local Authorities and public bodies will soon join the movement too.

As well as leading on the public sector, I’ve also accredited a fair number of private sector companies over the past year or so. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this sector is something I touched on earlier. We don’t have high enough expectations.

With public sector organisation, we all agree they have a responsibility to act in an ethical manner. With private sector organisations on the other hand, there’s a common acceptance that they will always act with profits at the forefront of their minds.

“What do you expect, they’re a big company.”

“Of course they put profits first; that’s what the private sector always does.”

I believe this kind of thinking is wrongheaded.

We have every right to expect companies to act ethically, and when we expect otherwise we do a massive disservice to all of the fantastic private sector employers striving to do the right thing.

It’s maybe ironic that I left the private sector to make a difference and now here I am championing the virtues of the private sector, but lots of employers in the private sector act ethically. We should expect such behaviour from them all.

So with a year and a half of working with a wide array of employers across Scotland behind me, and, with a bit of luck, a long career in policy and learning ahead, leaving the law was definitely the right decision for me. I can only hope the decision to move on to this new role with Who Cares? Scotland works out as well.

I will, of course, be maintaining a keen interest in the Living Wage movement and I’m sure this cross-sectoral employer-lead success story will only go from strength to strength.

Food Insecurity, Europe and Solidarity

Mary Anne MacLeod, Research Officer at the Poverty Alliance, reflects on a recent conference in Brussels to launch the network for the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived. The conference took place before the UK’s referendum on membership of the EU….

“The European Union is first and foremost about people” stated EU Commissioner Marianne Thyssen as she opened the conference for the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived in Brussels on 2nd and 3rd of June. Visions of a ‘social Europe’ or the role of the EU in tackling poverty failed to get much attention in a referendum debate dominated by arguments over immigration and the economy. As we come to terms with the aftermath of the vote, the chaos and emotions of an impending British exit from the EU, I reflect here on my experiences at an event which brought together organisations supporting some of Europe’s most deprived and marginalised citizens.

The conference marked the launch of a network for organisations across EU member states which receive monies from the Fund for European Aid for the Most Deprived (FEAD). To offer some background to the fund, FEAD was set up following demand for continued funding for food assistance when the EU Food Distribution programme for the Most Deprived Persons (MDP) came to an end in 2013. Established in 1987 and part of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the MDP was designed as an economic rather than a social intervention, intended to make use of food surpluses (the ‘food mountains’ of the 70s and 80s) without distorting markets. Reforms to CAP and rising food prices in the early 2000s meant the redistribution of surplus food, from an economic and agricultural perspective, were no longer required and MDP was stopped. However, under pressure to continue to address the social demand for food aid, the EC has committed 3.8 billion euros to this new programme – FEAD – for the six year period 2014 – 2020.

FEAD provides funding in three different areas: food assistance; basic material aid (such as toiletries); and social inclusion activities. Different member states are able to choose the types of activities they want to fund. A map shows where different types of services are being funded. It appears that countries such as Sweden and Denmark which have traditionally strong social security systems tend to use FEAD to fund non-material assistance and activities aimed at reducing social exclusion. For example, in Denmark the fund is used to focus on the social inclusion of the most marginalised and homeless, those with very sporadic or no contact with social services. In countries where statutory support is often much less established, such as in Italy which has no minimum income scheme, FEAD monies are used to provide food and other essential items to people directly. Italy receives the largest proportion of FEAD (670 million euros), 60 per cent of which is used to provide free food, and which also funds provision of school materials for deprived children. The UK Government, which received widespread criticism for choosing not to use FEAD to fund food banks, has drawn down only 3.9 million euros from FEAD which is intended to fund breakfast clubs in deprived areas – although it appears that this funding is yet to be allocated. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland chose not to participate due to the small sums involved and the administrative effort required.

While the conference largely focused on discussing the practical delivery of FEAD funding, several speakers made the point of highlighting the limitations of the programme as a tool for tackling poverty. One in four of the EU population is at risk of poverty, and nine per cent experience severe material deprivation. The total FEAD budget, as noted by one panel member, is the equivalent of one euro cent per day per EU citizen living in poverty, for the six years which the programme runs. It is therefore important to be realistic about what the fund can achieve. Professor Jan Vranken from the University of Antwerp emphasised that FEAD alone is not in a position to reduce poverty and in his presentation focused on the importance of effective economic, labour market, education and housing policies, and of a robust social security systems as protection against poverty.

In my research on food poverty and food bank use in Scotland I am concerned about the impacts of stigma and shame – the importance of choice and control over food access and consumption for individual identify and agency. Such issues were not tackled directly by the conference but I noted a couple of comments made by delegates during discussions which point to frustrations of limiting anti-poverty work to handing out food: “If I go to Estonian citizens, they don’t say – ‘I am so happy I receive food aid’ – we should dream bigger” (Estonian delegate); “finding money for food [aid] is easy, but it’s not what people want – they want to live” (Italian delegate).

The main aim of the conference was to facilitate networking – sharing good practice and identifying common challenges been organisations delivering FEAD funded activity in different countries. Having coordinated networking events on food poverty and food aid in Scotland, I know how valuable it is to have opportunities to exchange ideas with those working in other contexts and I was impressed and inspired by the discussions between frontline workers from across Europe. A sense of common purpose and of solidarity is essential for addressing poverty. My hope for this network is that it is able to become more than an exchange of practical advice on the delivery of services which, while important, can only ameliorate the worse symptoms of poverty. I hope that through building relationships with each other, anti-poverty workers across Europe are able to grow in solidarity and help identify and call for the kinds of social and economic policy solutions required to tackle the structural drivers of poverty – working towards achieving that vision of a social Europe which does indeed put people first. It is vital that post-Brexit, anti-poverty campaigners in the UK remain part of that work and are able to continue to show solidarity with colleagues across Europe in the fight against poverty.

The Europe Anti-Poverty Network is organising a post referendum discussion seminar on the 8 July in London. For more information and to register click here



Carers and Scottish Election 2016 – An Afterthought?

Lynn Williams, unpaid carer and former third sector worker looks at what Scotland’s five parties have said on carers in the run up to the Scottish elections

The election manifestos are out, the leaders’ debates are over and we are in the final run up to the Scottish Elections.

I have watched each debate and listened to the parties’ pitches a little more closely than normal this time as many of the pledges made (outlined in the Poverty Alliance’s excellent summary!) had a particularly personal resonance for my husband and I.

There is a specific reason for this; this weekend, I became (technically anyway) a full time, unpaid carer for my husband. This means that our household finances will face a massive hit and – overnight – my contribution to the economy becomes pretty worthless, if mainstream economists have their way.  In statistical terms, I am just another 40 something woman who has left her career behind to plug the ever widening gap in care.

I do this willingly, because I want to be there for my husband who faces deteriorating mobility and health.  I am one of the 40% (State of Caring, 2015) who give up work to care between the ages of 40 and 54.  In place of income, these carers receive  a pitifully low income replacement benefit in Carers Allowance and labour market policies, more often than not, forget all about us. Carers Scotland’s “Caring and Family Finance” survey suggests that as carers give up work to care or move into lower paid, lower skilled work to balance their caring role, one third will experience a £20k drop in family income. Women carers tend to have to give up work at the peak of their careers, with long lasting consequences in relation to poverty, ill health, pensions and poorer career prospects should their caring journey end.

There are over 700,000 carers in Scotland and this election has been one where – with a few exceptions – the reality of our lives in providing over £11 bn worth of care has rarely been acknowledged. A carer friend once said to me “my back is so sore from politicians who keep patting it”. I would say that for many carers struggling with poverty level benefits, that sums up this election. There are some glimmers of hope with the promise to substantially increase Carers Allowance from the Greens and Rise; and the idea of returnships, proposed by the SNP may well be prove to be an important step forward in addressing the barriers that women carers can face when seeking to return to the labour market.

Wider pledges e.g. to scrap the 84 day rule for DLA, will of course impact positively on the wider family of claimants, and this leads me to my final point – political parties often do not create “nuanced” messages about how particular pledges can specifically improve the lives of carers – or indeed other groups in society. Furthermore, when they produce targeted manifestos, these documents just re-hash the bigger election messages, but give no sense of how each commitment might impact positively on the group in question. Sometimes, it’s not obvious but consider how the extension of childcare – promised by most parties – might benefit families with disabled children (if the provision is more accessible); the promise to invest in education could directly benefit children with disabilities who so often lag behind their peers. In many pledges, some deeper thinking can ensure policies resonate with different groups who might feel that, thus far, they are not important in #SP16.

Each of us is likely to find ourselves providing unpaid care at some point in our lives and it remains a gendered issue.  Unless the nature and structure of our economy changes, women who leave the labour market to care will always face an uphill struggle to claw back what has been lost; their families will be more likely to experience poverty.  Carers will be looking to the Scottish Parliament and the new Scottish Government to directly involve us in shaping the action to make election pledges reality.  There are over 700,000 votes up for grabs and as carers become incredibly cynical about politics, we should not be an afterthought. We want to work with you, if you’ll let us.

The Party Manifestos & Poverty: What you need to know!

In this blog Carla McCormack, Policy and Parliamentary Officer at the Poverty Alliance, gives a whistle stop tour of the five main political party’s election manifesto anti-poverty commitments…povertystickers2

The party manifestos are out, and we have brought together the key commitments related to tackling poverty so you can see how they compare to the Poverty Alliance’s manifesto demands. Remember, this is designed only as a guide, and is not an extensive account of each party’s manifesto.  We recommend that you read the original manifestos too!


In their manifesto, the SNP have committed to creating a new Scottish social security agency with dignity and respect at its heart.  With new powers, they have also pledged to increase carers allowance in line with job seekers allowance, and maintain disability benefit levels while also making the assessment process fairer.

To help tackle child poverty, the SNP have promised the introduction of Finnish style ‘baby boxes’ and the establishment of maternity and early year’s grants. Alongside this they will provide free school meals to all two, three and four year olds who benefit from increased nursery entitlement.  Furthermore, the SNP have committed to investing £750m in a Scottish Attainment Fund, and increasing the child allowance within the Council Tax Reduction Scheme by 25 per cent.  They have also said that they will implement the recommendations of the Independent Advisor on Poverty and Inequality.  They will also re-appoint an Independent Advisor and establish an Inequality Commission to advise the government and monitor progress.

On welfare reform, the SNP have committed to opposing welfare reform at its source.  They have promised to abolish the bedroom tax, and restore entitlement to housing support for 18 – 21 year olds.

The SNP have said they will build 50,000 new affordable homes over the lifetime of the next parliament, and will introduce a Warm Homes Bill.

Moving towards work and employment, the SNP have promised that all social care workers will be paid the Living Wage by October 2016, and the number of Living Wage employers in Scotland will have doubled to 1000 by November 2017.  They will increase the number of Modern Apprentices to 30,000 per year by 2020 and will create new jobs grants for young people.  Companies which practice tax evasion or blacklisting will be excluded from bidding for public contracts under a future SNP government.

The SNP have also committed to extending participatory budgeting and encouraging communities to take advantage of the Community Empowerment Act.

Scottish Labour

The Scottish Labour Party has promised that if in government that they will fund a breakfast club in every school, and extra funds for poorer pupils.  They will increase the top rate of tax for those earning more than £150,000 per year to create a Fair Start Fund.  Scottish Labour has said they would ensure childcare was affordable, flexible and affordable, and would double the maternity grant for new mums.

They have committed to a new employment service, Skills Scotland, which would offer training for workers and unemployed people.  The have also said they would set up a Living Wage Commission tasked with making Scotland a Living Wage nation and to end the use of exploitative zero-hours contracts.  Labour has also pledged to ban those who avoid tax from bidding for public contracts.

On local authority funding, Scottish Labour have pledged to scrap the council tax, and to devolving tax raising powers such as a tourism tax, a land value tax and a surplus from the crown estate.

Labour has promised to build 60,000 affordable new homes across the lifetime of the next Scottish Parliament including 45,000 for social rent.  They have committed to stopping cuts to public services.

On welfare reform issues, they have promised to abolish the bedroom tax, and protect the right to housing benefit for 18-21 year olds.  Scottish Labour has also promised to build choice into the Scottish Welfare Fund – offering people the choice of cash or goods.

Scottish Labour has pledged to scrap the 84 day rule for carers allowance and disability benefits.  They have also said they will use new powers to support pensioners using off grid energy to bring forward the payment of their Winter Fuel Payment.

Scottish Conservatives

The Scottish Conservatives have promised to extend childcare hours to one and two year olds from deprived communities.  They have also committed to closing the attainment gap via standardised testing and greater freedom for schools.

They have said they will halve the disability employment gap, and will increase funding for the work choices programme.  On disability benefits, the Scottish Tories have committed to increase carers allowance in line with job seekers allowance, and they will fast track applications for those with terminal illness.  They have promised choice in Universal Credit over frequency, split payments and housing benefit.

The Scottish Conservatives have said they will build 100,000 new homes in the next five years, and will work to reduce fuel poverty.

On local authority funding, the Scottish Conservatives have promised an independent review of funding mechanisms.

Scottish Green Party

The Scottish Green Party’s manifesto contains a commitment to giving public money only to those organisations which pay the living wage, avoid zero hours contracts, support trade unions, reduce the pay gap between the highest and lowest, practice gender pay equality and are environmentally responsible.

On social security, the Greens have said they will use new powers to top up child benefit.  They have committed to split payments being the default for Universal Credit, and expanding the sure start maternity grant to include second children as well as extending the eligibility criteria.  The Greens have promised to improve maternity and paternity grants, and provide high quality child care.

On disability benefits, the Scottish Green Party has said it will increase Carers Allowance to £93.15 and introduce a young carers grant, as well as reducing the number of hours threshold to qualify.  They have also said that there would be immediate support available for those claiming disability benefits, and they would abolish repeat assessments for those with chronic or degenerative illness.  Paper, online and telephone procedures will be used to replace face to face assessments.

The Greens have said they will build 12,000 new social homes; they will also use empty homes and vacant land.  On local authority funding, they will replace the council tax with a land value tax.  They have said they will introduce rent controls, and work to end fuel poverty.

The Scottish Green Party has said they will continue to push for the devolution of Access to Work and will guarantee the work programme is not delivered for profit.  They will campaign for the new work programme to include a clause which prevents it from sharing information with the DWP which would lead to people being sanctioned.  The Greens are supportive of calls for a gender quality in business scheme and will ensure that all care staff receive a ‘living wage plus’ of more than £9 an hour.

They have also committed to closing the attainment gap, and have said there will be a jobs guarantee for school leavers.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrat manifesto commits to investing in education, money for which will be found by increasing income tax by 1p.  They have said they will invest in a pupil premium and expand early years education.  There will also be greater flexibility within free school meals so that parents can choose whether this is breakfast or lunch.

The Lib Dems have said they will use the power to create a new benefit to help people who are at risk of losing their job, or entitlement to other benefits because of mental health issues.

On childcare, the Lib Dems have promised to implement the findings of the commission for childcare reform.

They have said they will create a fair social security system, which is accessible and based on the principles of dignity and respect.  Like the other parties they have also committed to abolishing the bedroom tax, and have pledged to raise Carers Allowance in line with Job Seekers Allowance.  The Liberal Democrats have also said they will introduce Finnish style baby boxes, and retain the housing benefit entitlement for 18-21 year olds.

They have said they will pilot of carers leave for Scottish Government staff and support the development and provision of special health checks for carers by GPs.  The medial assessments for disability benefits will be made to take into account fluctuating medical conditions, and the Work Programme and Work Choices, will be replaced with new employability programmes.

On housing, the Lib Dems have promised more social housing, and to revise the empty homes strategy.  They have said that they will give councils power over local domestic and business taxation.  They have also said that they will allow housing benefit to be paid directly to landlords.

Your choice

There are real choices to be made on May 5th, and we hope that the electorate will use their vote to help tackle poverty. Our analysis of the manifesto’s highlights that all of the political parties are committed to actions that should help address poverty and inequality. These commitments are to be welcomed, but of course they should be read in the context of the other proposals that each party has made in their wider election manifesto.

It’s also clear that in some areas there are shared priorities for tackling poverty. We hope that the shared goal of tackling poverty and addressing inequality will mean that the parties can work together after the election to bring about real change. Too many people in Scotland struggle by on inadequate incomes, too many face uncertainty in their employment, and too many cannot access the services that will help them and their families out of poverty.

Over the next five years we will have real opportunities to begin to change this, to use new and existing powers to transform lives. We hope the next Parliament will act as one to make this transformation, and put the fine words into action. The Poverty Alliance and our members are ready to support, and hold to account, whoever is prioritising action to address poverty.  As always, we believe that with real political commitment, we can begin to turn the tide on poverty in Scotland.


Tackling Welfare Reform: Rejecting Blame, Promoting Resilience

Dr. Rosalind Tyler-Greig from Inclusion Scotland blogs on the impact of welfare reform on disabled people as part of Challenge Poverty Week 2015.

I was delighted to join the team at Inclusion Scotland earlier this month to lead their Rights and Resilience project. The project is a response to the recent package of social welfare cuts which have affected disabled people, and the litany of negative rhetoric about benefits claimants – a significant proportion of whom are disabled people – which has poured out of our media. The project will try to mitigate some of the negative impacts of welfare reform by sharing accessible information, providing training and resources, and raising awareness around welfare rights.

This is important because discussion of disabled people’s rights has been drowned out recently by stories which tell us benefits are expensive and that a large swathe of claimants are ‘chancers’ who are not entitled anyway. These stories re-write financial hardship and poverty as somehow acceptable, as the true deserts of the lazy and un-ambitious. I blogged recently about the role of benefits in compensating disabled people for the barriers they face in society – barriers that persist, and have even been added to as the compensation is being removed. In this post I will highlight the stories which try to justify this, and which move the attack beyond the financial and target the personal resilience of disabled people.

The first story is that ‘lots of disabled people are probably not really disabled at all’ and we should be terribly suspicious about claims for disability benefits. We hear daily about the people who ‘fake’ disability, the ‘cheats’ who cost us millions of pounds a year, the local campaigns being run to ‘tackle’ cheats, and the infuriating number of ‘fraudsters’ avoiding prosecution.

This has meant that disabled people being re-assessed for the new disability benefit feel exceptional pressure before ever submitting a claim. The world is staring suspiciously at them, and they are waiting to be ‘caught out’ and declared ‘not disabled’, a ‘fake’ or a ‘cheat’. They are worried they might have misunderstood something in one of the complex forms they’ve had to fill in, and now be held to account. They are worried about losing some or all of the money which helps them participate in society.

So are the people who lose out not disabled after all? Not quite. Disability benefits have simply become more difficult to get. For example, to qualify for the highest rate of mobility support a person must be unable to walk 20 metres unaided. Under the previous scheme, a person had to be unable to walk 50 metres unaided. At Inclusion Scotland, we estimate that by 2018, over 80,000 working age disabled people in Scotland will lose some or all of their mobility allowance. Impairments will not change, barriers will persist, but the resources to overcome those barriers will be given much more selectively.

Another story is that ‘benefits cost too much’, and the bill should not be footed by hard-working folk who have been sensible enough to earn good wages and lucky enough to have avoided any limiting impairments or health conditions.

In actual fact, almost all the money given out in benefits is taken back in tax. And the poorest households pay the most taxes when we account for everything that is taxed. Because of the types of things that taxes are then spent on, better off households benefit much more from taxes than poorer households. With 20% of households containing a disabled person living in poverty, disabled people are in fact disproportionately losing out in this system. Out-of-work and disability benefits do not even form the most significant portion of the benefits pie because 47% of the benefits bill is actually spent on pensions. Overall, the idea that we have a generous benefits system which needs to be capped to stop lazy people taking advantage is, as the Centre for Welfare Reform puts it, ‘ludicrous’.[1]

A final, and disturbing, tale is that ‘disabled people should work their way out of poverty’ because it is not the government’s job to stop them being poor. This was the advice of Work and Pension Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith – a man who has never had to use his own ‘services’ (or apparently ensure they work properly for others). IDS has not experienced exhausting conditionality. He has not had to live on a meagre amount and try to remain healthy, fed and warm, and able to find suitable work at a rate his government approves of. He has not experienced discrimination in the job market because he is disabled and may have access needs. Unfortunately, IDS is not so much telling a story as giving a directive – a directive which does not take into account the barriers which disabled people face, but expects people to find resources and stay well in increasingly hostile circumstances.

The overall story we are being told about disabled people is one with suspicion and lack of compassion at its core. It is not coincidental that we are now seeing more and more examples of hostile attitudes towards disabled people from their non-disabled peers. This news story gives one example. Inclusion Scotland’s Welfare Reform Research also highlights examples of disabled people being verbally assaulted by non-disabled people and being made to feel like second class citizens. In a climate where disabled people are targeted by cuts, we need a culture of solidarity. We need to find ways – together and individually – to boost disabled people’s capacity to cope. And a good starting point is rejecting the stories which try to cast disabled people as underserving and a drain on resources.

Inclusion Scotland’s Rights and Resilience project is working to uncover and promote some of the different ways in which the adverse impacts of welfare reform experienced by disabled people can be mitigated. We want to discover what can boost the personal resilience of disabled people. This could be about anything from great services and accessible information to supportive people and local networks. If you would like to share something which has helped you personally, or which your organisation is doing, we’d like to hear from you. You can find out how to get involved here.