Social Insecurity: Poor Work and Poverty in Scotland

Lisa Whittaker

Stick your labels imageScotland remains a society that continues to be scarred by poverty. 870,000 people live in poverty (2013 figures from Poverty In Scotland McKendrick et al) put another way poverty affects around one in five people in Scotland today. Despite this, poverty has been overlooked as an issue in the General Election campaign. Academics Stand Against Poverty have stated they are disappointed that none of the main parties, except the Greens, have an effective strategy to address poverty at this election. This is extremely frustrating and we stress the need to keep poverty and inequality a central feature of debates and decision making. It is estimated that 13 million people are in poverty in the UK. We can’t ignore this. We need to address the growing insecurity for some people in our society.

A recent study has also explored the need for emergency food aid In Scotland:

“Over recent years the number and range of groups and organisations in Scotland and across the UK providing some form of emergency food aid has grown exponentially to meet demand from increasing numbers of people now living in food poverty.”

The report highlights that many people who make use of these emergency sources need more than food alone. The Guardian recently reported that 1 million people in UK have used food banks in the last year, warning that this was only the tip of the iceberg. Food banks have seen rising numbers of low-paid workers. The need for emergency food has been linked to welfare reform and benefit sanctions. Sanctions have been a core part of the UK Coalition Government’s welfare reforms. Shockingly these punitive measure were used 898,000 times in Scotland in 2013/14. The result is poverty and hardship being created on a scale and intensity unseen for more than half a century. Perhaps unsurprisingly, three quarters of referrals to food banks have been related to benefit sanctions or delays.

Issues such as un and underemployment; low pay; debt; poor, insecure or unaffordable housing; low educational attainment; lack of access to education and training; physical or mental health problems; are all dimensions of poverty and all play a role. The belief that the next generation will have a better quality of life than the one that went before it no longer holds. The situation is bleak for many young people in Scotland. We have recently seen the STUC launch ‘betterthanzero’ a campaign run for young, by young people, which will tackle insecure and low paid work. >ZERO will use comedy, music, art and web technology to capture your views and experiences of work (or a lack of it).Poor employment conditions are prevalent in industries such as fast food, hotels and catering, pub and club chains and some areas of retail and social care.

STUC General Secretary Grahame Smith said:

“The use of zero-hours contracts has become a national disgrace, with young people presenting themselves for work only to be sent home again. Workers are also routinely expected to work additional late hours at short notice, with little or no thought given to how they will get home and whether they will be safe.

Insecure work and zero hour contracts are not confined to the younger generation, it has been reported that approximately 100,000 Scots trapped on zero-hours contracts . But, in agreement with the STUC we argue there are particular risks associated with normalising bad work as the everyday experience of hundreds of thousands of young people. The impact of welfare reform and a rise in insecure employment is the context many young people are trying to negotiate including, sanctions targeting 16-25 age group and age restrictions on benefits resulting in a cumulative impact of austerity hitting young people hard.

This is all exacerbated by the negative public attitudes about poverty including the ‘strivers and skivers’ narrative which often dominates media headlines. Tackling stigmatising attitudes toward people experiencing poverty is a crucial part of anti-poverty work in Scotland. Good words about stigma and poverty are not enough – we need action to support those words. The Poverty Alliance first launched Stick Your Labels in 2010 and we are in the process of re-launching this campaign. It is now more needed than ever.

In 2011, leaders from the Scottish National Party, the Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the Conservative Party and the Scottish Green Party all signed up to a set of anti-stigma statements, committing themselves to  take the action required to address stigma. We are in the process of revising these statements and producing a set of recommendations and asking civic and political leaders across Scotland to sign up to these statements and reaffirm their pledge to reject stigma and demonisation of people living in poverty.

The Poverty Alliance is a network of community, voluntary, statutory and other organisations whose vision is of a sustainable Scotland based on social and economic justice, with dignity for all, where poverty and inequalities are not tolerated and are challenged. Our aim is to combat poverty by working with others to empower individuals and communities to affect change in the distribution of power and resources.

Returning to #GE2015 – what do we need in Scotland and across the UK following the General Election? In a word: fairness.

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