Leading policy-makers, commentators and charities are joining forces to explore new solutions to poverty and inequality in Scotland. With the economy flat-lining, youth unemployment increasing, fuel poverty rocketing and more and more families hit by debt and low income, there has never been a greater need for new, alternative approaches.
On the 15th and 16th of March community and voluntary groups, people experiencing poverty, policy makers and politicians will gather in Glasgow for the third annual Scottish Assembly for Tackling Poverty. They will debate the problems Scotland faces, and plan the practical actions that will help tackle poverty now and in the future.
Organized by the Poverty Alliance, the anti-poverty network in Scotland, the Assembly will not only to raise awareness about the reality of poverty in Scotland, but also create opportunities for genuine dialogue between communities facing poverty, and policy makers and politicians that are responsible for addressing it.
Among the issues which will be debated are:
Child poverty: is expected to increase in Scotland over the next three years, but recent figures show that half of local authorities in Scotland have wards where more than 30% of children live in low income households.
Welfare reform: the new system is expected to take £500million out of the pockets of disabled people in Scotland every year from 2013. What are the alternatives to further benefit cuts and increased compulsion in the system?
Alternative economic models: Income inequality has continued to increase in Scotland, and despite high unemployment we still work some of the longest hours in Europe. How do we get a better balance between economic growth and economic fairness?
Fuel poverty: Price increases could push another 170,000 Scottish households into fuel poverty, taking the total to near 1 million. What more can we do to address the problem both locally and nationally?
Sustainable communities: Many communities in Scotland have been blighted by lack of investment and lack of jobs resulting in decline. How do we create socially and economically sustainable communities?
Alongside community representatives from across Scotland there will be a wide range of speakers including Owen Jones, the author of ‘Chavs’, Philip Blond, one of the key thinkers behind the Big Society, Anna Coote Head of Social Policy at the New Economics Foundation, and Judith Robertson, Head of Oxfam Scotland and Ghazala Hakeem a community activist with the Poverty Truth Commission.
On the second day the Assembly will hear contributions from a range of local and national politicians including Michael Matheson MSP, the Scottish Minister for Public Health.
Peter Kelly, Director of Poverty Alliance, said: “Whether it is bankers’ bonuses, rising fuel bills, or cuts to public services, there is widespread discontent with the direction our society is moving.”
“Behind the headlines about bonuses or so-called ‘welfare cheats’ the fact is that inequality and poverty will increase in Scotland over the next few years. This Assembly is an opportunity for all those concerned, including those with direct experience, to come together to find practical alternatives to the policies that are currently failing us.”
Philip Blond, Director of the think-tank Respublica, and author of Red Tory said: “We desperately need to rethink our approaches to poverty, spending billions on small payments to supplement income has not moved anyone out of poverty, we need to focus on assets, culture and education if we are really to save the poor from their lot.”
Anna Coote, Head of Social Policy at the New Economic Foundation, said: “It is time to transform our welfare system from one based on a scarcity of economic resources to one based on an abundance of human resources. “We can do this by tapping into the wealth of human assets that are embedded in everyday lives and relationships. But it will only work if everyone is able to participate and contribute on equal terms.”
Owen Jones, author and journalist, added: “Austerity threatens to plunge hundreds of thousands of people into poverty and hardship. If the welfare bill is to be reduced, rather than kicking people at the bottom, the focus must be on tackling a three-fold crisis: housing, jobs, and low wages.”
Judith Robertson, Head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “Oxfam fights poverty around the world and on our doorstep. There is no excuse for poverty in Scotland. The country is richer than ever before, but inequality is increasing. That shows that our economy isn’t working. We need to create a new economy together that promotes fairness and equal opportunities, and one that meets people’s real priorities.”
“Part of that is about giving communities real power to make change. Part of it is about helping businesses create real work. And a big part of it is about making sure social support like state benefits are easily-accessible and at a level that gives the most vulnerable people in our society real protection.”
Ghazala Hakeem from the Poverty Truth Commission said: “The Scottish Assembly for Tackling Poverty is a real opportunity to challenge the acceptance of poverty that seems to exist in our society. It is also a chance for those directly affected by poverty to have their voices heard, which must be the basis for real change.”